… is amazing. I seriously somehow loosened up the back of my hand to the point where I can do things without strain, or at least without noticeable strain. I can seriously play for a long time, even using my ring fingers, even doing the up and down arpeggios that had stymied me for years. I just don’t know what happened, other than that it didn’t until I finally just gave up on that stupid classic “place all fingers in one direction” business and the Salzedo stuff that I thought would solve the problem (and only exacerbated it) and just started thinking about my fingering from first principles.
Instead of assuming that someone else could tell me what it would feel like inside my own hands (which are unusual for the harp), and wasting time looking for that written down, I just sat down and figured it out for myself, and it was faster and much less stressful. I had been drained and disempowered when I was trying to make my hands work from the outside; once I inhabited them from the inside and listened to what they wanted, and solved my problem myself, it was energizing and empowering.
And thanks to this, I just cannot get over the relaxation that I’ve managed to achieve while playing. And I’ve got confidence that I can manage future challenges, too.
Again, I’m not Catrin Finch by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m a lot better than I was and am able to do (slowly) or visualize doing things that I never thought possible. I am honestly still in a kind of shock. Maybe it was some kind of nerve pathway thing? I just don’t know. But once I realized that I could treat my hand as two intersecting see-saws, that did it. That did everything. That was the breakthrough that I’ve wanted since November 2014.
There is no such thing as a received truth.
No matter how many teachers you listen to, how many books you read, or how many videos you watch, you will always learn faster by just doing it. And despite what people will tell you, a teacher is not necessary, and with the addition of simple common sense, you will not destroy your hands if you touch a harp without a teacher. (My hands didn’t hurt until I started taking lessons and trying to do things The Right Way!) If you are an idiot and don’t pay attention to your body, if you take that “hardcore” boo-yah nonsense on board, if you are stupid enough to think that “pain is weakness leaving the body,” then yes. You will screw up your hands beyond repair.
But if you play thoughtfully, approach the instrument and your hands as an engineering problem to be solved (since that’s exactly what it is), and go slowly, paying mind to your body the whole way, you’ll be fine. A teacher will not make things any faster, and for people such as myself who think better in silence, an external voice will put our internal thoughts into disarray and scatter any attempt by them to draw together into a coherent idea. I can always think better when I’m by myself. I like to gather data from other people, but when the time comes to assemble that data into a coherent structure, I need solitude. (A more externally-focused person may find a teacher more useful.)
The one thing a teacher can help with I think is when you are playing a piece and then partway through you realize, “Hey, my shoulders are up to my ears, when did that happen?” and you can’t always tell when. A teacher can tell you, “They started getting tense right here.” That sort of thing is useful — but then that’s more what a coach does than a teacher. (I should start videoing myself to see when things start going awry when they do.)
I don’t know. I’m lately just thinking about this sort of thing. I’m just not comfortable with the idea of a teacher at this point. This breakthrough, and the fact that it only came when I finally signed off on Received Harp Truth once and for all — and made it stick — really has changed the way I look at everything.
I also watch art videos made by a very successful artist and art tutor named Lisa Clough on YouTube. She is always the sort to say that picking up art supplies and just playing with them on your own will teach you more than reading a billion books or watching a billion videos — despite the fact that she makes money on her videos.
But she’s also really good at giving first-principles-based advice on artwork. She’s golden at saying things that don’t tell the student what to do, but tell them where to look on their own for the solution that works for them.
I think that’s a good thing for a teacher, but … I don’t think that’s what most teachers do.
I’m just still thinking all of this through.