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  • Writer's pictureErin Newton

Freelance Harping In Colorado: It's Rarely Boring

It’s hard to say which I prefer least: gusting winds that blow the stand over and nearly the harp, blistering sun that overheats the iPad necessitating emergency ice cubes, drenching rain when my covers are halfway across a field, spiral staircases and low ceiling balconies, or freezing cold that makes you unsure if your hands are still attached to your body. I’m also not fond of super late brides and fall down drunk grooms.

After 20 years playing at outdoor venues all over Colorado, I have every caveat in my contract, but when it comes down to it, we have some mad temperature swings and crazy weather blows in fast around here, especially at altitude, and if I’m the only one who can get the bride down the aisle with music on this most special day of all their lives, I’m damn well going to try as long as the wedding party and guests are still sticking it out. Working with so many vendors who also have the same goal of making it all come together at all odds in some of the most stunning places makes me feel a part of a team. I will say though, playing in a temperature controlled church on a nice flat surface feels downright luxurious.

40 Key insights over the years of freelance harping:

1. Harps do not make any noise with water streaming down the soundboard.

2. It’s quite difficult to see your pedals in 2 ft tall grasses.

3. The tops of ski runs are not as flat as they look, and despite bringing a platform, you may still have to hang onto your harp at all times, or it may take a run.

4. Giant amplifiers are a nuisance if you’re trying to keep your stand from vibrating off a stage.

5. Using sheet music outside in Colorado is usually a losing battle. It’s also really hard to turn pages when they are paper clipped to the stand.

6. Hava Nagila is a special kind of harping. You have to be at the ready for when the bride and groom get thrown into the air.

7. Indian weddings are a stunning affair but be sure you have two hours of music for the prelude as the bride and groom tend to arrive in their own time.

8. To be fully prepared for a summer’s day, you should have a sun hat, sun shawl, sunglasses, sunblock...and a wind layer, warm layer, and keep your harp covers nearby for the 4 pm rains!

9. If someone leans on the harp while staggering at the reception, they have likely mistaken you for a lamppost.

10. As much as I love playing at retirement homes, be sure to keep walkers a far piece away. In a Harp Vs. Walker Showdown, the Walker wins every time.

11. A cage full of Parakeets is an extremely loud backdrop for a concert.

12. Lions do not like it when you play above them, but it’s better than playing next to them. The harp sounds get them especially riled up.

13. If the generous operations guys offer to help lift the harp onto a seemingly benign low stage, say no. If they offer to transport it on a golf cart, say no. If they offer to load it in their short flatbed truck for 4 wheeling access, say no. If they offer to use their giant muscles to shove the harp a little too zealously into the back of your seat, say no. So basically, have No Thank You (but you have very nice muscles) on the ready.

14. Don’t try to play over the quinceanera DJ. You’ll get very large blisters.

15. Waterfalls also soak up the sound. Bring an amplifier and save your fingers.

16. Don’t offer to drive you harp across the country for your friend unless you have a contract, and you’re sure they haven’t hired an organist.

17. If the cute old man at the Alzheimer’s center asks you if you know Danny Boy (cause his precious son’s name was Danny) and you just played it, play it again.

18. In a pinch, a wrench works as a tuner, especially when it’s 18 degrees out and the song is no longer recognizable and your tuner is at the bottom of the gondola.

19. Fingerless gloves and hand warmers are nice harpist accessories.

20. Don’t leave home without your strings. That will be the day one of your big metal strings will break right before you have to play the Nutcracker Cadenza

21. Don’t depend on your Bluetooth page turner to actually stay connected or turn pages after the glass casing has broken around the magnetic foot pedal. It’s better to just memorize it all or practice all the arpeggios for 20 pages without the left hand if you have to put it in

22. It is possible to practice with two little boys sitting on the base of the harp, but not optimal.

23. It’s also possible to feed a baby while notating a students music, but not optimal.

24. It’s possible to drive a harp up an hour long back dirt road to the top of a ski area 9 months pregnant with no cell service, but you’ll likely have the baby the next day, if you’re lucky.

25. People totally go out of their way to open double sets of doors for pregnant Harpists, which gives us all hope for humanity.

26. Everybody has a favorite song. It’s pretty cool when you can play it for them, even when it’s not very Harpy, and it might even become your favorite. I’ll always remember the 90 year old pianist at the Brown Palace Hotel I played after every day who finished his set with “I’ll be Seeing You”. It’s my favorite now that he’s gone.

27. If you’re going to play a hip hop show with a live looping pedal in addition to your 21 pedal positions on your harp, practice with your eyes closed in anticipation of the blinding spotlight that makes a really cool harp reflection, but makes it impossible to see anything at all.

28. Speaking of lighting, stand lights don’t really work in dark restaurants if your iPad is already backlit. Just be ready to have a giant headache, or generously tip the wait staff and hope they turn the lights up enough to see your strings.

29. Should Kanye’s manager get into a fist fight on stage with the opening band’s manager, be ready to block the harp.

30. Bring snacks. And water. And take the wine if they offer it and you’ve been playing for 5 hours and you’ve got 8 blisters. And bring bengay, and Tylenol, and oxys, and Valium if you’ve just had mastectomies or a hip socket rotated or anything like that, and bring your dad to move the harp if you’re still on crutches, but make him dress up nice like a good harp roadie should.

31. If you’re going to play at a retirement home, wear your blingiest garb. Everyone appreciates a little bling in there. Bring your students. Bring y

32. Should your husband get runover and you find yourself sleeping on a hospital room floor for a month while he fights for his life, bring your harp. The low soothing tones will calm your soul and lower his heart rate so he can rest and recover.

33. You’ll never understand how special it is to be a bedside harpist until you yourself are in a very dark painful place and a harpist saunters in and plays the pain away.

34. It’s a lot easier to pack up and load harps in apre-sneakers than heels. If it’s a sparkling frozen night out, it’s also nice to have a velour track suit to supplement your wispy evening gown. Also, if you’ve somehow survived all this to reach your 40s and your hips suck and your back gives out every few months moving the harp, go ahead and splurge and get a new harp cart and a ramp built for those pesky stairs in and out of the house. Maybe you’ll be mobile enough to play for 40 more.

35. If an opera singer walks in and wants to belt out Ave Maria in a giant hotel lobby, you better have that shit cued up.

36. If a dude is celebrating his 50th anniversary with his wife at their favorite restaurant, you better have a waltz on the ready, ideally “Can I have This Dance”.

37. If the 5th dude this month has requested Stairway to Heaven, you better deliver.

38. Don’t be snobby about playing Canon in D for the 1,999 time. It’s a freakin gift to be able to share music on such a beautiful instrument, and frankly it’s a tried and true chord progression.

39. Let little kids play your harp. They’ll never forget it. I never did.

40. Play the classics, and the showy Harpy pieces, and the double pedal slides, and the fancy trills. But don’t be so impressed with yourself that you can’t play Puff the Magic Dragon and Rainbow Connection. People don’t hire us to hear the hardest song we ever learned to play. They hire us to have an experience, to be transported, to tell a story, to listen to a story, to be moved. Give them that experience. Because ultimately, they won’t remember the notes, but they’ll remember how you made them feel.

Dedicated to all my freelance harpies out there gettin it done. Let the music play on.

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