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New York, New York
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A New York harpist trying to figure things out - and the mishaps and adventures that inevitably ensue.

Death and Transfiguration

Kathryn Sloat

The pastor from the church I grew up in died last week. He had leukemia, but he lived a good, long life. He was one of the kindest and most loving people I have ever met. His funeral service included a portion where people in the congregation could stand up and say something about him, and so many people had stories about how he had helped them and changed their lives for the better. 

 

Rev. Hagy loved it when I brought my harp to play in church. Whenever I had a degree recital coming up in school I would call him and ask if I could do a practice recital at the church. I always worried that I was being a bother, but he was always so welcoming and supportive. He would actually joke and laugh about the way I always asked - "Would we MIND you coming to give a recital at the church?!" He would laugh. 

 

I miss his laugh. At the start of his funeral service I half expected to see him standing at the doorway greeting people as they walked in. I played during the service. I cried, but it was a focused kind of crying, so I made it through. Lots of people commented afterwards how much he loved my playing.

 

I'm really thankful that I knew him. I'm resolving to follow his example to try to be a better person, and to love more.  

 

I'm sad, and this is not my most articulate post ever. Fitting, though, that I just finished performing Strauss's Death and Transfiguration this past week. You don't really need words when you can make music. 

Finally, My Story Of The Worst Gig Ever

Kathryn Sloat

Okay, I promised weeks ago that I would tell the story of my new definition of the worst gig ever.

I was called, very last minute, to play a wedding reception in New Jersey. I sent an email to the contractor afterwards explaining what happened, so I'm just reposting that. I think it sums it up pretty nicely. Keep in mind this was one of those extremely hot days in August - it was close to 100 degrees outside. 

 

Dear ____________________, 

I just wanted to explain to you what happened this afternoon, as you will undoubtedly get complaints about me from the bride. 

I didn't know where I was to be playing, so when I first got there, the staff had me set up in the lobby. When they came and asked me to play outside on the sidewalk, I told them I didn't want to bring my harp outside and expose it to the 100 degree weather. The pianist and I agreed that I would play in the lobby until 6:30, and since that was the agreed-upon end time, I thought it would be an okay compromise. I played in the lobby for awhile. After more of the guests had arrived I was told in no uncertain terms that I was to play outside or leave (that was when I called you). I saw that there would be no compromising, so I brought my harp outside and started playing there. After about 5-10 minutes it started to rain, so I immediately stopped playing and covered my harp in order to protect it. 

When I waited around to receive my check I spoke to the bride, who berated me in front of her guests, told me she had no interest in hearing any explanation from me and that she would not pay me anything. 

I am very sorry to cause all of this trouble, it was certainly not my intention. I was not aware that you had signed a contract stipulating that I was to be playing outside, as you didn't relay that information to me. I am also very sorry that the bride didn't get what she wanted, but I can't say I'm sorry for protecting my harp, as it is my only instrument and I can't afford to buy another one. 

Again, I apologize. Sincerely, 

 

 

 

Well. Ya know who I am. 

 

So what do you think? Was I too bitchy? As you may remember from previous posts a threat to the safety of my harp is one of the only things that can really set me off, and I realize I can be somewhat rude when it comes to protecting my instrument. I never got a response from the contractor, so I'm assuming I'll never be hired by her again.

 

Also... Damn, I have never seen a bride in such a foul mood on their wedding day. After she finished with me she began shouting at the band about something else. Perhaps this was not someone I could have pleased, regardless of the circumstances. 

 

Do you think I did the right thing? Does anyone else have a story like this?

Unexpected Difficulties In A Musical Career

Kathryn Sloat

When you become a working musician, there are certain things you just know are going to be difficult. You know you won't have much money, and if you're a freelancer like me you won't ever be sure where that money is going to come from in the next few months. You're always worried about promoting yourself (and also feeling self-conscious about it), sending out your resume, handing people your card, hoping they'll give you a call and hire you for something. 

What I didn't expect was how lonely it would sometimes be. Performing musicians work weird hours - basically during the times when everyone else has off - evenings and weekends. All of my friends from college have normal, 9-5 jobs as music teachers, so whenever they plan get-togethers, I am usually working. Most of my musician friends in the city also have day jobs, so that isn't much different. I work from home a lot, practicing and writing emails and such, and on days when I don't get out of the house or really talk to anyone, I get a little stir crazy. I don't have a regular job or many regular gigs, so usually when I go to work, I'm seeing an almost completely new group of people every time. 

I'm sure lots of people my age are experiencing this, but I'm at the stage in my life where all of my friends are getting married or moving in together, and I wonder if this isn't something else I'll sacrifice in order to have a performing career. A musician's schedule can be so crazy that sometimes it's hard to do anything but work (my last relationship just ended because of this very reason). I wonder sometimes if a husband and children are just things that I'll never get to have - I'll never have enough money, I'll never have enough time, I'll never find someone who is willing to work with my bizarre schedule. I remember being told in college that if I ever wanted to have a family I should choose a different career, and some days, I think they were right (and other days, I wonder if people say this to all performance majors, or just the female ones?). 

Because my last breakup is so fresh, it's difficult, at this point, to feel much hope about this situation. But I do always take comfort in reading the blogs of two of my favorite musicians. Zoe Keating and Amanda Palmer are both performing artists who write a lot about their difficulties and adventures in balancing their performing careers with having families. Zoe Keating, in particular, has been very open about her family life for several years now. In interviews she has said that she wants her life to become normal for musicians, that we shouldn't feel like we have to give up the chance to get married and have kids if we don't want to. It's fun (sometimes heartbreaking) for me to read what they write about their kids, and how they're dealing with work-life balance. One of my personal favorites was a picture of Amanda Palmer nursing her baby in the bathroom of a bar where she was performing that night. While also getting her hair dyed. 

I'm not sure what the conclusion is here. Don't give up? Oh well, I'll figure things out? Two ideas I'm not really ready to think about yet. I do know, though, that I am really goddamn stubborn - probably way more tenacious than you would expect from someone of my size and volume level. And I really do believe that if you want something badly enough, you can find a way to make it happen. Even if it doesn't happen in quite the way you thought it would. 

Some Thoughts On Preparing A Concerto, Or: I Can't Play Solo, What Are These People Thinking?

Kathryn Sloat

A couple of months ago I got an email from someone I had never met - a director of a youth orchestra in Brooklyn - asking if I would want to play the Debussy Danses with them. Obviously I said yes. What are you, crazy? Of course I want to play this cool concerto with your advanced string ensemble. Luckily I had played it before, so pulling it out and re-memorizing the thing wasn't a huge deal. 

Lately I've been wondering if I wasn't crazy for agreeing to play it. Since performing my last degree recital and leaving school, I haven't played solo music very much. Most of my time now is taken up by learning music for orchestra gigs and musicals, maybe some chamber music - but I haven't performed as a soloist in almost a year. I've been feeling like I'm losing my solo chops, but maybe that's just in my head. I'm not sure. I've never thought of myself as much of a soloist anyway. I was never one of those kids who won a whole bunch of competitions in school. I've entered lots of concerto competitions and auditions and never won anything, so eventually I just resigned myself to the fact that I would never be an exceptional soloist, and decided to stick to the things I am good at. 

I didn't worry too much about this concerto performance until a few days ago. And then I freaked. Why did they ask me to do this? Didn't anyone warn them that I had never won a competition, never played a concerto with an orchestra before? Clearly this was all a big mistake, I would screw up at the rehearsal and they would ask me not to come back. Nerves sometimes make me crabby, so I haven't been a very fun person to be around lately. 

The first rehearsal was today. It was fine. I didn't play fantastically well, but I didn't crash and burn and I didn't die. I know what I need to work on for next weekend's performance, which I'm sure will be fine also. 

 

This post should probably end with some kind of inspiring message about believing in yourself and not giving up on your dreams, but I'm tired and I don't feel like a happy rainbow person just now. All I know is that I miss learning/performing solos and I want to keep doing it, so I will. I need to stop letting my lack of trophies talk me out of it.

The Saga Continues, Or, I Just Played La Forza Del Destino From Memory Because I Am A Badass

Kathryn Sloat

Probably every musician has that one piece that keeps coming back to haunt them (in their dreams, nightmares, real life, etc.). In my case, this piece is Verdi's Overture to La Forza Del Destino. This part - often devilishly fast and containing lots of complicated pedal changes - comes up on numerous audition lists and concert programs. I haven't kept track of how many times I've played it for auditions, but to date, I believe I have played this piece in concert at least seven times in the last ten years - five of those were in the last year alone. After practicing and rehearsing and performing La Forza so many times, I feel like I am finally starting to lose my fear of it. 

 

La Forza Del Destino, Take One:

I was sixteen the first time I played La Forza, in my first year of youth orchestra (and only my second year of playing in any orchestra). This piece terrified me. I remember I could get through the first couple of phrases okay, but when that pedal-y section hit, I was a goner. I worked my butt off practicing for that concert (concerts? I think we played it more than once), and I was so disappointed that I could never pull it off perfectly. If I could talk to my younger self, I would say, take a chill pill Kate - you will have so many more shots at this. 

La Forza, Take Two:

I didn't have the chance to perform this part again until I was 21, in my senior year of college. My harp teacher couldn't be there for the first performance of the local symphony orchestra, so she asked me to take her place. The theme for the concert was a night at the opera, and we were playing lots of major opera rep with big harp parts - Carmen, Song to the Moon from Rusalka, lots of Puccini, and - you guessed it - La Forza del Destino. I think the fact that there was so much playing on this concert meant that I couldn't stress too much about La Forza, so it was good that I was so busy practicing other things. I remember that the tempo was merciful, and I had my friend and rockstar harpist Mikaela Davis backing me up on the second harp part. 

La Forza, Take Three:

I had yet another long gap before I would play La Forza again, and this time came in the middle of the Christmas season - the busiest time of the year for any musician. Last year (when I was 25, ,if anyone is doing a timeline) I got a last-minute call to play for a youth orchestra on Long Island. "Oh yes, we're doing La Forza, and the concert is in three days." PANIC MODE. I spent the next several days freaking out practicing for this performance. In the end, I needn't have worried - the tempo they took was very slow. But it was good to know I could pull it back on such short notice. 

La Forza, Takes Four, Five, and Six:

The next three takes of La Forza were interesting, and were also more fun. I had plenty of time to prepare the part (and had already been practicing it for an audition), I got three opportunities to perform it with the same orchestra in the space of a few weeks, and I got to play with an old friend from the Brevard Music Center, Liann Cline, on second harp. Although I of course kept the part on the stand in front of me to count measures and make sure I came in correctly, I had the part memorized and didn't bother looking over at the page while I was playing. Some of the venues we played in were quite small, and most interesting was when we had to squish ourselves into a church to play in a line. 

And that brings me to...

La Forza Del Destino, Take Seven

This was another last minute call, again in the middle of the Christmas season. The people hiring me didn't send me a part (it is on IMSLP) and I didn't have my part with me. Since I was in the midst of driving to Connecticut and playing a run of The Nutcracker, I didn't have time to really think about it. I knew I had the harp part memorized, and didn't need to look at it to practice. However, when I got to the sound check before the performance, I realized they weren't going to give me a part to look at either. If this had been any other piece I probably would have freaked out, but I felt barely ruffled. I prepared and performed the part in a matter of four days without ever once looking at it. 

This means I win, right?

It's not like La Forza will ever go away, for any of us harpists. It's a part that has followed me from my very beginnings in youth orchestra and will likely pursue me for the rest of my life. You want to go another round, Verdi? I'll be ready for the next time. 

I Finally Got to See Duo Scorpio And It Was Everything I Dreamed It Would Be

Kathryn Sloat

I first heard of Duo Scorpio when my wind ensemble conductor handed me a cd of duo harp music and said here, you might be interested in this. I'm not sure if he knew it, but at the time I was in the process of starting my own harp duo, Lilac 94. I was so excited - here was a group playing pieces that we had performed, and commissioning new works, as well. 

Shortly thereafter I moved to New York City myself, and I started keeping an eye on Duo Scorpio's website to figure out when I could go and see them live. I met both Katie and Kristi separately, at performances with other groups, but I never seemed to have a free night when they were playing together. The night they played at Le Poisson Rouge, I was driving back from teaching my students in Albany. The night they played a joint concert with the Chicago Harp Quartet, I had a theater gig upstate. And this past summer, I cleared my calendar to hear them perform in Bryant Park - and of course, it rained and the concert was cancelled. 

So this past Tuesday, I finally seized the opportunity and went to Brooklyn to hear them play for the Concerts on the Slope series. I was tired but came straight from my musical rehearsal (more on that later!). It was completely worth it. Most of the pieces they played were ones they had commissioned, and several I had never heard before. I think Andy Akiho's "Two Bridges" was one of my favorites - its second movement consisted entirely of harmonics, meant to sound like two harps playing underwater. They also played their signature piece, "Scorpion Tales" by Robert Paterson. There were some Lilac 94 favorites as well - Bernard Andres' "Le Jardin des Paons" (which we haven't played in quite awhile - I'm feeling a revival coming on!) and Caroline Lizotte's "Raga."


Their performance was beautiful and captivating, and I'm so glad I finally got the chance to see them. I am newly inspired for my next round of harp duo performances!

I Wish I Could Borrow Hermione Granger's Time Turner So That I Could See All of These Amazing Concerts

Kathryn Sloat

One of the downsides to being a working musician is that you are often working during concerts you really want to go to, as an audience member. There are three harp-related performances Sunday night (11/15) that I want to go to, and I probably won't make it to any of them. Drat. 

 

Harp of Bones, featuring Mia Theodoratus

Sunday November 15th at 7:30

Theatre 80 St. Marks

80 St. Marks Place, at East 8th Street and 1st Avenue

Harpist Mia Theodoratus created this show inspired by harp folklore, and (I believe) composed the music for it. The Facebook event says, "An imagined folk tale springs to life through improvisation of analog film, sounds, and a salvaged 1880s harp. Myth, folklore, and feminist tales of warning are all woven together to form a densely sparse sonic landscape." I don't know about you, but I really want to go and see this show. It sounds super cool. 

 

Tre Voci: Transformations

Sunday November 15th

Doors at 8:30, Show at 9

Le Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleecker Street

Tre Voci is a fantastic trio featuring Marina Piccinini (flute), Kim Kashkashian (viola), and Sivan Magen (harp). I saw them last year - also at Le Poisson Rouge - and I was totally blown away by their performance. Now they are returning with a whole bunch of interesting transcriptions (including Debussy's Children's Corner Suite and selections from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet). I'm super bummed that I'm probably going to miss this. 

 

 

Edmar Castaneda at the Pangea Jazz Festival

Sunday November 15th

Doors at 7:30, Show at 8

Drom, 85 Avenue A

 

To round out the eclectic selection of harp events going on Sunday night, Edmar Castaneda, the famous jazz harpist, is playing at this festival. This will be the second or third time since I moved to New York that I will have missed out on seeing Edmar Castaneda. I'm especially disappointed about this, since I'm always interested in seeing the harp outside of its traditional setting/genre. 

 

 

My Most Bizarre Gig Ever

Kathryn Sloat

A few weeks ago I received a last-minute email (through GigSalad) asking if I would come and play a corporate event. I had nothing going on that day, so of course I said yes. When I spoke with the event coordinator over the phone, my only clue as to how this gig was going to go was that she told me I could "dress crazy." Not knowing exactly what she meant by this, I opted for my usual black, and donned a thick gray sweater as I would be playing outside. 

The event, hosted by a high-end furniture company, was a party that they apparently throw every year for their clients. There was food, an archery competition, and lots of booze. My post, however, was not with the main party. Instead, I was instructed to drive a few minutes on a dirt path into the middle of a field, where I found this:

Yes, that is an actual stuffed bear.

Yes, that is an actual stuffed bear.

Turns out, I was to be a part of a photobooth backdrop. The guests were bussed out in groups (on a bus that was brightly painted with flowers and looked like it had time-traveled there from the 1960s - I wish I had gotten a picture of it) to find this setting, and me, playing my harp. Not only this, but there were actors around pretending to be members of some tripped-out cult that the guests were being indoctrinated into. I played music, but my purpose there was pretty much to be an oddity for the guests to take pictures with. The wind was really strong, and after having my stand blown over for the third time, the cameraman said "You know, you don't really have to play songs. Just make some sounds and it'll be great." So.... I sat in this strange scene and basically improvised for about six hours. It was a good thing that I stopped trying to play actual songs, because it was not warm out and my fingers became too numb to do much but gliss and do various other extended techniques that I thought might be fun to hear. 

It was seriously the weirdest thing I've ever done in my life.

Also... there were goats. 

Okay, I got a picture of the front of the bus. Crazy, right??

Okay, I got a picture of the front of the bus. Crazy, right??

Just a random pack of goats, running loose around the place. Strangely enough, the goats had zero interest in my harp. I was expecting to have to beat them back every few minutes, but they pretty much ignored it. I guess it looked too big to eat, and eating was all they seemed to be interested in doing. 

 

Did I mention that everyone was pretending to worship the goats? They were pretending to worship the goats. At least, I think they were pretending. 

 

FIN.

How Not to Get a Musical Stuck in Your Head

Kathryn Sloat

It is a very real danger when you're playing a musical: Your brain playing all of the songs from the show on repeat, all day, every day. I have come up with a few ways to avoid this.

1. Once you start playing the show, don't ever listen to it outside of rehearsals/performances. I don't care if you just discovered an awesome recording, or if you have one that you've always loved. Don't. Do. It. 

2. Do not hum or whistle. You will start humming or whistling tunes from the show without even knowing it. 

3. Listen to other things - preferably other musicals - on your down time. Get these stuck in your head. Trust me, it will be better. 

4. Start singing other songs - again, preferably showtunes - immediately after a performance. 

5. Just give up. There is no hope.

 

Two weeks of The Fantasticks down and three to go! Happy September, everyone!

Today Reminded Me Why I Would Never Give Up Teaching For Performing

Kathryn Sloat

The last few days have been all around pretty crummy. So, I have done things to compensate. 

 

I have made brownies. 

And not the from the box kind. The made from scratch, contains real dark chocolate and a vanilla bean kind. 

 

I cut my hair, because that seems to be what I do in these situations.

Yeah, I take bad selfies.

I read Harry Potter, because, of course.

Except the irony of this made me want to cry.

But the first thing that made me really, really happy today was teaching. Since I've been all over the place this summer I haven't really been able to give my students their lessons with any regularity. But since school is starting and I am at least in one place for a month, I decided I would try to teach them using Skype (or Facetime). I was a little skeptical about this, having never done it before, but a friend of mine recently taught her students this way while she was in India for six months, so I thought I would give it a go.

It actually went much better than I was expecting it to. I was nervous about relying on the Internet to do its job and not constantly interrupt the video, but this only happened once at the very end of the lesson. I was also afraid that the sound would not be good enough for me to give intelligent feedback, but this also didn't seem to be an issue. It is a little bit awkward not being physically next to a student when they're playing. As she did her warm-ups I had to keep asking her to move her computer so I could see her hands from different angles. Then, when we were working on her piece, we both had to be very specific about which part we were referring to, since we couldn't necessarily just point to it (I brought a copy of her piece with me so that I wouldn't have to try and see the music through the computer screen). I always had to say the line number, measure number, and sometimes specific beats, which was a little cumbersome. Overall, though, it went pretty well, although I am looking forward to being able to teach them in person. 

There are few things in life that make me as happy as teaching a really good lesson. I'm sure my students are completely unaware of this. Having a student who practices and clearly loves the instrument as much as I do is its own reward. Someone once asked me if I would choose to give up teaching if I could make a living entirely from performing, and were rather surprised when I said no. I love to play music for people, but teaching someone that love is a different kind of happiness, one that I would never choose to give up. I am grateful to have that reminder in the midst of a bad week. 

 

Also, this video made me laugh like a maniac for some reason. Watch it. Be amused. 

I hope everyone else is having a good week!

September Harp Concerts in NYC

Kathryn Sloat

Although it is a fantastic (ha, ha) opportunity for me to be in Pennsylvania playing The Fantasticks, there are many things about New York City that I will be missing, one of them being several great concerts that I had planned on going to. Someone needs to go to these and tell me all about them when I get back. 

On the other hand - don't tell me, I'll probably be real jealous.

 

Supreme Sonacy Album Release Party, featuring Brandee Younger

Wednesday, September 2nd (TONIGHT) Doors at 7, Show at 8

Le Poisson Rouge

Brandee Younger recorded a couple of tracks on this album, which is classified as jazz on iTunes, but is supposedly very genre-bending. I can't even tell you how many times I have planned on going to hear her perform and then had something get in the way. I will have to content myself with listening to the album tonight instead of going to see the show. Hopefully I'll get to a concert of hers when I return!

 

Israeli Chamber Project, featuring Sivan Magen

Thursday, September 10th at 7:30pm

Merkin Concert Hall

This is one concert I was really looking forward to. Sivan Magen will be performing Henriette Renie's rarely programmed Trio for Harp, Violin, and Cello. I was assigned to a chamber ensemble of this instrumentation at school last year, and this is one of the pieces we considered reading through at the end of the semester. I decided against this because, as with basically all of Renie's advanced music, it looked ridiculously difficult. It would be great to hear it played by such an amazing harpist. 

 

Mikaela Davis

Saturday, September 26th

Rockwood Music Hall #3

Mikaela Davis is going on tour this fall, and I was really hoping to catch this concert. I've heard her play a few times in the last year, but it's been a long time since I've heard her with the band. They'll probably be playing lots of new songs, and I'm really disappointed that I'm missing out!

All of the tour dates.



These are just a few of many concerts in New York that probably include harp this month. The New York City Ballet is performing Swan Lake (we all know that has a great harp part). It is also worth noting that Emmanuel Ceysson is probably making his debut as principal harpist at the Metropolitan Opera this month. Since the Met employs a few harpists it is hard to say exactly who will be there on any given night, but it's probably a safe bet that he will be playing for Giuseppe Verdi's Otello on opening night, Monday, September 21st. 

Luckily, one of the great things about New York is that the cool performances just keep on coming. 

Anyone seeing any good harp concerts this month?

No More First Days of School

Kathryn Sloat

For the first time in my life, September does not mean the start of another school year, but the start of my life as a full-time musician. It's a strange feeling, especially because as a freelancer I don't always know when, or even if, I'll have work. Halfway through July I started to panic because I didn't have any gigs lined up for the fall yet. What if September hit and I had nothing to play, nothing to do? I confided this fear in my teacher and she told me not to worry, that things would come up. 

So far, she has been right. I recently applied for, and accepted, a job playing at a theater in Pennsylvania. For a month I get to live in the countryside, playing one of my favorite musicals (The Fantasticks), employed full-time as a performing musician. The fact that I am going off somewhere with a job to start the fall has alleviated some of the weirdness about not going back to school, but it still feels strange to not be going over my class schedule in my head, wondering who my professors will be, and how much homework I'll have. 

Weirdness aside, it feels really great to be done with school. I love feeling now I have the freedom to do what I want, and play what I want. It sounds corny, but the feeling of possibility is a little overwhelming. I'm sure that will die down a little once the student loan bills start rolling in, but for now, I'm enjoying it. 

I don't really know what I will do once this job is over at the beginning of October and I head back to New York City - if I'll be able to support myself through playing and teaching, or if I'll have to get an unrelated "day job." I've always been a little of wary of anything that might make me miss a gig - I've said yes to every performance opportunity I've had in the past two years, and I wouldn't want a job that would get in the way. I would also rather have less money and be able to practice and work on my own projects, than to have more money by putting those things on the back burner. I hope that what my teacher told me will continue to prove true, that things will come up. I know she would tell me not to worry.

 

So, to everyone starting school next week, happy first day of school! I am glad to be finished - it's been a long time coming. 

My First GroupMuse

Kathryn Sloat

Since I went to a house concert last week, I thought I'd go to another one this week - you know, just to change it up! This one was organized by something called GroupMuse, which is a website that connects musicians to people who want to host concerts in their homes. I'm hoping to perform in a GroupMuse house concert myself in the next few months, so I thought it would be a good idea to go to one and just check it out. It seems fairly easy to put together - musicians and hosts can create profiles on the website (www.groupmuse.com), and from there they can contact each other to set up concerts. 

The concert that I went to featured harpist Mia Theodoratus (I keep wanting to type Mia Thermopolis - Princess Diaries, anyone??) performing a solo program. She started out playing the Handel concerto, which was great. I get so sick of hearing myself play it (auditioning harpists, amiright?) that it was nice to sit back and just enjoy listening to it for once. The first half concluded with a piece by the Irish harper Turlough O'Carolan. I remember playing a lot of O'Carolan tunes when I was just starting to learn the instrument, and Mia's performance really made me think that his music deserves more than to just be shunted into the beginner, folk harp category. Note to self: Go back and play some more O'Carolan. 

Mia Theodoratus playing Handel's B-flat Concerto
Mia Theodoratus playing Handel's B-flat Concerto

The second half got a little bit....different. Before she started, Mia encouraged us to get comfortable, even to lie down on the ground and stare up at the sky. Everything she played next fell into the genre of minimalist music - John Cage's In a Landscape, Carlos Salzedo's Fraicheur (or Zephyrs), and a piece of her own composition called Nymphs. Although I was sitting in a chair and there was no room left on the ground, I slouched down and stared at the flowers in the garden and up at the sky. The audience fell into a trance, and there was no applause or even a peep from us until the end. It was wonderfully relaxing. 

The audience contemplating the sky to John Cage's In a Landscape
The audience contemplating the sky to John Cage's In a Landscape

I felt a little weird showing up to this concert by myself. Most of the audience seemed to all be in the same social circle as the host, and I was the awkward kid sitting by myself at the party. However, I made a friend in a woman who was hosting her own first GroupMuse concert in a few days, and also wanted to check it out first. Although she's not a musician, she was incredibly knowledgeable and enthusiastic about classical music, and we spent the intermission discussing our favorite opera experiences in the city. It's great that even sitting by yourself in a corner, you can find people to connect with. 

My Hipster Harp Night in Brooklyn

Kathryn Sloat

It doesn't get much more hipster than going to a concert that takes places in a third floor walk-up in Brooklyn. Although (being a classical harpist) this isn't normally my scene, I made the hike out to Flatbush the other night because a harpist friend of mine was playing. Liann just recently moved to New York City, and this was her debut performance.

I haven't done too many, but I've always liked playing house concerts. It's a totally different vibe than a concert hall - much more relaxed, and much more personal. The audience is sitting on couches and armchairs and the floor not much more than a few feet away from you, so you can talk and connect with them more easily. This can also be a little bit scary. It's almost as if being on a stage with some distance between you and your audience is a little bit safer, but I like the more intimate feeling of just playing in a living room for some friends. 

House concerts are a good place to test out rep before you bring your music to a more public place - Liann played Pierne's Impromptu Caprice and the Pescetti Sonata.

Liann also performed in a trio for harp, bass, and trumpet by Sean Muzzi (the bass player).

Wedding Scams, Because Apparently That's a Thing

Kathryn Sloat

I've heard lots of weird wedding gig stories - and lived some of them, too - but I've never been booked to play a fake wedding before. 

A couple of months ago, I was contacted through Wedding Wire to play a wedding ceremony in New York City. Everything started out pretty normal - the client picked out a package, instrumentation, etc. Then things started to get weird. They changed the location of the ceremony. They started sharing all of this awkward personal information that I most definitely did not need to know. And then, the real red flag for me - they insisted on sending me a check for twice what I was charging them, and asked me to send part of it to a third party. Of course the check bounced, and the client disappeared. 

I'm still not sure what their plan was - my guess was that they were hoping I would send the money to the third part ($1200) before the check cleared. I wonder if this sort of scam has ever worked - I mean, what young musician has a spare $1200 to send out, just because a client is freaking out about time constraints? I'm not an idiot. 

I've been checking my bank account every day to make sure no money is missing, but so far everything is fine. Other than an address to send a deposit check to I didn't give out any of my personal information, so I don't know how something bad could happen - but I'm not a criminal mastermind. However, judging from how stupid he thought I was and the number of grammatical errors in his emails, I'm going to assume this guy isn't, either. 

Happily, I got to play a real wedding yesterday. They sent me a real contract with a real signature and a real deposit check ahead of time. I showed up to the real venue, where there were real wedding guests, and the real bride and groom got really married. 

The bride had picked Ben Folds' "The Luckiest" - one of my favorite songs - for her processional.

Has anyone else ever been the victim of a scam like this? 

Harp Camp

Kathryn Sloat

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I recently returned from a week teaching at the Connecticut Valley Harp Intensive. For a week I lived in the dorms with a bunch of teenage harpists, coached harp ensemble, taught workshops and harp lessons (as well as some knitting lessons) and hung out with the kids. I am completely exhausted, but I returned with a renewed sense of how much I love teaching and working with young harpists. 

From seeing demonstrations of carbon fiber harps to working with harp duo Beyond Pluck to rehearsing for our final concert, we had an action-packed week. I got to coach an ensemble of 5-6 harpists on two pieces, as well as on their parts for the all-camp harp ensemble (which, at 13-16 harps, was pretty epic). By the end of the week, they were even confident enough to take on performing one of their pieces without me conducting them. That piece actually went better than the other (which probably says something about my conducting skills) and I was so proud of them!

We had some exciting guests this year, including the people from Starlight Harps - currently the only makers of all-carbon fiber pedal harps. The kids and I all got to try playing on them. They're super light - less than 40 pounds - so they're very easy to carry. They're also very difficult to damage. It was fun (albeit a little frightening) watching these guys bang on the harps, pour water on them, and even stand them upside down to show how easy they are to move. 

Starlight harps can be played upside down?
Starlight harps can be played upside down?

One of the other really exciting guests we had was Beyond Pluck, a harp duo that plays a lot of really cool arrangements of popular songs as well as more traditional double harp fare. (If you haven't heard of them, check out their YouTube channel here). In addition to giving a workshop for the kids and playing a concert for us, the duo wrote a piece of all of us at camp to play. It was an arrangement of the Coldplay song Fly On, and it was pretty awesome. 

The view from my stand during a rehearsal of "Fly On" with the harp duo Beyond Pluck

The view from my stand during a rehearsal of "Fly On" with the harp duo Beyond Pluck

Beyond Pluck playing Bernard Andres' "Parvis," one of my favorite pieces for harp duo!

Beyond Pluck playing Bernard Andres' "Parvis," one of my favorite pieces for harp duo!

All of the harps in place for Rachel Miller's arrangement of Coldplay's "Fly On"

All of the harps in place for Rachel Miller's arrangement of Coldplay's "Fly On"

 

We also got a harp care workshop with a professional harp tech.

Rachael Galbraith from the Harp Connection talking about harp maintenance.
Rachael Galbraith from the Harp Connection talking about harp maintenance.

In addition to all of this fun harp stuff, our dorm counselor Caitlin kept the kids busy with activities like tie-dyeing, movie night, ice cream sundae-making, and crafts of all kinds. Another highlight of the week that Caitlin organizes is Color Wars - a kind of scavenger hunt in which the kids split up into two teams and follow clues to find the rubber chicken at the end of the hunt. The kids are so intense about it, and we just about died laughing watching them running around, yelling, trying to figure out all of her complicated clues. This year, she rewarded the winning team with a bucket of water balloons and encouraged them to ambush the other team. 

As always, I had such a great time at this camp, and all of the above barely scratches the surface. The students were talented and funny and hardworking, and it was great to see their progress throughout the week. It was especially awesome for me to see how much the returning students had improved since last year. I got so many thoughtful notes from the kids at the end of the week (including a few drawings of me), and I almost cried when I was presented with flowers and cards in front of the audience at the final concert. I will miss all of the staff and students so much, and I hope to see them all again next year!

PS About halfway through the week, when I started to become really tired and stressed from all the activities we were organizing, I realized that this is what public school teachers do EVERY SINGLE DAY. I can't even, guys. Anyone who says that school teachers are lazy is insane. To my music teacher friends - y'all are my heroes. 

No, Thank You, I Can Do It On My Own

Kathryn Sloat

Because I know that sometimes my students and their parents read this blog, I want to post a warning first - this story is a little disturbing, and there will be swearing.



As a freelancing harpist, I’m very used to moving my harp by myself. Since I was eighteen I’ve been able to load and unload it from my car, and drag it and all of my equipment around alone. 

Inevitably, while I am in the midst of moving my instrument, someone will happen by and offer to help. And sometimes I do need help. I will often accept help in the form of a held door. If it’s a friend or acquaintance offering, I will sometimes ask them to carry my bag or my bench. But I personally never choose to have strangers handle my harp. So more often than not, when a passerby on the street stops and asks me if I need help, I smile politely and tell them no, thank you, I’ve got it covered. I do always appreciate it when people offer.

People don’t always take no for an answer. Sometimes people - strangers - will just swoop in while I am loading and start trying to push it and move it around without asking if that’s what I want. This is always annoying. My mom told me once that I should be more polite and let people help me, but when someone comes in and starts “helping” me without asking, it is much more of a hindrance than a help. This, of course, does not include people like my close friends, family, or boyfriend, who have observed me often enough to know my system and how they can be most useful. My father is the only person I trust regularly to unpack and move it without my help or supervision - he has, after all, been doing it longer than I have!

I have had amusing encounters, like the time I was packing up after a wedding and three muscly groomsman came over and very kindly asked what they could do to help me. When I smiled and said that one of them could carry my bench, but that I could get the harp on my own, they were quite bemused - but impressed that I could move it with relative ease. 

I have also had annoying episodes with people who were being rude instead of helpful. Once I was loading my harp into my car after a church gig when an older man came over, practically pushed me aside, and informed me condescendingly that as a little girl, I could not do this without help (I was 24). 

Last night was the first time one of these encounters took a bad turn and became scary. I drove my harp to downtown Manhattan for a late night rehearsal. As I was pulling it out of my car, a group of about five men who had been standing outside the building came over and asked if I wanted help. Like I usually do when this happens, I smiled and told them politely that no, thank you, I could do it myself. Instead of listening to me, several of them grabbed it and started tipping it to the side, pulling it every which way. I am normally a very chill person, but this is my harp we’re talking about. I freaked. I told them to put it down, stop pushing it, I will do it on my own. They refused, insisting that they were helping. I started panicking, and tried to put it on the cart and get out of there as fast as I possibly could. They kept tipping it over the wrong way, and too far, and I pictured it tumbling to the ground and cracking in half. I kept repeating myself - stop doing that, put it down, I can do it on my own. I raised my voice until eventually I was almost yelling, and drove them off.

All but one man, who grabbed hold of my harp and insisted that he was helping me. He started dragging it backwards - it was on the cart but not strapped in, and the ground was very uneven. I grabbed hold of it, and told him again, loudly, to let go. He refused. At this point, I snapped. I got in his face and screamed at him to back the fuck off and leave me alone. He shouted back, calling me a stupid bitch and saying that he was trying to help me. We yelled at each other several more times before he finally let go and backed away. He continued to shout curses and insults at me as I packed up my things and got in the building as fast as I could. 

When I got upstairs to the rehearsal space, the anger I had felt moments before collapsed, and I just cried. Although they hadn’t been physically attacking me, I still felt sick and scared. I completely forgot that I was going to go out and grab dinner before the rehearsal, and even if I had remembered, I would not have gone outside by myself after that. I don’t think I played too terribly in rehearsal, but I felt dazed and shaky, and not altogether present. 

I’m not too sure what to take from this story. I know my parents and aunts worry about me getting around the city by myself - and I’m sure that reading this will not help - but I can hardly stop taking my harp to gigs. There will always be creeps who do things like this. And I’ve wondered if this happens to other people - other harpists, or, specifically, male harpists. I realize I probably don’t look like someone who can move a harp on their own - I’m small, and female. Is it my imagination, thinking that being a woman is one of the reasons people think I can’t handle my instrument? Am I being oversensitive? I’d really like to hear from other people, and especially other harpists (or players of large instruments), about what you think. Do any of you have stories like this?


Although I’m still reeling a bit from this experience, I have to say - it is good to know that I’m capable of standing up for myself when I have to. 

From a Studio in Brooklyn to Carnegie Hall

Kathryn Sloat

Last week I had two different gigs in two very different venues. 


In the first one, I played Donizetti’s opera Lucrezia Borgia with the Loft Opera company. Loft Opera (www.loftopera.com) is an organization in Brooklyn that has an unconventional approach to presenting opera. Many of their productions are in warehouse spaces, with the audience circling the stage and the cast right up close. Their production of Lucrezia Borgia was in LightSpace Studios, a place usually used for photo and film shoots. I sat in the orchestra with my back against the benches where the audience sat - close enough to literally rub elbows with them. Everyone seemed interested in the harp, and I had conversations many of the people seated next to me - including a couple from the UK who were in New York visiting their daughter, and a woman who turned out to be the star of Loft Opera’s fall production of The Barber of Seville (along with her composer husband). 

I had wanted to play with Loft Opera since I started going to their shows over a year ago, and it felt really great to get my foot in the door. It was just as much fun as I imagined it would be!

(Photo filched from Stephanie Babirak)

On top of all that, it was my birthday last week! What an excellent way to spend it. 

Running from the Fraud Police

Kathryn Sloat

Have you ever had the feeling that you are just kind of faking your way through life? That you don’t really know what you’re doing, and sooner or later someone will find out and call you out on it? 


Rock musician Amanda Palmer calls this “someone” the Fraud Police - the fear that there is some secret police force that will find out that you’re faking it and will come and take you away. I often have this feeling, especially when I am being paid more money to play a gig. In the back of my mind there is always that nagging feeling that I don’t really belong there, and at some point someone will point at me and say hey, what is this kid doing here? Couldn’t we get a real harpist to play?


I am still figuring out how to beat the Fraud Police, but I think what it comes down to is self-confidence. Knowing that while you certainly aren’t perfect, you are a good musician and you deserve to be where you are. I’ve learned how to take compliments, and not dismiss them in my mind - although it still surprises me sometimes when I get them. For example, I am currently playing a musical, and I worked really hard on the part. I was sitting at a dinner table where the one of the trumpet players was talking to the music director about the show, and suddenly he pointed at me and said, “Hey. She sounds GOOD.” I was surprised, but gratified, that someone noticed the effort I had made. 


Take that, Fraud Police. 


I still make rookie mistakes (like playing this musical without picks, and now I’m paying for it with a blood blister), but it’s important to forgive yourself and move on. No one does everything right all the time, and I have the sneaking suspicion I’m not the only one making it up as I go along. 


Fake it till you make it, right?


Anyone know how to get rid of a blood blister?