In the fall of 2014 I applied for my first grant, an “Arts Tour Minnesota” grant through the MN State Arts Board, and immediately determined that every paper I had written in high school and college had been surprisingly relevant to my creative musician life. Those acquainted with a certain type of artist will be able to fill in the details implied in the above undertaking: the days of writing and rewriting and attempts to correctly format one’s work samples for online submission, a 11:30pm technology crisis and the midnight deadline which creeps steadily closer.
I come from a family of artists. I had previously observed grant deadline-induced frenzy and I had assumed it would be different for me. That assumption proved incorrect.
I was very excited about my proposal: excited to prepare and perform a concert of varied and unusual music (on solo harp) to audiences throughout Minnesota, as well as give mini “Intro to the Harp” lessons for interested individuals. In my narrative, I wrote:
I enjoy breaking the stereotypes that surround the harp. People often comment to me that harp is so lovely; that it is soothing; that it sounds heavenly. I wish to show audiences that the harp can also be wild, harsh, resonant, sorrowful, or eerie. A harp is more than a piano on its side or an instrument that cherubs play.”
Hence the name on my concert program: “Eclectic Harp,” meaning harp music gathered from various sources. I didn’t at the time realize how easy it is to mistake the title for electric harp. Though perhaps I gained a few audience members through this similarity.
I was awarded the grant.
Deciding which specific pieces to include in my program proved more of a challenge than I expected. Options abounded. And as I began to arrange, I kept doubting whether I had gotten what I wanted out of each piece. Deciding on a measure of notes is like hanging pictures on the walls of a new house: one puts them up, then moves them around. Then moves them again until they feel right. And sometimes it takes a long time.
One of the highlights of my tour turned out to be the fact that the program did have time to settle: by the time my project was over, I’d been arranging or performing the same hour of music for more than a year. At the end of each concert I handed out evaluation forms asking for feedback such as individuals’ favorite pieces from the concert. Some of the more esoteric selections like the shape-note tune “The Golden Harp” and the gregorian chant “O Redemptor” didn’t receive any “Likes” at the first few concerts. I took this as a personal challenge: not to change the arrangement, but to play it more convincingly. I think by the end of the sixth concert, every piece on the program had shown up in an evaluation form as someone’s favorite.
This grant, the “Arts Tour Minnesota” grant, is a relatively new program sponsored by the Minnesota State Arts Board. Its dual purpose is to expose artists to new audiences and to expose audiences to new artists. I loved it. I worked with individuals and Arts Boards in six different Minnesota communities: Wadena, Dassel, Dawson, Granite Falls, Kandiyohi, and Virginia. It was my first time visiting each on these towns except for Virginia, and I truly felt welcomed by them. On a side note, I actually ended up seeing a number of family members as well as I traveled to various parts of the state.
What have I absorbed from this experience?
I’ve always thought that audiences enjoy hearing something about a piece of music before they listen to it. I was gratified and surprised to see that fully one third of the evaluation forms confirmed this with comments such as “I liked to hear the artist’s commentary on the music and the history of styles,” “Very lovely explanations of each piece,” “The stories/background info on the songs – good context!” and “I liked the info the artist provided.”
I laughed when I read some of the comments: some people indicated that they would have liked the program to be longer, while others suggested it be shorter. And though the jazz piece “Duke” and the tango “Bolada de Afidionado” were certainly overall favorites, all the other pieces were loved by at least one person.
I learned that one should never, ever, schedule a concert on the same afternoon as a football game. Any football game.
I learned that my station wagon can successfully transport one 6-foot-tall Lyon Healy 85 concert grand pedal harp, one 3-foot-tall folk harp, one box of CDs, one harp base, one music stand, one special harp chair, one harp cart, one briefcase of strings and music, myself and one assistant. It took quite a while to pack everything the very first time, and I was careful to replicate that exact configuration on subsequent trips.
I am quite pleased, looking back over the project as a whole. In my grant proposal I wrote,
My belief is that music changes people, enriches their minds and refreshes their spirits.”
I wanted not merely to play pretty music (though I enjoy pretty music and so do many people) but to present a varied palette, a “taster” of different styles. I think it worked.
Audiences responded: “Musically intelligent and purposeful,” “I didn’t want the music to ever end,” “I didn’t realize you could play so many kinds of music on the harp,” “I have never been to a harp concert. It led me away from my troubles of the day.” “My first harp concert. Nice selection of music,” “Lively on a glum Sunday,” “Moving” and “Every moment was so stimulating and relaxing at the same time.”
On another note, what fun to introduce 40 different individuals to playing my instrument for the very first time! I definitely enjoyed the teaching aspect enormously. Initially I wasn’t sure how many people would want mini harp lessons. Would we have only two students, or would we have dozens clambering for a slot? It turns out six to seven people in every town were interested.
I regret not having budgeted more for advertising. While I felt all my presenters did a wonderful job of advertising the concert, I think a bigger budget for newspaper ads, etc, would have been beneficial. I’ll know for next time.
Oh, and next time? Next time I’ll give more concerts.
Did you attend one of my performances? I’d love to hear about your experience. Comment below!
To watch clips from my tour, visit my videos page.
Thank you to the MN State Arts Board, Emily K., Emily T., Rand C., Laura J., the Miss Wadena Pageant Committee, Barb K., the Dassel Historical Society, Sheila W., Erin Celest-Westover, Joshua Duffy, Vicki S., Mary G., the Dawson/Boyd Arts Board, the Granite Area Arts Council, and Luanne F.
This project was made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.
Stephanie Claussen is a professional harpist from Minneapolis, Minnesota. She performs on her harp throughout Minnesota in various concerts, recitals, and collaborations with other musicians. Consider signing up for her e-mail newsletter to be notified directly of upcoming performances and important announcements.