Well because it’s a great word that for me it will forever summon to mind Elizabeth Peters’ thrilling novel set in 1890’s Egypt, “The Crocodile on the Sandbank,” in which one of the main villains is a peripatetic mummy.
Not being a mummy myself I am at liberty to travel when called upon to do so, a fact which sometimes results in an interesting schedule.
October 22, 2016
“I drove down to La Crosse last Monday night for a rehearsal with the La Crosse Symphony Orchestra. Bruckner’s 4th Symphony and then The Piano Guys lent an epic air to my otherwise mundane drive through southeastern MN.
“Tuesday I drove back up to the Cities (accompanied by the Dale Warland Singers) for a day of teaching. Wednesday I packed my bags for a long weekend and drove back down to La Crosse for another rehearsal. Thursday I visited my aunt and uncle in Winona and soaked in some autumn atmosphere at Great Bluff State Park.
“Friday morning I drove back up to the Cities listening to the strains of two 2016 Renaissance Festival cd acquisitions- one from the Skyvault acting troupe (based on Shakespear’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”; I basically watched the whole play in my head while driving (which happens to be a very effective way to pass the time)), and another from the Too Broke Blokes, who sneakily incorporate STARWARS into their music, to my delight) and then headed to Stillwater to play harp for a wedding. It was the most gorgeous location for a fall wedding, beautiful weather, slightly cloudy, but still crisp and moody at the same time. My tenth-grade English teacher happened to be a guest at the ceremony and not only did he recognize me but he greeted me by name. There’s a reason Mr. Paulson was one of the most influential teachers of my high school career.
“After the wedding I hopped into the car and followed scenic Wisconsin 61 back down to La Crosse, this time listening to the King’s Singers from King’s College. “Miserere” by Allegri and “Agnus Dei” by Faure kept me on the verge of happy tears the whole time. Pulled in just in time to snag two pieces of cold pizza from my hotel room fridge before heading to Viterbo for our dress rehearsal.”
I confess I didn’t want to be an “orchestra harpist.”
I relish the sensation of being surrounded by sixty other musicians playing in synchrony as much as the next guy, but in order to arrive at that place a harpist must spend hours alone practicing glissandos and arpeggios that, in the whole orchestral scheme, often function more like icing than cake. I decided in college that the euphoria of the final moment wasn’t worth the meticulousness it demanded up front. I figured I’d focus on performing music where I was the one playing the melody, setting the tempo, writing the accompaniment and receiving all the glory.
Yet here I am, several years later, with a stack of orchestra parts on my music stand. Two weeks ago I played with an orchestra up near St. Cloud. Last week it was the La Crosse Symphony. This fall I have the Bemidji Symphony, a high school band, and the local university’s orchestra on my calendar as well as a couple other chamber gigs.
How did this happen?
Well I discovered it’s possible to be a part-time “orchestra harpist.” I love it! I play solo harp for most gigs, but then every so often I still experience amazing concerts from the stage (which is where all the best seats in the house are.) Playing in an orchestra is like embroidery: lots of time and detail work go in, one glorious project comes out (except the concert only last 90 minutes, where hopefully the dish cloth will last a few years at least.) Learning a new solo piece is more like painting the inside of a closet. You can sit down and play the piece for yourself (or open the door and admire the nice fresh color) anytime you want. Or you can drag your friends and family over to admire your new music/paint job. I’d go insane if all I did was embroider. But it’s a nice change from painting closets.
“Tonight’s the concert. I went hiking this morning, got lost, found myself, joined a flock of humans on the way up to a beautiful lookout above La Crosse and felt like it was the 4th of July. (Why were so many people there? I still don’t know.) Walked through downtown La Crosse until I found a coffee shop and then settled in for a relaxing few hours before I head off to get suited up for the concert. The nerves are starting to kick in now and I’m trying to ignore that in 3 and a half hours I’ll be sitting terrified on the stage counting 1, 2, 3, 4 PLAY! But last night we rocked the dress rehearsal and I know I’ve put in the time practicing. I’ll have my ear plugs and fingers ready.”
Tonight’s program? Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique”!
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.