Say it in 3 minutes

This afternoon, I’m faced with the exciting challenge of pitching an idea in just three minutes. The panel of judges I’ll be trying to persuade has been put together by the Buma Classical Convention – a networking event organized at Utrecht’s main music venue, Tivoli Vredenburg. Also pitching ideas in the same session will be nine other musicians, so in addition to being extremely concise we must also make our ideas stand out. The stakes: €1.000, to be invested in the idea the panel finds most innovative.

I’ll be talking about The Mozart Effect – the project Merel Vercammen and I have been developing this year. Yesterday, to prepare, I wrote down a list of bullet points I thought were the most important to cover. Then I set my timer to three minutes and started working my way through them. What felt like just a few seconds later, I found myself abruptly running up against the end of my time limit. While the timer on my phone jingled away, I looked down at my list of bullet points and realized I had barely made it halfway through. Shit! Three minutes is short!

Once I got over the shock, I felt liberated. No question about it – there will not be not enough time to go into detail. And that’s perfectly fine, because the merit of our ideas, now and in any other context, will not be judged by how much detail we can expound on the subject but by whether or not the idea is compelling enough to spark people’s interest. The best ideas should be able to excite the listener in just one sentence (e.g. “I propose to land the first man on the moon within the next ten years”). If people want more detail after that, they will ask for it.

Wish me luck! I’m not planning any record-breaking space expeditions, but hopefully I will be able to connect with people who are also curious about exploring the influence of music on the brain.

A few hours later…

Before we started, as I was meeting the other pitchers, the three-minute limit was on everybody’s mind. It was the primary nugget of break-the-ice small talk: “Can you believe we only have three minutes?” The jury even had an hourglass and a bell!

Everyone managed the challenge quite well, though, and the result was an invigorating succession of creative ideas. Unfortunately, the Mozart Effect didn’t win the grand prize, but it had a glorious three minutes. Though winning €1.000 is a great victory for any project, the consolation is that these projects are all happening anyway. In the case of the Mozart Effect, we’re very thankful to already have grants from the Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst and the MAOC Gravin van Bylandt fund, so it’s moving forward, and we’ll keep you updated.

Tips for Sibelius and Finale

I have another gift for harpists coming up soon. For those of you who subscribe to the Harp Column, keep your eyes open for my next feature article about the two major musical notation programs: Sibelius and Finale. Slated to appear in the upcoming Nov/Dec issue, this article is written specifically for harpists who would like to know more about notating their own music and arrangements on the computer. There is something in there for everyone. Readers get to walk through each step of the process—from setting up a harp score to notating pedal/lever changes, rolled chords, harmonics, and much more.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to do another feature article for the Harp Column—and thus a platform to share this useful knowledge with other harpists—but this time it doesn’t stop there. Appearing alongside this article, as a special bonus for the more visual learners, I have also provided a series of accompanying tutorial videos showing exactly how to perform each step. (The videos will be available exclusively to Harp Column subscribers.)

It is a huge amount of value packed all together, and I hope readers find it useful. If you read it and find something unclear or want help with something I didn’t cover in the videos, contact me here!

Talking to Composers

I just had an incredibly interesting last couple of weeks. The Harp Column asked me to write a feature article for their magazine, and the topic I agreed to tackle is about composers who write for harp. I was drawn to the subject in part because it gives me the excuse to talk directly with some of these composers whom I most admire – people like Robert Paterson and Caroline Lizotte, to name a couple. I had great success in getting everybody I contacted to agree to take some time to chat with me, and six interviews later, I’m coming away from last week feeling like I just had six free lessons with great masters!

I asked them questions about everything I could think of: their composing process, what drives them to create, publishing music scores, and so on. I gathered so much great material from them that in the end the hardest part about writing the article was deciding what NOT to include. It was particularly interesting when several of them ended up giving the same answers to a question. Would you have guessed that one of the main mistakes composers encounter in performances of their music is harpists taking the wrong tempo? Did you know that composers describe difficult aspects of the harp (such as the pedals) not as discouraging limitations but as a key to inspiration?

The finished article focuses in on two main topics: the composers’ thoughts about writing music for the harp and about collaborating with harpists. But there’s also a bonus section with advice for harpists who may be interested in composing themselves.

Update: This article was published as “Composer Connection”. It came out in the May/June 2015 issue of the Harp Column, which was Vol. 23, Issue 6, and it appeared on pg. 26.

The Mozart Effect

A few weeks ago, I got a message from Merel Vercammen, a good friend of mine here in Holland who not only is an excellent violinist but is just back from completing a master’s of science degree in Music, Mind, and Brain in London. She wanted to know if I would be interested in developing a concert idea with her which would incorporate some the latest research about how music affects the brain.

Several brainstorm sessions and rehearsals later, we have now come up with a fun and interactive concert format which invites the audience to participate in an experiment demonstrating how music combines with mood to enhance cognitive performance. With the help of a smart-phone app designed by software developer Gert Wijnalda, we’re going to be able to project data and results live during the show. We’re also incorporating a beautiful program of music for violin and harp by composers such as Mozart, Fauré, and Arvo Pärt.

Just this weekend, we pitched the idea to the Grachtenfestival (a summer music festival in Amsterdam), and they loved it! They decided to book the show, and we’re starting to even get interest from other festivals too.