Acorns From The Healing Tree


"I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content." ~ St. Paul

Thumbs UP!

Yesterday was a very busy day, but a good day. I learned a lot about myself and this instrument I teach, also about our bodies.

The body is an important part of music - one has to have a fully functioning body to successfully accomplish one's aim in the art of music. I have taught so many people to play the harp, you'd think I'd learn something here - how one's mental climate creates bodily affects. Take, for example, thumbs!

Thumbs are not just important for humans to pick things up, hitchhike, or differentiate between us and the apes, but thumbs are very important for playing the harp, and I imagine playing other musical instruments as well. Yesterday I had a student suffering from thumb issues. Everyone knows that the thumb must be kept UP to play the harp, and I've taught this to everyone. But there is something else about thumbs that must be considered: which direction does the thumb want to go? If it's like mine, it tends to bend backwards, away from the hand. This is not good for playing, as your melody notes are not strong. Everyone knows that the right hand thumb plays the melody note in most harp music. What a revelation. This student always musically stumbled because her thumbs were so weak - and a weak thumb bends back from the hand. We worked for half an hour trying to play with her thumb pushing on the string towards her palm. I just realized, after nearly 40 years of playing the harp, that my thumbs have been all wrong!

This has been a very humbling revelation since I thought I knew everything about playing the harp! This brings to mind a master-class I attended once, given by an Austrian harpist. He spoke English but occasionally had trouble with certain words. When it came my turn to play for him, he kept mentioning how I had to work on my "tump" technique. I nodded and smiled undoubtedly in a self-satisfied way, but had no idea (until this day!) what he was talking about! "Your tump, your tump, it's all wrong," he would shout. I thought he was speaking of a special musical style or form of interpretation known perhaps only to foreign harpists! Dah. When all the time he was talking about my thumbs!!!!!

When my student got her thumbs going in the right direction, suddenly her music sounded like music! There was a melody in there with all those notes.

Furthermore, yesterday, I had three new students. This is unheard of for me. One of them was a young woman who called me to set up the first lesson. I thought then, just from the sound of her voice, that she was going to be 'difficult'. She had a tone in her voice that I interpreted as being challenging. Like, "how dare you presume to teach the harp?". I was all prepared to throw her out, and had some ready responses in my defense if she became insulting. Jeeze, do I feel dumb. Well, she came, and she was as meek as a lamb, had a very small lap harp and knew nothing about music. However her thumbs were good. Her lesson was actually enjoyable, but I realized how one can create complete fictions about situations that are purely imagined - how one's ego can get all bent out of shape over the slightest imagined provocation. This must be what is called "defensiveness". I realised that it may not even been this girl who had called me, and she was just feeling inferior herself, and had a brazen friend do the calling.

Wow -two lessons - of the personal psychological variety - in one day! Maybe people whose thumbs bend backwards are a bit dense, like me, or wildly imaginative, or both. Which way do your thumbs bend?


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