Thank you, Minnesota State Arts Board!

The long-awaited letter has arrived: I've been awarded an Artist Initiative Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board.

I applied in July 2009. The board met in November 2009. I worked up my courage and called the arts board in January to see if I had been recommended, and they told me I was, but it was unofficial until the board met.

Now, it's official.

When I opened the letter I just stood there motionless from a mixture of relief and elation. I'd been waiting so long, and had wanted to tell so many people, but in that moment of having the official notification, I couldn't do a thing except clutch the letter and whisper "thank you, thank you, thank you."

The grant will be used to fund a trip to Ireland this summer to attend a traditional harp festival in County Roscommon and to participate in private instruction and competitions. I'll keep you updated with more details. Right now, I have lots of plans to make.

And some celebratory chocolate to eat.


Valentine's Day, Part 1 and Part 2

Part 1: Playing for Valentine's Day dinner
at Richard's Restaurant and Pub.

 Part 2: Ahhhh...

A duct tape convert

It's rare that I get blisters from playing anymore. (In fact, the last time I got one was last year at this time. I wonder if it's the weather or (gasp!) the lack of practice since the Christmas playing rush?)

Anyway, I've got a doozy of a blister. 4th finger of left hand, the finger that anchors all those big chords on those huge gut and metal strings in the bass. Owie. And with four Valentine's events to play for this weekend, it's really not a good time.

I brought this dilemma to my Facebook friends. What's a harpist to do? Some suggested painting super glue over the blister. Yeah, I tried that once, and not only did the hardened glue make a horrible tapping sound on the strings, those same strings ripped off the glue — along with the upper layer of the skin of the blister — within 20 minutes. Double owie. Some suggested sports band-aids. They didn't last even 20 minutes when I tried them. And then some hard-core musicians in the group suggested the glossy grey miracle, the "handyman's secret weapon," the substance that makes guys everywhere feel more manly...

Duct tape.

Once I resigned myself to the fact that it wasn't going to look pretty, I gave in. Duct taped finger it would be. I packed up the harp, got it into the warm truck and went to my tool box — No. Duct. Tape. And I didn't have time to stop at the hardware store before I needed to be at the Wine Café. So I steeled myself to just play through the pain.

I shouldn't have worried, though. There were plenty of great musicians at the Wine Café, and the likes of Paul Durenberger and Minnesota Music Hall of Famer Billy Steiner rushed to my rescue with a roll of duct tape and a Swiss Army knife to trim the edges.

See? Not pretty.

 And yes, a blister popped on the right hand 4th finger, too.
At least I was balanced.

It made for some interesting adjustments in my playing. While I didn't feel any blister pain, I also didn't feel the strings at all. I spent more time looking at my fingers while playing than I have since I was first learning to play the harp. But I adjusted, and people enjoyed the show tunes and romantic songs I played.

I'm sold on the duct tape cure. So much so that I went to the drugstore last night to buy a roll for myself. The cashier looked at me a little strangely when I put the duct tape and a Valentine's Day card on the counter (the card was for my 90-year-old neighbor, Ethel), but I didn't explain. I just tripped off into the winter's night with my purchases, ready to give myself a manicure with some silvery nail polish to match my newest performance accessory.


A gig in which I help students pass their midterm exams

Minnesota State University, Mankato, is my alma mater. The university has made a lot of great changes since I graduated, my favorite being the addition of their huge fireside room in the student union. So when I was asked to play as a surprise for students in that room on Friday, I jumped at the chance.

The view from where I was sitting.

The fire and the sun streaming in the floor-to-ceiling windows made it nice and toasty in there. Students were milling and talking and laughing, but most were snuggled into the comfy chairs with their laptops or their textbooks, diligently preparing for their midterms.

 I like to think the music helped them pass those exams. 

photos by Miles, the helpful student coordinator


Oh, was there a ball game today?

I was so busy writing Irish-style jigs and slip jigs,
it must have slipped my mind.

Actually, here's how I found out it was SuperBowl Sunday: I called my mom and when she answered there was a loud shout in the background. She said, "Oh, it's your father yelling at the colts." Colts? I thought. They don't live on a farm and there aren't horses around for miles. Why would there be colts in the yard?


Stage fright, for the first time in years

It's been a long time since I've had stage fright. Sure, I get excited and nervous before performing now (I'd say "just ask my band," but they are sworn to secrecy about my back-stage antics before heading out in front of an audience). But sweaty, panicky, knee-and-finger-shaking stage fright? Not for a long time.

I was excited to perform at the open mic hosted by the Southern Minnesota Poetry Society.  Since it was bitterly cold that night, I decided to take my very portable little lap harp out for the evening and play in the style of the Celtic bards, singing and accompanying myself.

I played "She Moved Through the Fair" with very simple accompaniment.

The words are so poetic. 
"And then she went homeward with one star awake
as the swans in the evening move over the lake."

Not a finger shake in sight. 

And then someone said it. "Amy, won't you read us some of your poetry?" Well, that changed everything. I was among poets, real poets. People who had actually memorized their work, who read with riveting passion, who painted images with words. They had won awards. And me? I write poetry once in a while, for fun, when an image strikes me. Read it in front of people?


I got a poem out of my folder (just carrying my poetry to a society meeting makes me feel like the real deal). I stood there feeling quite...naked. There was no harp in front of me. Nothing to do with my hands. Thank goodness there was a podium. I giggled nervously, ignored my shaking knees, fanned myself a few times with the pages. And began.

 Here's proof.
They listened. They clapped. 
And I was never so glad to get off a stage in my life. 

In theory, it's good to step outside our comfort zones and scare ourselves once in a while. In practice, it's really hard. I'm amazed at how hard it was to be on stage without a harp and read my writing in front of people. But I'm really glad I did. I think stretching artistically in any direction helps define and polish and deepen my main focus: music. And I actually think I could read my poetry again, perhaps with less of a before-reading freak-out.

Which would mean I would have to maybe write some more poetry...yeah.

(photos by Sue Wipperling and Yvonne Cariveau)