Undercover Harpist

I’ve been at this harp thing a while – close to 40 years, to be exact – so I won’t lie: it’s nice to walk into a book store, restaurant or store and hear one of my recordings playing in the background. This first happened years ago when I walked into a coffee shop with a friend. It was back in the days when places put whatever CD they were playing on an easel next to the cash register. My friend went up to the cashier and said, “Would you like to meet the artist?” Mortified, I slid outside as quickly as possible. Safely out on the sidewalk, I caught myself for a moment and thought, Wow, that was a little bit cool. Now with all the ways for recorded music to be available, I run into my own recordings often when I’m out and about. I’m glad my music gets around and the digital royalties are heavenly.

There is, however, one location where I bristle if I hear it coming in through the speakers: The Spa. On the rare occasion that I have time for a massage, several of my tracks usually waft in through the system at some point, generally about the time I start to loosen up. Listening to my own music while trying to relax is not a good idea. First, my mind is occupied with verifying that it’s my recording and identifying all the little musical mannerisms that I know are mine. Then I start thinking of the sessions and all the random particulars. All of a sudden, I’m no longer in a state of Zen tranquility but a super stimulated thought zone.

This past week, however, I spoke up. When my recording of Tournier’s Vers la source dans la bois came through the system just as my massage began, I said, “Do you mind turning down the music? It’s not really my cup of tea right now.” My massage therapist said, “I’m so sorry but we can’t control the audio individually in each room.” Rats, I thought. There goes another hundred bucks and the chance to relax.

“Most people find this music pretty relaxing, but I can get you some cotton for your ears if you’d like,” he offered.

“No, it’s just the harp . . .” He went and got some cotton. When he came back, he said, “You know, I wouldn’t admit this to my friends but I kind of like harp music. I’m curious – what about it don’t you like?”

Ok, here we go - ten minutes of my massage wasted, I’m getting frustrated and my lower back is aching from lying on my stomach. “It’s not the harp,” I said. “It’s that . . . I’m actually a harpist myself and well . . .”

“I get it,” he said. “But it’s always nice to make a living doing something people enjoy.”

I stared at the floor with my face stretched tight on the head rack. “Yes, it is,” I said, feeling a little sheepish. I decided to get over it and unclench my fists.

“Do you want the cotton?”

“No, I’ll skip it this time,” I said.

He worked through my tight muscles systematically, commenting on my calluses and asking if my fingertips were thick and rough because of the harp. I nodded, feeling limp and surprisingly relaxed as my Hovhaness Sonata churned away in the background.

My mind didn’t completely float away that day, but I felt the way I needed to feel.



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