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When I was a child I longed to play the harp. But where does one find harps in the northern woods of Wisconsin? Especially when your parents did not have the wealth to purchase so expensive an instrument. And, where would you find a teacher?
As a result, the piano became the instrument of my mother’s choice for me. I was required to practice one hour per day. Lessons were every Saturday afternoon. While my friends were out playing and riding their horses, I was driven to town to spend the best part of my day at the piano teacher’s.
Piano lessons started at the age of six and continued through my high school years. I became an excellent pianist but had no deep love for the instrument. In college I majored in music and fine arts. The music theory and music notation classes were too difficult for me; I could not mentally pick up on the “mathematics” of college level music. My piano teacher had taught me to play an instrument, but had taught me nothing of theory or notation. Theory and notation were new to me and I did not like either subject.
I dropped out of college and became an airline stewardess (now referred to as flight attendants) with Northwest Orient Airlines. I flew for 42 years and acquired eighteen million miles of flight time before retiring on September 1, 2007. During my flying years I stayed involved with music. I sang with folk groups, rock bands, church choirs, but never played the piano. I lost total touch with the instrument for twenty five years or more.
My husband and I moved into a home across the street from one of the Twin Cities top known harpists. She and I became close friends. She had several harps in her house and she would sometimes offer to play me a song. She told me that someday she was going to bring one of her harps over to my house and let me work with it. It seemed too good to be true, but I waited patiently for her to follow through on her promise.
The day finally came when a beautiful Lyon & Healy 22-Grand gold-leafed harp was moved into my home and placed elegantly in my living room. My harp-playing neighbor said two things to me that would have discouraged any ordinary person. First she said, “I am not going to teach you. This is just for your personal enjoyment. You can either figure it out, or you can find yourself a teacher.” And, second, “Don’t ever think about becoming a professional. You’re far too old to give that serious thought.”
When my neighbor left, I walked over to the harp and I touched it for the first time. I knew exactly what fabulous journey this instrument was going to take me on. The vision was there and the vision stayed firmly planted in front of me through the years I struggled to learn this fabulous instrument. The vision never changed except to grow bigger and bigger over the years. I decided not to take lessons; I knew I could teach myself. I wish now, however, that I had taken lessons; I would have been much farther along in a much shorter period of time had I received personal instruction. I struggled five to eight hours per day with scales, fingering exercises, memorizing songs, and dreaming of the day when the harp and I would go professional. I never once gave up on that dream. There were days when the harp seemed to be the most impossible instrument to ever learn to play. Songs were difficult to memorize. My fingers would sometimes feel like wooden sticks and I could not seem to produce anything pretty to listen to. And the harp’s pedals were next to impossible to learn. The pedals on a harp are basically the black keys of the piano. You play them with your feet. I used to joke and say, “I should have taken up tap-dancing before trying to learn to play a pedal harp.” While playing the instrument your feet are constantly moving from pedal to pedal, attacking and releasing the various pedals to produce a bend to the strings for your much needed sharps and flats in a song. At the same time, your fingers are playing on the strings. Your feet and hands are trying to do all these things together while your brain is trying to keep up. Would I ever get to the point where I could play professionally? Yes! I stuck with it through both good and bad harp-playing practice sessions. Nothing would stop my determination.
Finally the time came when I could play a few songs on the harp fairly well. I started writing my own songs (33 so far have been recorded on my five CDs ). I began memorizing over a 100 pieces of classical, new-age, celtic, and modern classics so I would have a variation of songs for my future listening audiences. I had been at this project for nine long years before I stepped out of my “closet” and played for the first time in public. I was scared to death.
I carried the harp to the lake and started playing for the walkers, roller-bladers and bikers. Talk about stumbling through songs and making a million mistakes! But, the people loved it. My husband is an artist and has a booth at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. I rented a small 26-string folk harp and started playing in his booth. At that time I did not have any CDs on the market. But I received great compliments and numerous financial tips. This was just enough minor success to push me into working even harder to accomplish my goals. I taught myself the much dreaded theory and notation so I could write my original compositions on staff paper - just in case I forgot what was memorized. I have learned to love music theory and notation.
Today, I have 5 CDs on the market and am writing music for the 6th. I play three days per week at the Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport, entertaining passengers passing through the Twin Cities airport. My CDs are on sale at the table beside me while I play soothing harp music to the traveling public. I am at awe with the harp. I look at the instrument and I am simply at awe. I look at my CD production and all the music I’ve written and I wonder, “How did this all really come about?” I am proud of what I have done, but I am not prideful of my success; I am quite humbled when I look at what I’ve accomplished.
I am proof that you can be or do anything you set your heart to. It is very important to visualize who you are and what you want to do with your life and your God-given talents. The secret is to find something you love to do and then do it as if you were truly in love with it - have a “love affair” with it! If the passion is there, you can accomplish anything you set your heart to. Never give up the dream. Nothing comes easy for any of us. But the reward will always be there for the person who dreams big and works hard to keep the dream alive.
Patricia Carlson is a self-taught harpist. In 1991, she rented a Lyon & Healy 22-Grand pedal harp with full intent on eventually becoming a professional harpist…her childhood dream. She practiced 4 to 6 hours a day for 11 years, memorizing songs, working on fingering exercises, and dreaming of the day when she would play for audiences, write her own harp creations, and record CDs. She found the harp to be an incredibly difficult instrument to learn, especially not having a teacher. Patricia learned everything she knows about the harp by simply reading books, listening to recording artists, and by watching the techniques of other harpists. In the winter of 2002, she purchased a 40-string lever harp from a harpmaker in Duluth, Minnesota. It was at this time Patricia starting writing her own compositions for both pedal and lever harps. Her two CDs, Artist’s Dream and Woodland Opus, are a compilation of her own creations, plus her own arrangements of traditional Celtic ballads.
Patricia is married to Steven Paul Carlson, a popular portrait and fantasy artist. Many of her songs are written about her husband’s artwork. Together, Steven and Patricia have created art and music that go hand-in-hand. You can enjoy listening to Patricia’s beautiful songs while at the same time viewing many of her husband’s masterful pieces of artwork: Wolf Song, Soulmate, Nascence-The Celebration, Seasons of the Faeries, etc.
Patricia also writes much of her music about the trees, the pets, and the people she has loved throughout her life: Sentinel, The Elms of St. Ardmore, Song of the Willows, Prayer For the Birchwood, Timothy Skies, Timmie Cat Jig, Gabbie’s Song, etc.
Patricia Carlson was born on the shores of Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin. She grew up in the north country amidst lakes, rivers and giant waterfalls. The inspiration for many of her songs comes from her love of Lake Superior and the beautiful country south of Superior, Wisconsin where the Black River flows over the Manitous. It is here, at the bottom of the 165-foot Big Manitou, where the Dance of the River Faerie was written. The shores of Gitchee Gummi (Lake Superior) inspired Reflections.
At five years of age, Patricia began piano under the tutelage of Nina Osbourne Batson of Boston, Massachusetts. By the time she entered college as a fine arts major, she was an accomplished keyboard artist. She has also been lead singer with several folk groups and rock bands, including The Antiguities, The Electric Renaissance, Easy Green and Odyssey IV.
Patricia is a martial artist and has a second-degree black belt in American Karate. She and her husband owned and operated a martial arts school in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Patricia also taught martial arts in the Minnesota public school system and women’s self-defense classes in the Twin City area.
The harp, and writing music for this magnificent instrument, is where her true heart is. For more information, look up Patricia’s website at www.LadyHarpCreations.com.
Copyright © 2010 Patricia Carlson