Monday, January 28, 2013

Introduction to the Autoharp

The autoharp is a simple, yet complex instrument. On one level, it’s extremely easy to play, making it a popular tool for elementary school teachers and music therapists.  But the autoharp can produce some amazing melodies in the hands of a master.

A typical chromatic autoharp has 36 strings and 15 or 21 chord bars.  To play a chord, you simply press a button and strum. The chord bar dampens all the strings except the strings for that chord.  If you hold down the “C” button, the only notes you hear are C, E and G. 

If you know anything about music, you can pick up an autoharp and strum along with singing almost immediately. Picking out melodies is a little harder, but if you’ve played other instruments, you can pick up some basic songs fairly quickly.

Here I am after only one month of playing the autoharp:

I hope to improve with practice.  The following video shows how wonderful an autoharp can be.  This is Bryan Bowers, well-known autoharp master, at a recent concert I attended:

Bryan uses “diatonic” autoharps: autoharps that have been tuned to just one key. It’s easier to pick out a melody on a diatonic autoharp, and it produces a louder and usually more beautiful sound.  The disadvantage, of course, is that you can play in only one (or sometimes two) keys.

I hope to add more posts about the autoharp as I learn more about this amazing instrument.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Fear of Traveling

Most people have fears that someone can at least relate to: heights . . . water . . . crowds . . . closed spaces . . . clowns. (Well, maybe not clowns.)  But I have a fear that most people can’t understand: the fear of traveling, sometimes called "hodophobia."

Before we go any further, let me make one thing clear: I am NOT afraid of flying. I think flying is one of the safest means of traveling.  Heck, if I could afford to get in a plane early in the morning and fly to New York City and have lunch and then make it back in time for bed, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

For me it's simply this: I’m afraid of being away from home for long periods of time—no matter how I get there. 

Most people love traveling. They look forward to trips for weeks in advance. Traveling is relaxing, a way to get away from the stresses of everyday life.  For me traveling is a huge stress I don’t need. 

For me traveling means feeling out of control, tense, and not being able to sleep without prescription meds (which I hate to take).  I’m afraid of forgetting something at home, forgetting something in the hotel, getting sick, having a car accident, missing my flight, getting lost, etc., etc.  On vacation, everyone wants to try new restaurants, but my stomach is tied up in knots, and I can barely get down a bowl of soup.  It’s just not fun for me. 

What’s worse: The stress of traveling brings on strange physical ailments.  I’ve had back pain, jaw ache, vaginal infections, eye infections, and who knows what I’ll get the next time.  These problems sometimes continue even after I return home and occasionally build up into a nasty case of depression.  It’s just not worth it for me.

Strangely enough, I’ve found that traveling by myself is actually less stressful.  I feel more in control. I can listen to whatever I want in the car.  I sing along, talk to myself, stop whenever I want, munch on whatever I want.  I also find that a little alone time in the hotel can help me relax.  Of course, I want to have some people contact while I’m there.

It also helps if I have a strong motivation to travel.  I’ve traveled twice to meet famous sled dog mushers, and both times have been enjoyable. In fact, I remember when I was looking forward to meeting Martin Buser, four-time Iditarod champion, I was literally counting the days.  I remember thinking, “So this is what it feels like to look forward to traveling.”  Usually I’m filled with dread before a trip.

So there you have it:  My true confession.  It’s hard to have a fear that people don’t understand.  There is very little support for people like me.   One webpage said people should try to overcome their fear of traveling by starting with an English speaking country.  What? Start by going to another country?  Whoever wrote that obviously did NOT understand hodophobia.  A good start would be going to another state.  I doubt if I’ll ever go overseas. 

Hints for overcoming a fear of traveling?  Not sure I have many of them.  Here are a few thoughts:
  • Baby steps, just like any fear. You may need to start with a day trip to another town, or an overnight trip not far from home. 
  • Find something to motivate you to travel.
  • Travel alone or with someone else—find what works for you.
  • Plan ahead, print out maps, make lists—whatever you can do to help you feel more in control.
  • Take medication to help you sleep if you need to.
  • Have an “escape plan.”  You’ll feel better if you feel like you have the freedom to go home early if you need to. 
But it might be  best to just accept it that you don’t like to travel.  It’s not all bad.  I save a lot of money that way.  (My husband likes that part.)  And when it comes down to it – say I have a thousand dollars to spend.  I’d much rather spend it on something like a new camera or a new autoharp, from which I will get many, many hours of enjoyment, than on a trip, which—even if I were to enjoy it—is over in a few days.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Making a Poster

Last Friday at work I needed to make a sign.  At first I figured I’d make something on the computer and print it out. But our printer wouldn’t print anything that large.  “Have the design center print it out for you,” said one of the graphic artists, a young lady who had just graduated from college.  But the older designer suggested I make it myself, using poster board and magic markers.

So I set to work. I drew guidelines with a ruler (top and bottom and one down the middle for centering). Next I sketched where the letters should go, keeping in mind that an M takes up much more room than an I. It was a much more difficult process than just highlighting the text and hitting the command for “center.”

But it was much more satisfying.  I’d forgotten how much fun it was to work with my hands. I’d made plenty of posters this way in the past, and I remembered how enjoyable it was.

At this stage I showed it to the student intern graphic artist.  “Wow,” she commented.  “I could never do that.”

I was sad, in a way.  This young person—an expert graphic artist—would never know the joy of hand-lettering a poster on poster board.  She probably didn’t even know how to do it.

I spent the rest of the afternoon carefully coloring in the letters with red Sharpie, then outlining them in black with an art marker.  Then I erased all the pencil marks.  A fulfilling way to spend a  Friday afternoon