Making her dream come true: a harp for a harpist

When you’re in survival mode, you can’t think of the big picture. You can’t afford to experiment and take risks. You stick to what works and what is certain. You may resort to teaching instead of trying to get gigs. Before long, you’re no longer living your dream but dreaming how to continue to live. Maria’s story is not unlike that of many talented musicians who have gone through a lifetime of rigorous training to become professional musicians. It’s an expensive career path. Musical instruments need upgrading.

The door bell rang while I was chatting on the phone with an artist about surviving as independent artists. I was writing a blog on making your dreams come true and couldn’t resist asking him to divulge the secret to living a dream as an artist.

Before I turned professional (as in depending on income from music rather than for fun), I thought musicians and artists had it easy. They get paid to do what they love while the rest of us try to love what we do, follow other people’s agendas, and get taxed heavily for it.

Now that I’m a full-time musician, I find myself saying things like

When you’re in survival mode, you can’t think of the big picture. You can’t afford to experiment and take risks. You stick to what works and what is certain. You may resort to teaching instead of trying to get gigs. Before long, you’re no longer living your dream but dreaming how to continue to live.

My skype conversation at 12/07/2010 10:30 PM

I have sussed out a lot of truths about the music world.

  1. a lot of arts administration – chasing gigs, following up, — none of which is paid
  2. a lot of time practising and rehearsing — again, not paid
  3. a lot of time traveing — not always paid
  4. performing – not always paid or paid well enough to cover everything else

My observations seem dismal until I spoke to the Russian harpist Maria Pozdnyakova who visited me today. Maria has given three different solo concerts to different audiences in our Monument House Concert Series. In 2008, she performed in a joint afternoon concert with other musicians in the main monument house. In 2009, she gave a solo concert of music by Russian composers at the spillover venue nearby. Recently, in May 2010, she gave first (and so far, the only) outdoor concert in back garden of the monument house.

Maria Pozdnyakova, harpist. Photo: R. Tjoelker
Maria Pozdnyakova, harpist. Photo: R. Tjoelker

Having now obtained her Master in Performance degree, Maria now needs a harp in Utrecht where she lives. When she was still studying at conservatory, she could borrow the harps for practice and performance. Now that she has graduated, she not only needs a harp but also a place to practise, not to mention a harp trolley and transport for harp.

Maria’s 100-year old harp in Moscow is neither adequate for her current needs (45 instead of 47 strings) nor transportable (cannot survive the journey and also prohibited by Russian law to leave the country). She has tried to sell her harp with not much success because harp builders in Moscow prefer to sell new harps which are cheaper than old ones. What are her options? Rent a harp. Borrow a harp. Apply for funding to borrow or buy a harp.

Concert harps cost around euro 15,000. She could rent a harp for 70 euros per month. She has several concerts lined up the rest of the year that require her to have a harp. If she can get enough concerts to pay her in advance, then she can pay to rent a harp.

Maria’s story is not unlike that of many talented musicians who have gone through a lifetime of rigorous training to become professional musicians. It’s an expensive career path. Musical instruments need upgrading. My concert pianist friend in Bath, England wants to sell her 5 ft Steinway Grand for a bigger instrument because she has outgrown it. To do so, she needs to move to a bigger house.

Does anybody have a better solution? A pool of resources and funding to help conservatory graduates launch their careers? How about workshops on making your dreams come true? What they don’t teach you at conservatory but need after you graduate?

Make your dream come true

I admire people who have well-defined and easy-to-articulate dreams. There are plenty of articles and books on how to make your dream come true. Articles like “Laid Off? It May Be Time to Live Your Dream” and “How to make your dream come true” trigger me to reassess my dreams and make a new list. But lists are not enough. I also need to make realistic dreams and commit myself to them otherwise they will stay wishful thinking. I will write a series of blogs about the secrets to making your dream come true.

A facebook notification of a New York Times article “Take a Look Inside My Dream” about dream discussion groups prompted me to respond with “Cool! I’ve organised self-expression workshop, yoga session, house concerts, but never anything like a dream discussion group. I think I’d rather form a group on “how to make your dream come true” and call it Daydream Believers; All I Have to Do is Dream; I Have a Dream….

I asked Robert Bekkers whether his dreams have come true. “Yes,” he replied. “I wanted to be a professional guitar player. I wanted to live in a house of my own. I want my guitar to take me everywhere.”

“Do you have other dreams that have not come true yet?” I asked.

“Of course,” he said. “I want to play in the Concertgebouw someday. My guitar hasn’t taken me all over the world yet.”

I admire people who have well-defined and easy-to-articulate dreams. Mine consists of lists of things I want to do, places I want to go, and other wishful thinking. At one time, my list read “to find a life companion, to own a house, to play piano all day long.” I thought my life companion was my ginger tom cat until I had to give him away because of my allergies.

Fluffy ginger tom cat napping in London
Fluffy ginger tom cat napping in London

When I was a child, I wanted to be a fairy when I grew up. Fairies had magical powers and could fly and disappear. I flew a lot. I changed professions many times. And I disappeared from the corporate world when I moved to the Netherlands.

There are plenty of articles and books on how to make your dream come true. In her blog “How to make your dream come true: thought, strategy, action” ME Liz describes the 9 steps from defining your dream to defining yourself by your dream. The recipe sounds logical and useful, but how many people are committed to making their dreams come true at step 5?

The Creation Spiral, as explained to me by a Dutch composer in Arnhem, tells of 12 steps to realise your dream. Going clockwise, begin at 12 noon with dreaming or defining your dream. 1- visualise. 2- believe. 3-share. 4-research and network. 5- plan. 6- decide and commit. 7- act and do. 8- persevere. 9- “success” 10-celebrate and acknowledge. 11- retreat and take a break. The cycle repeats itself, just as we have to constantly make new dreams.

Articles like “Laid Off? It May Be Time to Live Your Dream” and “How to make your dream come true” trigger me to reassess my dreams and make a new list. But lists are not enough. I also need to make realistic dreams and commit myself to them otherwise they will stay wishful thinking.

The time management expert Mark Forster asked me after attending our piano guitar duo concert in London in May 2003,”How can I help you make your dream come true?” Although I have never read his book of the same title, I am sure now is the right time to ask him. Even better, I will write a series of blogs about the secrets to making your dream come true.