03 April, 2010

Blogging in Utrecht

I can't keep up! I still owe you the end of the story of the Tehran Orchestra tour, but in the meantime I've been running off and having other adventures. As I mentioned, I was in Utrecht this past week, blogging the First International Harp Competition and Festival of the Netherlands. I actually wasn't there to play the harp but to write, write, write. It was an interesting change of pace for me; I'm not used to writing in a professional capacity, so I had to invent my approach as I went. The schedule of events during the festival was so dense that there was never enough down-time to write posts about each event I wanted to cover, so I took to writing copious notes and formulating my thoughts into sentences even as I sat in the concert hall or as I listened to the competition. On the days that I did that successfully, I would then already have a head start when there was a free moment to whip out my computer and type it all up.

During the whole week, I carried my office with me, in a large, heavy bag containing my computer, my huge-ass camera, and all the necessary power cables and USB cords. I ended up doing a lot of photography while I was there, which you can see the results of on the Harp Festival's flickr group. Because I was always either taking pictures or typing furiously at my computer, whenever Remy's mom (possibly my most avid reader) happened upon me, she would have me give her my camera and take a picture of me in action, so that I would have a least a few pictures of myself. Thus, I've ended up with this silly series of me at the computer all over the conservatory:

The last photo, actually, was taken by my new friend and colleague, Nike Martens. As soon as we met - at the reception before the opening concert - and she introduced herself as the official photographer of the competition, we knew we would be working closely together. I would steal many photos from her throughout the week, to illustrate the blog. I have come to greatly admire her work and wish I could take such excellent photos myself. I highly recommend skipping right past my photos on the flickr stream and looking at hers.

Unlike my pioneering blogging experience with Marta in Israel, I was part of a larger public relations team in Utrecht - not just Nike, but a whole group of people doing everything in their power to promote and broadcast the festival. It was amazingly inspiring to work with so many creative and talented people. Another great new friend that I made was the developer of the official competition website, Gert Wijnalda, who amazed me with his PHP skillz when he showed me around the control panel that he made for the organizers to edit the content of the website. It was amazing how open-minded and flexible everybody was. At the end of the day, we would unwind over beer and martinis at the bar across from the main competition building and brainstorm a handful of exciting new ideas before biking home for the night. This is exactly how the concept of my interview session was born, which could be seen on the live-stream following the performances of the final round.

Before last week, I had only briefly passed through the Netherlands a couple of times: I was in Amsterdam once with a tour group when I was only 14 years old, and then I was in Rotterdam with the Tehran Orchestra, but this time I finally had the chance to get to know the culture a little better. One particularly Dutch experience I had was biking back and forth to the conservatory every day from Remy and Merel's apartment, where I was staying. Everybody in the Netherlands has a bike, it seems, except Remy. :) There were four of us in the apartment (including Merel's brother) and only two bikes among us, so I would always ride on the back of the bike. Once I got used to the feeling of riding a bike without being in control of it myself (very bizarre), it was a great way to see the city! Another thing I love about the Dutch is how willing they are to switch their conversation to English so that I can understand. I was sometimes in a group of five or more native Dutch speakers, and just because I was within hearing range, they would speak entirely in English!

Paris is still home, but I miss Utrecht and all the beautiful people doing such great things there. I'll be back for the next festival, whenever it is!

25 March, 2010

Join me in the Netherlands

I just wanted to drop a quick post here to let you know that while it may seem that I have abandoned my writing, I am actually busily typing away here at the First International Harp Competition and Festival in the Netherlands. Please come check out the blog at their official website. I'm having a great time here! We sped through the first round yesterday and are eagerly awaiting the semi-final round this afternoon, which will also be streamed live online, for those of you who aren't here to listen in person.

08 February, 2010


From the first day of my tour with the Tehran Symphony Orchestra (TSO) it was clear that I was in for an incredibly profound experience, rich with culture, politics, and especially music. I arrived in Strasbourg still with no idea what to expect and still barely a clue about what was going on. The moment it really began for me was when the musicians first poured through the door and flooded onto the stage for the dress rehearsal. Our mere handful of French musicians was swallowed up by 150 Iranian musicians – men with darkened, eastern features and exotically beautiful women wearing black headscarves, all speaking Persian – I suddenly felt myself immersed in a world that I realized I knew nothing about. The differences between our societies goes back as far as the Roman and Persian Empires, so that even in recountings of history they have always been the foreigners, and I have no basis for understanding their world. In those first moments, we had no idea yet that the wordless and overwhelmed smiles we exchanged with our neighbors would soon blossom into much deeper friendships, and that the music we would make together would forge connections between us.

The night before I left, I came down with a sudden attack of bronchitis. Fortunately, I immediately got on medication and overdosed on lots of good vitamins, so it never became serious. By the morning of the first day, I still hadn't been given clear directions about where I was supposed to be when, or how to catch the train to Strasbourg. So I teamed up with Claire, an oboist also coming from Paris, and we made our own plans. We met at the station and bought our tickets for a train at 11:30am, and once we were in Strasbourg we navigated our way to the concert venue completely by ourselves. This whole project has happened so fast and seems so completely surreal that I suspected when we walked up to the welcome desk at the concert hall and told them we were with the TSO they would look at us like we were crazy and we would realize the whole thing was just a dream. But they simply smiled and indicated where to go, “Oh yes, of course, door A.” On the other side of door A, sure enough, we found stagehands setting up an orchestra's worth of chairs and other props.

The first thing I did was inspect the harps. We had been given two brand-new Aoyamas (the Japanese mark), model Orpheus 47. They were in very good condition. The strings were spaced wider at the top and angled like a Lyon&Healy, but it didn't turn out to matter for the music that we would be playing. We were given our parts a matter of minutes before the first downbeat – just enough time to glance through and decide that the pedal-changes could be sightread. The harp parts were well-written, thankfully, and not too technically difficult. The main challenge would be to become familiar with the style and the structure of the music so that we could recognize our cues for where to come in after 230-some-odd measures of rest. (I will write a post dedicated to the symphony to more completely describe all its musical characteristics.) I was playing second harp to Marianne Eva Lecler, who turned out to be a very solid orchestral harpist and very easy to work with. I think I hadn't heard of her before now because she lives in Bordeaux and is not actually based in Paris. Quadrilingual in French, Spanish, Russian and English, Marianne has a fierce French temper and a tendancy to complain bitterly about every tiny thing until you'd think the world must be coming to an end. But in concert she is extremely supportive and clear-headed. I appreciated how she would indicate to me where we were when we were counting measures and how she would always offer me a little silent applause after we'd pulled off a passage well.

Getting started was rough. The rehearsal was mostly conducted in Persian, with a few sentences in French throw in from time to time to help us figure out where we were. I spent the first minutes of the rehearsal consulting with the double-bass player behind me, in broken English, to try to catch up on all the alterations to the score that had been made during their first rehearsals in Iran (cut measures, corrected typos, etc.). Even though we were finally there in person, the organization of the operation was not necessarily clearer than before. Most things we wanted to know, we still had to go figure out for ourselves.

The symphony starts with what is essentially a duet for flute and harps, and the conductor had us play the first page over and over again so many times that if we had rehearsed the whole symphony like that, it would have taken several days. Eventually we moved on, with only a couple more hitches. As first oboist of a symphony written by an oboist-composer, Claire's part was particularly important, which she fully appreciated only when the flutist suddenly remembered to give her the page with her cadenza, two measures before she had to play it! In this way, we got our fingers around the music before we had to perform it in public for the first time.

Our dress rehearsal went for three hours, without a break, ending with just enough time for us to change, but not to eat, before the concert. The house was full. The symphony was received warmly with a standing ovation – something I rarely see here in France – and followed by an encore of Brahms. Already, though, there were signs that our tour was not to be solely about the music. Video cameras were aimed on us at all times, from all directions; interviews were conducted in the lobby before and after the concert; and green swaths of cloth waved from the audience forshadowed the political demonstrations that would come to dominate our concerts.

Clambering into our buses afterward, we gobbled down KFC that was delivered by taxi and handed out to us for dinner. There was no real chance to see Strasbourg, since our hotel was in the outskirts of town and we would be driving on to Belgium early the next morning. This is the nature of orchestra tours. We were, however, treated to luxurious suites at the hotel, free WiFi, and a hotel bar that showed a steady stream of Michael Jackson music videos on flatscreen TVs. Lingering downstairs until way too late at night, we made our first bonds of French solidarity and Iranian exchange. I went to bed with my heart still pounding.

22 January, 2010

Kicking back into gear with the Tehran Symphony Orchestra

I do realize that I said I would keep blogging after Israel and then I clearly didn't.  This makes me somewhat less-than-true to my word, which is kind of disappointing, isn't it?  However, I'm here now to say that, even if it took me a while, I'm back and I'm going on another adventure!  When I got a last-minute call to go on tour with the Tehran Symphony Orchestra, I realized this was the perfect chance to get back to my blog.  There are already several people on facebook wanting to know more details, and I have no doubt there will be many stories soon to come.  Before I dig into that, let me catch up a bit.

Now that I'm an Israel Harp Competition veteran and I've graduated from school, I find my life going through a definite transition.  This is the beginning of full-time professional life.  I absolutely refuse to prepare another competition - I want to move on to other pursuits and restructure my life, but I'm distraught by the lack of direction in the meantime.  I've been so used to the rhythm of preparing the next big test or competition that I'm not sure how best to operate without that driving force providing purpose to my work.  I need a different driving force.  So, I've been back at the drawing board, re-questioning every little thing about my life.  What music do I really want to be playing and in what setting?  I want to spend less time practicing for a while and develop other areas of my life, but what should those be?

I'm even back to questioning where I should live.  I went home to the States over the holidays.  I saw a very good friend from college get married in New Haven, and then I went back to Chicago. It was such a wonderful thing to be with my family, comfortable to a degree that I never am anywhere else.  It snowed almost every day!  Dad was out on the driveway with the snow-blower sometimes three or four times a day.  Our wood stove kept us blissfully unaware of how cold it was.  (After spending an evening curled up by our wood stove, you really understand what it means to be warm, and you will never again be able to feel truly warm anywhere else.)  Cousins and aunts and uncles were in and out of the house, and epic games of Speedy Scrabble, DDR, and Settlers of Catan were conducted over Mom's famous hot chocolate and wayyy too many Christmas cookies.

Sister April, setting off on her weekly paper route, in the snow.
Speedy scrabble, Daddy, and the wood stove

When I found myself suddenly back in Paris again, cold and jetlagged, I was hit with a powerful bout of homesickness and seriously began to wonder if it's time to move back to the States.  It would be a difficult decision, because Paris is an incredible place, and my whole life is here right now.  It is just so hard to be split between two different countries - it is so draining to go back and forth and change gears completely every time, and there seems to be no end to it in sight for me.

For now, I'm not making any radical decisions, and I'm back to busily running around Paris teaching my wonderful students, rehearsing duets with Marta, and attending concerts.  I'm fighting loneliness by trying to get more involved in community activities - I'm signing up for a French class through the Sorbonne and I've joined a book club at the American Library in Paris.  Otherwise, I'm just taking opportunities as they come.  The cool thing about Paris is that sometimes really crazy opportunities fall right out of the sky.  That's how I got this job playing a tour with the Tehran Symphony Orchestra (TSO).

I was rehearsing at Camac with Marta when we both got a very long texto from a certain Christophe, looking for a harpist available to go on this tour (a referral from a French harpist friend of ours).  Originally the plan was to go to Tehran on Tuesday (we received the request on Monday), rehearse, play a concert there, and then come back to Europe for the rest.  Marta has a heavy teaching schedule that would make it hard for her to be gone for three weeks on short notice, but she encouraged me to do it.  So, naively, I called Christophe back and said "Count me in!".  I then got passed on to a Mr. Armini, who is apparently the conductor of the orchestra (though I'm confused why he would have a French cell phone).  Upon further discussion of the details, it became clear that with an American passport recently stamped in Israel, there was no way they were going to consider taking me to Iran with them.  Thus, I lost the job, and Marta took a deep breath and decided to take it instead, since she just happens to have a Polish passport.  Later that day, after furious amounts of rescheduling her life in order to be ready to be gone the next day, she found out that they had decided to cancel the Tehran leg of the trip, because it was just too complicated to organize visas for the Europeans.  (Why wasn't this planned a little bit further ahead of time?)  Thus, I could do the tour after all and she wouldn't have to abandon her students, so I got the job back.

I wish I could tell you more details, but it's been like pulling teeth just to get them to tell us critical pieces of information, such as when and how we're supposed to meet up with the orchestra to start the tour.  Here is the picture I've managed to piece together so far:

The TSO is coming to perform in six major cities in Europe.  Everybody in the orchestra is Iranian, but they were short a few instruments, so they have recruited six musicians from Paris - an oboe, horn, trumpet, trombone, and two harps.  Christophe, whom I had been in contact with first, is the trumpet player.  I will be playing second harp, and Marianne Eva Lecler will be playing first harp.  Fortunately, we will be provided with harps, so we do not have to deal with the inevitably maddening logistics of lugging harps around Europe.  I do not know what kind of harps they will be, nor what condition they will be in.  Our itinerary is as follows:
Jan 23rd: Strasbourg
Jan 25th: Brussels
Jan 27th: Rome
Jan 30th: Rotterdam
Jan 31st: Geneva
Feb 3rd: Vienna
I wish I could tell you what I will be playing, but they have not given us a program yet, much less our parts.  I'm not looking forward to sightreading a brand new score in the dress rehearsal before the first concert, but it looks like we'll have no choice.  They did say that it would consist of "Iranian traditional music," but while I would imagine that traditional music would only entail a small ensemble of traditional instruments, they seem to be bringing over a full-blown orchestra.  According to what I've managed to track down in the media, such as this article from the Tehran Times, the featured work to be performed  is the "Peace and Friendship Symphony" by composer Majid Entezami (originally the "Islamic Revolution Symphony" composed for the 30th anniversary of their revolution).  Does this remind anyone of our music history lessons about Russian national music?  I suspect that what I will be participating in is of great political significance.  I'm only minimally aware of what's going on in US-Iran international relations, so I'll be going with a relatively open mind and hoping to get a feel for the Iranian perspective.  My change of perspective will be greatly aided by the requirement that I wear a head scarf for the concerts.  I wonder what that's like.  Don't worry, I have promised to take pictures!

It's not very well-paid - 50 euros per day - but I suspect I will gain more from the experience than just money.  This is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me.  If anything, it's woken me up and gotten my blood flowing again!  I'll keep you informed as well as I can.

Signing off for now...

27 October, 2009

Yitzhak Yedid - Out to Infinity

Helping to enrich the harp's repertoire with new music, the Israel competition commissioned a piece for solo harp from the Israeli composer Yitzhak Yedid, which all the contestants were required to play on the first stage.  When I first received the score in the mail, I was delighted to find a whole page of performance notes included at the beginning.  What I love about modern music is that each new piece is created with its own, unique language of musical expression.  I think it is a great thing to constantly be exploring new languages for the harp, in the interest of finding those that are most natural to the instrument and which best exploit the harp's particular qualities.  However, this is also what makes learning modern music hard.  Fortunately, Out to Infinity is full of imagery that helps the performer to interpret the feeling of each section.  Within the score, there are labels - Prelude, Hidden wisdom, A kind and gentle voice, Fragments of dance... - and the preface further helps to illuminate what is intended by these titles - "Like an echo, appearing after a loud mysterious noise whose origins are unknown to you, so the composition begins in The Hidden Wisdom; it seems to simulate a heart beat, ticking quickly, perhaps from fright, perhaps from astonishment."  The music is written in a harpistic way, so that it is not hard to figure out how he wishes the piece to be played.  Its main technical difficulty lies in the passages of extremely fast, repetitious notes and in the closing section, where both hands must strain to reach the lowest registers of the harp, but it is possible to play, and there is room for a wide range of expression!

Mr. Yedid attended the entire first stage of the competition, during which he video-taped several of the contestants.  You can find ten different performances of his piece on the YouTube page he created for this purpose.

Tell me about the inception of Out to Infinity.  How did you come to be commissioned to write this piece for the competition?

It was about three years ago when I received a message from the harp contest that the artistic jury (they are different people from the other jury - mostly composers like Serge Natra and Ami Ma'ayani) decided to commission a piece for a solo harp from three Israeli composers, for the 50th anniversary of the harp contest.  Based on a blind review of the three pieces, they chose one to be the compulsory piece.  I think they asked me because I was awarded the prestigious 2006 Israeli prime minister prize for composers.  I was the youngest among the three composers.   I was of course pleased with the commission.

I wished to compose something really new, to bring a different sound from the harp, and for sure not to go for the typical sound that is associated with the harp.  So I decided to compose a piece in which the harpist would also use the piano strings, which would be prepared in advance with the sustaining pedal pressed for the whole piece.  I actually started the piece, but I had to ask my harpist friend a technical question and she told me that probably the harp contest woouldn't agree to such an idea.  I phoned the contest and they rejected it totally!

At that time, I had just moved to Queensland in Australia, and my wife and I stayed for a month in a tiny studio apartment on a noisy road in a guest house without a piano.  It was there where I composed the piece.  The infinity concept is about thoughts and imagination that one has in such a remote and beautiful place but so far away from his/her usual place.

What kinds of music most influence your compositional style?

Listening to my music, in a way is like watching a film - there is a story and images.  Some images may sound like an Alfred Hitchcock film (like the opening chord), but within the same piece I could also have images of an Arabic singing ritual.

Had you ever composed for the harp before writing this piece?

I hadn't composed for the harp before so I sat at a library for a few days and went through scores.  I especially researched S. Natra and L. Berio.

Did you consult with a harpist during the creation of the piece?

I actually met with a harpist only after I had completed most of the piece.   I wanted someone to check it and also wanted to hear how it sounded, so I googled to see if there was a harpist in the area.   It happened to be that a great harpist, Sebastien Lipman, who also participated in the contest in the past (was in the final) and was for many years the harpist of the great Berlin Philharmonic, lives in Brisbane.  So I phoned him; he was surprised but very welcoming.  He read through the piece from the manuscript - I compose only on paper with a pencil, no computer - and said it is not a easy piece at all, and contestants will have to invest lots of time to put together the non-legato, two-hands, tick-tak concept.  He gave me some notation suggestions.  Thanks to him, I was able to make it very clear how I wished it to sound.  After that I also had a great harpist from Israel, Gitit Boasson, to help me edit the piece before it was printed by the Israeli Music Institute.

*   *   *
Yitzhak Yedid is a "composer of classical music but also a pianist of improvised music."  He has released eight CDs with the German Label BTL and with International Challenge records.  He makes his living from composing commissions and performances as a pianist with his ensemble.  Currently, he is completing his PhD research at Monash University in Melbourne.

23 October, 2009

Comments from the Jury

After the jury had made their cut for the semi-final stage, a session was organized in which those of us who had not passed on were able to meet the members of the jury and receive comments on our playing.  This was our one chance to discover the motive behind the decisions made and to get ideas for what areas of our playing most need improvement.  On the surface, this appears to be the most educational aspect of the competition.  In practice, the whole experience of preparing and going to a competition is educational, and the comments of the jury are merely a cherry on the top of what you will have gained from participating.

Before I begin, let me say that I found it fascinating how much discussion there was, back and forth among the competitors, about the value of the the jury's opinion.  There was definitely no consensus that the jury was remotely trustworthy.  To an extent, this is the nature of music competitions; we all have to believe in ourselves so thoroughly just to have the guts to get up on stage that it can be crushing to receive a negative review.  Either you have to change your self-concept, or you have to convince yourself that the jurors are crazy and/or corrupt, so as to negate the validity of their opinions.  There have been many complaints flying back and forth that competitions are just so political, and this seems to help people feel better when their success is thwarted.  Temporarily leaving aside the scandal of the final awards, I think this is the wrong word; what they really mean to complain about is that the judging is subjective.  Everyone simply has a different opinion of what makes an effective, compelling performance, and different priorities for what to look for in a performer.  Music is meant to touch people on an emotional level, and you can never really know if your interpretation or style of playing will inspire, offend, or simply be lost on any one listener.

I won't share specifics about what the jurors told me or mention any names, since my intention is not to gossip but to make more general points. 

When going to these sorts of comment sessions, I advise that you bring a notebook and a pencil and scribble furiously the whole time!  It comes at you fast, and there is absolutely not enough time to digest what they say.  I was very lucky to get to talk to as many jury members as I did, and I only made it to about half of them.  The things that struck me the most were 1) how strong their opinions were, and 2) how hard it was to extract clear information from them.  Their responses were all across the board: One of them absolutely hated my playing, said bluntly that my technique was not up to the level of the competition and that he/she would have kicked me out after the first stage if only they were allowed to kick out more than four people.  Another told me that my whole conception for how to extract sound from the harp was wrong and that the choice of my modern piece in second stage was a complete dud.  Several others were completely in love with my playing, thought that my modern piece was a ground-breaking work of genius and that I should record it quickly before someone steals it, and had no explanation for why I hadn't been chosen to go on to third stage.  One was so passionate about my particular qualities as a performer that he/she invited me for a whole personal discussion later to discuss my future.  And there's always that one bit of unsolicited fashion advice, this one being that I should draw my eyebrows longer because it might make me look happier...... what?  I'm so confused.

The major obstacle to communication is that everybody defines their terms differently.  Everybody has his/her own vocabulary for talking about technique, sound, and effect.  Whenever you start studying with a new teacher, it may take months before you are actually on the same page, so it's unreasonable to expect that you can really understand the insights of six different teachers within the space of an hour.  The other half of the time their opinions are just not fully formed in the first place.  Sometimes I could tell that I just hadn't been given much thought.  In both cases, I tried to ask for clarification.  E.g. "I just didn't like your modern piece. It was boring." "You mean it was a bad choice for this program? You mean it wasn't well composed? Or did you find fault in my interpretation?"  I don't remember anything productive coming from that comment.  "Your technique is bad." I still have things to work on, but it's not that bad. "Okay, well, what can I do about it?" When I asked that, the general reaction was a look of, "Oh yeah, sorry, I'm supposed to be helpful."  And this produced more interesting recommendations, which I am now following wholeheartedly.

The comments I received were mild compared to some of the other contestants.  I heard that one poor harpist was ganged up on and attacked, and that she had to run out of the room crying to escape.  A perfectly wonderful harpist was told, "You just don't understand how to play the harp.  You see, first you put your finger on the string.  Then you pull the string.  And the string sounds."  She was waiting for the profound insight that was sure to come, but it ended there with, "This is what you have to understand." "Oh thanks!" she thought, exasperated. "If only someone had told me that before!"

By contrast, I was highly impressed when one of the jury members told me that he/she had come to the competition with a conception of how the Krumpholtz should be interpreted (infamously the hardest piece to play convincingly). However, upon hearing other interpretations, he/she had been thrown into doubt of his/her understanding of the piece and needed to go reconsider it, so had decided to entirely refrain from commenting on that piece.  I thought this was incredibly brave and honorable thing to say, and I appreciate this far more than feigning expertise.

One of the contestants suggested that it wasn't worthwhile to hear jury comments after a competition at all and that it's hopeless to know what they are looking for.  I agree that they can be incredibly hard to decipher, but if anything, they have great entertainment value (as long as you have the stomach for them)!  In all seriousness, what I found was that the jury members, having distinguished themselves as outstanding artists, each necessarily has a particular specialty.  One is great because he/she has perfected tone quality and cleanliness, and as a result, that is the primary element he/she listens for in a performance.  One is an innovator and champion of new music, and therefore most appreciates individual expression that goes beyond what we're already used to.  A 12-member jury can hope to be an average of these various specialties, but each individual may be way off on his/her own tangent.

Don't worry about how to please them all.  Just ask, what will be my specialty?

Life After Israel

We are finally back in Paris, after hours of being searched inside-out at the Tel Aviv airport and a big delay connecting in Munich.  The air is fresh and cold here and smells of autumn, and the serenity of the winter holiday season seems suddenly not too far away.  Now that I'm back home, Israel seems somewhat like a glorious, fantastic dream.  I can barely believe that it really happened.  The whole experience was so much more powerful than I expected it to be.  There were many times during the months leading up to the competition that I seriously doubted it would be worth the sacrifice, but like a ride on a roller coaster, those low months brought me to such a high as I've never experienced before!  The atmosphere created around the event put us at the center of the harp world's attention.  Fueled by the surrounding emotional charge, I was able to have the best performance of my life in second stage.  (I was choking on the excitement as I walked off stage and it was only several minutes later that my breathing was under control enough that I wasn't seriously worrying I would faint.)  I didn't anticipate what strong personal connections I would form with some of the other harpists there, how much closer it would draw me and Marta together, and what a readership this blog would inspire.  Standing here with my feet back on the ground, I am dazed and have the strange feeling that I can do anything now.

Though it has taken me a couple days to arrange the hurricane of thoughts in my mind so that they can be coherently written down, I assure you that I do not intend to abandon this blog.  Writing has always been an important part of who I am, and I have discovered that I love having this public outlet for it.  For the moment, there are a few things I have left to write, by way of wrapping up the story of the Israel competition.  For example, I had a request from a reader to write about the piece by Yitzhak Yedid on first stage, and I would like to share my experience receiving comments from the jury.  Then it will be time to move on, and I intend to adapt this space to serve as my own little publication for thoughts and observations on life, the world of harp, and music in general, as seen internationally by an American living in Paris.  One of the million things I gained from my experience in Israel was a sense of the role that my generation of harpists will play.  As I enter the professional world, I feel a responsibility to continue the innovation that older generations have brought and to pave the way for younger harpists to achieve even greater things.  I never intended to be a reporter - I am a musician - but I have received so much encouragement to write that I can't ignore it as one of my strengths, and I would be stupid not to incorporate it into my life.  Fortunately, internet blogging allows for so much freedom that I don't have to be a regular reporter in order to bring awareness and to have an impact on the world of opinions.  I love to analyze things that people think they understand but actually haven't given much thought to at all.  I want to use my writing to demystify the process of becoming a professional musician and to explore what direction to aim for in our art.  It's a vague statement of purpose for the moment, but it will all come together as I go.  Please come along; your comments do so much to enrich this blog.