Tristan Le Govic
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"the technique before the technique"

Tristan Le Govic - New Zealand Harp Society Journal

01 October 2010 - Journal 52, p.30-31

Why Technique?

Technique is everywhere. I can’t imagine a musician without it. Some musicians may have more technique than others but, in any case, we all play with technique. Maybe a “non academic” one, probably a personal one, but who hasn’t? As soon as we repeat a certain pattern, in an exercise or in a tune, we develop our own skills and get better. Music leads the technique and the technique comes by practicing.

Saying that, the question is no longer about having a technique or not, but rather what kind of technique do we need? There is no good or bad technique but a right one and a wrong one. The right one will allow you to perform whatever music you want whereas the wrong one will stop you in your progression. Following this idea, we will always need more technique, or skill, to reach the unexplored musical shores. Music, and therefore technique, is like a stair on which we walk step by step, knowing that there is no final step. In my own arrangements or compositions, I had to develop some new techniques, particularly for the left hand, as it requires skills that I never learned in a book or from anyone else.

To avoid confusion, I would now focus on the distinction between “technique”
and “exercise”. Let’s say it briefly: we practice exercises to develop our technique as they are its foundation. Again, there are no good or bad exercises but right ones and wrong ones. All kinds of exercises are potentially right or wrong depending on the aim we are seeking. We always have to determine what exercise is more appropriate and for what. For instance: Scales are a good exercise and we should all practice them. But for what? Are they the right exercise to develop musicality? If not, is there not a more suitable exercise for that?

Now, let’s tackle the question: How can I get a stable technique that will allow me to play whatever I want? Many years ago, when listening to someone play, I knew right from the first note if it was going to be a good performance or not. Now, I even know before it starts as the general attitude shows the level reached by a musician. In that case, playing Celtic harp or Pedal harp doesn’t matter. Neither does the way of teaching (aurally or with printed music), nor the repertoire (classical, traditional, etc).

Often pupils (but also professional musicians!) as soon as they are in front of an audience, panic, stress and finally can’t play or not as well as when they are on their own. This situation is characteristic of a lack of technique. I mean the “real” technique or, as we could say, “the technique before the technique”. Playing an instrument shows the maturity of the full body and mind, and the technique is not only how you control your fingers but first of all how you breathe, how you are physically and mentally with your instrument. You thought that you were learning an instrument, the harp, but, at the end, the instrument: it’s you.

To go further in this talk about technique, one can say that this subject is relevant not only to music itself but to all kinds of activities we are doing. The daily life brings us the opportunities to practice our technique, such as walking on the street, doing the dishes, writing a letter, playing the harp… these things have a common point: It’s all about mastering your body and mind.

Tristan Le Govic - New Zealand Harp Society Journal

01 October 2010 - Journal 52, p.30

Tristan Le Govic Profile

I would like to thank Anna Dunwoodie for offering me the opportunity to introduce myself in your Harp Society’s journal. This presentation aims to be an open door to more exchanges between our two regions of the world. If I start to talk about where I come from – a tiny part somewhere in Europe – I create a huge gap of thousands and thousands miles! Whereas, if I start to talk about European harp, it sounds a bit more familiar to all of us. Celtic harp music is probably also a familiar repertoire for some of you. However, “Celtic” has a lot of meanings. Historically, half the continent was “Celtic”. Not only Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany – where I come from – but a large area spread all over reaching central Turkey! Nowadays, by traditional Celtic harp music, we mainly talk about Ireland, Scotland, Wales or Brittany.

For me, travelling has always been part of my learning life as it is important to acquire the particular style(s) of the different harp repertoires. After graduating in Celtic harp at the Conservatoire of music in Brittany, I passed a Master’s degree in a music exchange with University College Cork in Ireland. Then, before coming to Scotland, I came back to Brittany in order to pass the National Diploma of teaching music. Based now in Glasgow, I share my time between performing and teaching in the city’s schools. In the past few years, I’ve also been travelling in many places, mostly in Europe, where I got the chance to meet a huge number of harp players during festivals. Often, the pupils I met had never played Breton music and even never heard of Brittany. Teaching abroad this music is quite challenging as it requires more explaining to be perfectly understood. Also, playing other kinds of music makes me aware of what is essential in my own music.

Last year, I released my second solo CD called “Awen”. “Awen” is a Celtic word meaning “inspiration” with a spiritual connotation. I composed half my repertoire and arranged the other half based on traditional tunes from Brittany, Scotland, Ireland and Sweden. A publication of the music came with my two CDs. I’m currently working with two jazz musicians (double bass and percussion).

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updated April 2014,