Freelance Chronicles: Episode 1 – “It’s all part of the show”

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Yes ladies and gentlemen… It’s all part of the show!!  Watch in awe (and horror) as an average-sized female in a gown attempts to unload and then transport an 88-pound instrument, a bench, and a music stand!  Watch her open doors with only the fling of an arm and an awkward stance!  Watch her fend off potential assistance from helpful people! (harpist: “no, thank you, but I’ve got it!”)

We’ve all been there.  You are unloading/moving your instrument, or attempting to get through the door that opens toward you (those are the worst!) and a good samaritan offers you assistance.  This can go one of two ways… for example with a doorway: GREAT, please open the door for me!  Unless I am already halfway through the door… in that case… please just enjoy the show.

Things get a little more complicated when it comes to accepting assistance when unloading and moving your instrument.  We have all run into pushy people, drunk people, and just plain rude people.  I once had someone take my instrument right out of my hands as I was pulling it through a doorway that had a large lip.  I cut it too close on one side with one of the wheels of my dolly and as I was going to make another shot he decided that he was tired of holding the door (one of those terrible doors that has the nerve to have to open toward me) and pulled my instrument over the threshold one wheel at a time causing the harp to teeter on the dolly and the top of the column to smack against the door frame.  I was not pleased, to put it mildly.

A friend and colleague named Kate Sloat had a truly scary experience while moving her instrument in New York City.

“I drove my harp to downtown Manhattan for a late night rehearsal. As I was pulling it out of my car, a group of about five men who had been standing outside the building came over and asked if I wanted help… I smiled and told them politely that no, thank you, I could do it myself… several of them grabbed it and started tipping it to the side, pulling it every which way… I freaked. I told them to put it down, stop pushing it, I will do it on my own… I kept repeating myself – stop doing that, put it down, I can do it on my own. I raised my voice until eventually I was almost yelling, and drove them off.

All but one man… He started dragging it backwards – it was on the cart but not strapped in, and the ground was very uneven. I got in his face and screamed at him to back the f**k off and leave me alone. He shouted back, calling me a stupid b***ch and saying that he was trying to help me. We yelled at each other several more times before he finally let go and backed away. He continued to shout curses and insults at me as I packed up my things and got in the building as fast as I could.” -Kate Sloat, harpist (read the full post on Kate’s Blog)

Kate’s story is extreme, of course.  But, this is something that we all have to deal with at some point or another.  Being in Miami, Florida I am forced to valet my car at almost every single wedding venue.  Valets are the worst… and I can feel my anxiety levels slowly rise as I drive closer to the hotel, knowing that I will inevitably be placed in a situation here I have to put myself between my harp and a well-meaning person.

I have come up with a few solutions to this problem that I would love to share with you!  Please share what you do when people get a little too pushy in the comments section below!!

The Valet: These people are trained to be as helpful as possible, and are used to unloading peoples cars, which essentially makes them a harpists biggest enemy.  I have a three-part system to this avoidance technique:

1. As I pull into the valet area, before I exit my car, I tell the Valet that I have a large instrument that I need to unload (usually at this point they direct you to park to the side… or not and you just have to move quickly),

2. Unload the harp LAST.  Get your bag, bench, stand, whatever you need first.  Also make sure that everything you need can be carried in one trip.  I made the mistake of unloading my harp first once; I turned around to grab my bench and the man driving the taxi behind my car decided it would be a good idea to lift my harp and carry it into the hotel… he didn’t get far before I started firmly requested that he set my instrument down.

3. The valet will without a doubt attempt to assist you remove your instrument from the car.  I always say the same thing, and it works every time.  You look them straight in the eye and say “Sir/Ma’am this instrument is worth $40,000 (add at least $15,000 to whatever you paid for effect), and if anyone drops it you want it to be me.  I am fully capable of doing this on my own, thank you.”

The Drunk: In my experience the easiest way to deal with these people is to make sure you do two things:

1. Keep a smile on your face, no matter what.  Alcohol effects judgement and a drunk person is much more likely to be rude to you if you are to them.  This doesn’t mean that you have to just sit back and take it… on the contrary… you use the best weapon in your arsenal, kindness.  Keep your head about you, because they aren’t… a “thank you but I am fine/I’m stronger than I look” (you might need to say this a few times) paired with eye contact and an intense smile works wonders.

2. NEVER take your hand off of your harp/dolly.

The Pushy Good Samaritan: In my mind, these are the worst people to have to deal with in a confrontational situation.  I have found that this is where I most often hear offensive comments, get cursed at, and find myself most in fear for my instrument.  There is really no way to know how far a person will go in order to fulfill their personal need for glory, and it is with this type of person that I am most vigilant.

If a person approaches you and asks if you need assistance and you say “no” and:

1. They insist.  In this case fork offer the bench and bag, or ask to have doors held, and run the $40,000 valet line.  Giving someone who desperately wants to help you a small job is better than no job at all.

2. They laugh at you and attempt to take your instrument from you car/hands.  This is just about the only situation when I become unquestionably insistent with people.  The person attempting to assist you is, assumingly, fully capable of understanding your dismissal but chooses not to.  Yell, scream, and do whatever you have to to ensure that your instrument is safe.

Preventative Measures: I am in the process of having “Please Do Not Touch – Extremely Fragile” embroidered in gold thread on my lovely blue Salvi travel cover.  Seriously.

The most important thing to remember is that you and your instruments safety is number one in these situations.  It is NEVER ok for someone to touch your instrument without your expressed consent (you wouldn’t go take a nap on their work desk during the day).  Be strong harpists, we are all in the same boat!

Comment below with your own horror stories, and how you deal with this problem!

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About Author

Miami based Dr. of harp, gown-addict, lover of bulldogs, and fitness enthusiast.

9 Comments

  1. jessica-frost-ballas on

    Fabulous post Kristina!! 🙂 My arch-enemy these days seems to be senior citizens (mostly gentlemen) that want to help me through doors or (ugh) stairs…most of the time I’m convinced that they actually want something to lean on. So now the harp no longer weighs 88 lbs…it’s 88lbs + 1 old man. 😉

    But I agree…I always have my bag and stand ready and I’m quick to hand that off to someone before I pull the harp out. It does seem to ward off all but the most insistent of “helpers”!

  2. Thanks for your comment Jessica!! I know exactly what you mean! I am so fortunate that I very rarely have to deal with stairs… there is always that one person who lifts the harp right off the dolly and then you are forcer to do the awkward hug-your-harp-and-yank-it-up-the-stairs move.

  3. Emily Granger on

    Great article Kristina!! I’ve had to deal with all these different types of people in every scenario imaginable! I also valet my car quite frequently in Chicago and as I’m packing the car up at home I make sure I can get everything out swiftly once I arrive. I also let the valet know I’m the harpist for the wedding/event and will need a few moments to unload instrument alone. Getting your bag, stand, and bench out first and being able to take everything in one trip is key! I never ever let my harp out of my sight or hands (once it is out of the car) when I’m unloading/loading in public. A firm “NO THANK YOU” goes a long way.

    Also – don’t know if this is ridiculously obvious but I always move the harp in comfortable clothing and shoes. I keep my gown or concert clothes on a hanger hanging from the top of the harp cover. This way I feel very confident about moving the harp without ruining any clothing or shoes and having to do a silly little dance when unloading the harp. Whenever I move the harp in my concert clothes I think I look a bit more awkward in handling the instrument and this is when people are pretty persistent on helping.

    What a great idea about the embroidery, I would love to see a picture of how it turns out!

    • Thanks for your comment Emily!! I always go in my gowns for some reason… it’s so hard… If I don’t wear the gown then I am forced to leave my instrument sitting somewhere while I go change, and Miami tourists just don’t respect personal property in my experience. I’ve thought about this a lot, and maybe it’s just time… I can imagine it would make things at least a little easier!!

  4. Gretchen Cover on

    Embrace the offer of help. When someone steps in, I very quickly give them a teeny-tiny task with child-oriented instructions. It could be simply to open the car door, or take the mat out of the car or to please just hold the door while I go through. My favorite is to have someone carry the bench and stand. That totally keeps your help from helping in the wrong way. I am too chicken to load my Salvi by myself so I enlist whoever is around to help me tilt the harp in the van. I can unload it, but if some is around to help pull the harp, up, why thank you! If you give someone very specific instructions for a specific task, your job will be easier and everyone walks away with a smile. While doing this, I politely say my harp is very expensive and please just do exactly what I say. I have never had any of the scary moments as mentioned above.

  5. Gretchen Cover on

    PS/ I guess what I am saying is to take control of a given situation and make it work to your advantage. Maybe my perfected authoritarian Mom voice/persona intimidates the help:)

    • Thanks for your comment Gretchen! You make some very good points, especially for those that like a little extra help in and out of the car. I don’t have the mom-persona going for me so I just generally give them what I call the “crazy eyes” and they tend to back off… 🙂

  6. My favorite is the guy who opens the double doors at once and stands between them. Am I supposed to roll the harp underneath an arm limbo-style? They never believe me when I say it will fit through one door.

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