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You know how you can be standing there minding your own business, and a harp suddenly comes out of nowhere and grabs you?  I didn’t, but I do now.

Once a upon a time (last week actually), I was assisting a harp-shopping student of mine by visiting harp shops* and playing as many harps as possible for her. The variety of sound quality in harps is unbelievable. Even two harps made at the same time with identical design can sound different, as you can see in this video. (Close your eyes when you listen; test your ears!) Harps are like snowflakes, no two alike.

As we began to narrow down the kind of harp my student liked best, I took note of an old pedal harp off to the side and sat down to play it out of curiosity. Oh. My. What a sound. Too bad my student was not seeking a harp like this. I took a short video to post on my Facebook page (scroll to July 13, 2016, recorded at Enchanted Harp) and moved on. Or tried to.

This is the part where I was abducted, blindfolded, and taken to a secret location to be tortured with gorgeous sounds until they finally broke me and I wrote a check… Okay, not quite. But I could not get the harp out of my mind. We took a second trip to that shop to test another harp a few days later, where further torture occurred. A third visit to the shop and I succumbed.

My new harp, the harp I didn’t need, the classically carved harp I never expected to own, the harp that wouldn’t take no for an answer, is a Lyon & Healy Style 17, built in 1952.

At age 64, she is an antique in the harp world. Unlike many other instruments, harps get better and better for about 100 years, and then they explode. Seriously, unless the harpist removes the strings or replaces major components of the harp a la George Washington’s Axe, the body of a harp cannot survive the 2,000 lbs of tension from the strings much longer than that. But having consulted a harp restoration company with photos and their checklist, it looks like I will remain captive for many years to come.

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Lyon & Healy Style 17, at The Enchanted Harp in Puyallup WA

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Hand carved in 1952

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Welcome to the fleet…

* We are so blessed to have a number of harp shops in the Puget Sound area: Dusty Strings, Austin Harp Arts, and The Enchanted Harp

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I cannot believe it is only the beginning of August.  I think I might wonder at this every year, but it might be like childbirth — you just forget.

With all the lovely grey (no sarcasm – I really like it) that is our Normal Weather, it just seems impossible that a whole month of sunshine was just the beginning of summer, and that we have more to come.  Such weather was also a metaphor for busy times in July…  we have a lot more summer to go!

Here are some photo highlights from the past month….

 

Mt. Rainier from Snoqualmie neighborhood. One clear day after another…. is this my world?

One of many abandoned train tunnels on the Iron Goat Trail. By going both directions on the trail and doubling back, we got 14 miles out of it.

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Mr. K was awesome – though not a runner these days, he jogged-with-walk-breaks the whole 14 miles with me, even after falling and scraping up his elbow and leg. You can see the abrasion in this picture.

 

I enjoyed participating in the “Harper’s Circle” at the Enumclaw Highland Games, the one time/place all month where I actually got cold. (You can see me shivering on the far left in the picture.) It was so much fun that I think I will do more of these next summer (we have several Scottish Highland Games in this area), but I will bring along some good Scottish wool! I had such a cute outfit on too – and had to cover it all with one of my husband’s “emergency sweatshirts” from the back of his car. Sigh.

 

 

In the midst of having family visitors from out of town, we scrambled to get a couple of beds ready for our close friends who live a stone’s throw from the Mt. Si fire that broke out in late July. It was a close call, but they were able to stay in their home after all.

 

 

I brought my smaller harp on a 2 day getaway to The Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort in Leavenworth WA. One of the most peaceful spots on earth.

 

There are two videos up this week on YouTube, and I hope to post more in the next couple of weeks.  Please subscribe to my channel, HarpMyDay, if you would like to see updates.

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Just a minute, let me get my head out of this paper bag.  OK. I think I’m done hyperventilating.

I have a YouTube video!  My deepest thanks go to my clever and creative daughter, who did the filming and spent hours with the somewhat frustrating iMovie while trying not to use bad words in front of her mother.  I don’t know how I could have done it without you, Helen!

If it seems like I’m making a fuss over one humble little production, let me just explain that I have enormous anxiety about being filmed (or photographed for that matter) while I am playing. It took me a year of standing on the threshold before I finally got the nerve for this.  Fortunately, I don’t think it will be a whole year before I repeat the feat.

 

 

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I have good news for the sun lovers among us. “Summer” is almost here!!!!!

Yeah, I know. The national forecast map looks like a ripe tomato.  We here in the Evergreen State admire your courage, Tomato People!  But for us, the red pen of weather mapping doesn’t really come out until a few days after the 4th of July.

It’s actually very pleasant. Stop laughing! (Excuse me. That guffaw was most of Seattle, all my neighbors out here in the ‘burbs, and the better part of Western Washington. Pay them no mind.) Yes, pleasant I say. We can sleep at night without the AC, we don’t have to water the garden much, and it is beautiful.

How beautiful is it? I have sworn to keep this blog G-rated, so my favorite adverb for conveying emphasis is off limits; just insert your own: it’s ——- beautiful!  Have a look through the pages of Everything Washington and you’ll get an idea.

I’m not really in a hurry to see the sun in full force. As I may have mentioned before, I like mild weather.  But I am happy for my friends and neighbors, to whom it means a lot.

And I am especially happy for the betrothed who are planning outdoor weddings this year. Congratulations, you are almost there! After months of preparations made on cold, wet days, you deserve all the warmth and sunshine you can get. Also, I don’t play so well with cold fingers!

Sunshine and vows on the MV Skansonia 

-Cynthia

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Back in my student days, I made a small but embarrassing mistake in a performance. At my next lesson my teacher, Lynne Palmer, listened patiently while I wept over my unworthiness to live, let alone play the harp.

“Do you know,” Palmer said very softly, leaning towards me, “how many really perfect performances I had?”  I blinked, speechless. “I can count them on one hand.” She held her hand in front of me.

ImageMy surprise at her modesty was increased by the thought of how many performances – brilliant performances – that hand must have played.  This incredible musician had studied with Carlos Salzedo; had played under the batons of Toscanini, Ormandy, and Stokowski; had won the very first Curtis Award in 1949 (against such competition as the young Leonard Bernstein).  I will never forget that moment, her humility, and the sense of acceptance and forgiveness.

Some people are really good at shaking off a bad moment. Others are good at holding on to the memory of imperfection and even cultivating it in their minds like an expert gardener until the thing is positively monumental.  I guess I am somewhere in the middle.

If you have ever planned, produced, or served in a large social event, you understand the unpredictability of human endeavors.  We do great things and we do our best, but stuff happens. A sense of humor is crucial.  To that end, I present Five Funny Things I Have Seen At Weddings and Events (in no particular order).

1. A bride had purchased beautiful artificial flowers, made of some kind of fabric, that her bridesmaids could take home and keep forever. The flowers were arranged on long bouquets, like a beauty pageant winner would carry.  One bridesmaid was standing too close in front of the lit candelabra that the church provided, and – poof! – her flowers burst into flames.  No bridesmaids were injured in the making of this scenario. A groomsman stomped out the fire and they all lived happily ever after, as far as I know.

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2. Many years ago I was booked to play for an evening cruise on Lake Union. I knew the location of the dock, but had not expected such a small ship. Before me lay a somewhat narrow wooden plank that connected the ship to the dock, suspended some 10 feet over the water. The stuff of nightmares. I parked my harp’s dolly and went to tell the hostess that I could not wheel it over. I just couldn’t risk it.  The guy she enlisted to carry the harp onto the ship was a workman from the neighboring ship who cursed, in French, under his breath the entire time. I apologized and thanked him, in my own rusty French.

3. I was hired to play for a Renaissance themed wedding in which everyone was dressed in 16th century garb. Including the dog, who came down the aisle just ahead of the bride. Dog of Honor?  I was just so glad that the dog didn’t do what dogs do (emphasis on that last word) when they get nervous.

4. This one didn’t actually happen to me personally. I just find it so funny.  An acquaintance was hired to play at the Convention Center for an event.  She was positioned at the top of an escalator and given a mermaid suit to wear. Keep in mind, in order to play a pedal harp, one needs both hands and feet, but this harpist’s feet were to be enclosed in her mermaid tail.  “Not a problem!” The only thing they wanted her to play was glissandi – that’s where you just run your finger up and down the strings, up and down, up and down…    For 45 minutes.

5. I was playing with a fiddler for a Scottish wedding and we launched into the processional requested by the bride, “Mairi’s Wedding.”  It’s a peppy tune for a processional – usually a more stately piece is chosen – but the bride was certain of her choice.  Or so we thought.  After playing through the short tune twice, the whole wedding party was out, except for the bride. We kept playing, and playing…  After what seemed like 5 minutes, my fiddle player actually walked out of the room and into the hall – while still playing! – to find the bride standing there looking confused. The poor lady thought we were going to play something else and was waiting for the music to change.

I have seen many mishaps over the years: dresses ripping, bee stings, outdoor decorations spoiled by wind, people so consumed by emotion that they could only sob and not say their vows.  “The best laid plans of mice and men…” And yet, the imperfect events are sometimes the most impressive.

When you listen to a music CD, the imperfections have been scrubbed out through multiple “takes” and countless technical tricks. But in a live performance, what you play is what you get. And yet, errors are rarely noticed by an audience. That is because the live experience is worth so much more than the sum of its parts.  The humanity and the art speak louder than the technical details. And so it is in life.  And so shall it be for you.

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www.cynthiakuni.com

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…it won’t rain.  Is that true for blogging about grey skies as well?  This morning was all blue sky and sparkly sunshine. Here is the top of our maple — it was such a wee thing 5 years ago that I could bring it home in the back of my car.

Did you know that most harps will go flat or sharp when the weather changes?  A good quality harp will be a bit more stable than others, but all wood reacts to its environment.  It’s a bit like having a six foot tall barometer in the room.  Flat? Storm coming. Sharp? Probably time to fire up the BBQ.

Right about now the piano owners in the crowd may be wondering how often we harpists tune.  At my house, the poor piano gets tuned once a year if it’s lucky.  But the harp? Every day. And twice a day if I do double practices. And every time it is moved. And practically every time someone opens a window (here in the Northwest, not very often).

I seem to be all about the weather this week.  Our family went to see The Tempest with Christopher Plummer last night. It was a “Fathom Event,” where they play an opera or a theater production in a movie theater for “one night only!”  BRILLIANT production.  Julyana Soelistyo as Ariel: how cute is she?

Off to “make hay while the sun shines.” Cheers!

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Some people call it “Junuary.”  Some people seem surprised every year… where is summer?!?  It doesn’t help much that we nearly always get a burst of warmth and sunshine in May.

I confess, I like the grey. And most of the time, I like seeing it spelled with an e. It’s not a big deal, but the e somehow transforms a bleak day to a more romantic version, as if we are talking about the coast of Scotland rather than rush hour in downtown Seattle.

The grey weather is certainly not good news for outdoor events, and it strikes terror in the heart of harpists, whose precious instruments must be kept dry.  But I do like the light, and the cool air. I have no plans to move south, and I vow to remember that when tempted to complain.

So here is the beginning of my blog. I’m afraid it is a pretty wimpy start. Downright grey in fact. Bear with me; “it’ll burn off.”

Cheers,

Cynthia

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