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Posts Tagged ‘harpist’

 

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 got 24 out of 25. The playing on a mountain top happened to someone else I know.

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The thing is, I don’t have an inferiority complex or social awkwardness, or any of the usual excuses for being camera shy with regard to playing harp. I just get so distracted from music when a camera is around. Why?

It may be that my amateur-photographer mother insisted on full smiles and total cooperation from her four children as she snapped away on her Graflex.  We were polished, posed, and portrayed, her four little angels of photographic perfection.

There was little resistance. My brother stuck out his tongue in a couple of shots (mild enough to be adorable rather than mutinous), and in one glorious instance my oldest sister leaped in front of the camera just as my other sister and I were to be immortalized in our Halloween costumes. We were hobos. Oh, the irony.

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“Okay. Now lean in and pretend to whisper… Nooooo! Laura!!!!”

Then there is the pinky thing.  When I was 12, there was an accident involving my left hand, a gold fish bowl I was cleaning in the back yard, and a bit a concrete. Eight stitches and a monstrously bandaged month later, I was left with a pinky refugee, never to return normally to its sisters. It won’t fold flat, it won’t go where I want it to go, and (yes, I know that only I and a handful of other harpists would notice) it doesn’t do Good Hand Position at the harp, preferring instead to curl up as if I’m sipping tea at a bloody cotillion. Normally I don’t think of it much, but put a camera in front of me and The Voice of Dysfunction whispers in my ear, “cream or sugar?”

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So, for whatever reasons, I have never been comfortable playing music with a camera on me. But I am determined to overcome! I may never be able to smile perfectly (or even speak) while playing, but I will make more YouTube videos!

How? Snippets! For the past few weeks I have been recording small portions or shortened versions of songs on the harp as a sort of conditioning therapy. I am calling them “Saturday Snippets” because I have a weakness for cutesy alliteration. I have been posting them on my Facebook page rather than YouTube; I suppose it seems less exposed. After all, the snippets are not always my best work. And it’s just me, my harps and an iPhone. There are little mistakes, the cat starts meowing, my pinky goes out for tea… Nothing polished. Sorry, Mom.

But it’s a start. And I really think it’s helping.

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I am sometimes asked, “Why do harpists charge more for a wedding than they do for background music if they are doing the same thing? Playing harp is playing harp, regardless of where you are, right?”

Well, first let me say thank you. If it seems like I’m playing the exact same way at your wedding as I would in my own living room, then I am doing my job well.

Still, although it seems like I am doing the same thing in each performance, the fact is that you are not getting the same thing in a wedding as in a background music situation. My extra hours of preparation and decades of experience make it possible for me to perform through stressful situations and still play well and keep my head.

First, there is the simple truth that it is generally harder to perform a skilled task when one is being watched. It’s true that one also gets somewhat of a boost from being watched: that adrenaline-spiked “magic of concert day” so to speak. But even that boost is dependent on the performer’s level of experience. A less experienced harpist or a student may not get a boost at all, but rather a case of shakes. Or even a fainting spell. (That actually happened to me in a high school play.)  It simply takes greater experience to deliver a solid performance under a spotlight.

Second, things can go wrong. Things do go wrong. A novice who is quite adept playing background music at your birthday party, may come apart completely if she is seated at the front of a church full of staring people, or if your bridesmaid’s silk flower bouquet catches fire during your ceremony (that has happened) or if the harpist suddenly cannot see what is going on because your videographer just planted himself in front of the harp during your processional (that happened more than once).  An experienced harpist will not come apart just because the situation does. But her fees will reflect the costs of Grace Under Pressure.

Think of it this way. One thing you are paying for is the raw skill of plucking harp strings to produce music.  Then add “points” for various aspects of performance that require more experience: pressure of being in the spotlight; pressure from the magnitude or importance of the event; nature of the audience (is it your book group or will the Governor be there?); and potential for glitches (weddings nearly always have them).

Myself, I have limits. I have played for a Governor, and a Mayor too. And my beloved harp teacher always told me I could do anything I set my sights on, bless her. But I have turned down a few opportunties because they seemed beyond my self confidence or abilities.

What I want to convey is that playing harp is not just playing harp.  All performance situations present some level of psychological challenge. We harpists have paid with our lives to meet those challenges. Literally our lives, because playing the harp well under pressure is never a side hobby.

Why do we charge more for a wedding than a cocktail hour? Because we are giving you not just our time at your event, but all the years that came before.

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“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” -Love Story (that was a movie, for you younger readers). Well, it’s a ridiculous quote if you ask me. A person you love should be the first in line to receive your mea culpa if one is merited.  Nevertheless, what is unworthy of true love may actually make sense to blogging. So here is my non-apology for radio silence. Good lord, has it really been over 7 months?

 

The joy of my life since January has been… my new dog.  Sunny is a nine year old Border Collie whose former owner passed away.  A dear friend, who owns Sunny’s sister, introduced us and worked diligently to arrange the adoption. Running buddy, house protector, cat wrangler, and affectionate companion… these roles scarcely begin to represent how much he does for me and how deeply I adore him.

This adoption was a perfect example of that bumper sticker that reads “Who rescued who?” (Don’t you just want to get out a marker and add that “m”? Arg!) What a smart, sensitive, and helpful dog he is.  It was only after he had settled into my home and heart before my friend gave me his papers, and we discovered that Sunny is the grandson of a champion Border Collie named Stetson! We have no sheep in our HOA-controlled neighborhood, but Sunny’s smarts and intuition are daily proof of his heritage. It is as if he can read my mind sometimes.

Sunny watching over Pilot, Pilot stealing Sunny's bed.

Sunny watching over Pilot, Pilot stealing Sunny’s bed.

And now that I have a dog (drum roll please), I feel safe enough to run trails!  So much fun.  The peace and beauty of trails, and their strengthening effect on my legs have been such pleasure.  In spite of TWO bear encounters in the past month, I am as enthusiastic as ever.  It is therapy. It is the anti-treadmill.

 

My greatest accomplishment of my life, the raising and homeschooling of my daughter, is nearly finished.  This past school year (her junior year) has been busy and fulfilling.  If you do not know much about homeschooling, let me just mention that nowadays there are so many people doing it, so much curriculum to choose from, and so many opportunities for educational experiences, that only a part of the business gets done at home.  It really should be called “home-based instruction,” which is in fact what the state of Washington calls it. Yes, we do let our kids out of the house!  (I know that is the number one misconception of homeschooling, the S word.) Anyway, we have one more year to teach, facilitate, guide and support her at home. What a privilege.

 

And in the world of harp… oh my, yes – it is a harp blog. OK. For some reason, I always think this is the least interesting topic that I talk about.  I practice, I perform. I teach a bit.  Not much to say about it all.  I don’t talk about the zen mind required for plucking a perfect harmonic or the best way to make string ties because I can just see my non-harpist audience surfing away.  I don’t blog about my clients or the people I meet, in case it violates their privacy. But perhaps I should make more of an effort to include musical topics. We’ll see.

Nevertheless, since my last foray into Blog Land there has been one important development.  A new harp.

Pilgrim Clarsach

Pilgrim Clarsach

I long to avoid a lot of  blah-blah-blah about the how and the why of getting this new instrument, so I will just say that this is a replacement for my Thormahlen Swan, which is now for sale.  Details upon request. 😉  The new harp, a “Clarsach” made by Pilgrim Harps in England, has a lovely, very Celtic tone, perfect for the Scottish music I play.  This model was originally designed for Derek Bell of the Chieftains, though it has undergone a few minor revisions.

I will be playing this new harp at the Skagit Valley Highland Games on July 12 at 10:25 AM.

I still play at the Black Dog in Snoqualmie every Second Sunday (mostly on my pedal harp, but occasionally on the Celtic harp). That is a brunch performance, 10:30 to noon, and all proceeds still go to Pasado’s Safe Haven Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. I will continue to appear through October, then I plan to take a break from this gig until next spring.

Music I have been working on lately: Medley of tunes from the film Titanic, When You Wish Upon a Star, Glenlivet, Flowers of the Forest, and Beauty and the Beast (for a wedding client).

My great, mysterious challenge and goal for the remainder of 2014: make more YouTube videos of my music! Great, because it would be so helpful for my clients, and mysterious because I cannot figure out why I’m stuck and not doing it!

For now, cheers!

We love those trails!

We love those trails!

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You have probably heard it before… Which weighs more, a ton of bricks or a ton of feathers?  This trick question (a ton is a ton, so they weigh equally) takes on a grim angle when it is a metaphor for life.  All those light, fluffy, snow-white obligations can pile up fast, and before you know it you are wishing you had just picked one plain old brick to carry on your shoulders.

It is wedding season, and we are feeling it!  Brides, I know some of you are contemplating elopement (and possibly subsequent life as a hermit) about now, but hang in there!  Take some time to relax every day and try to laugh as much as possible.  Maybe this will help:

 

My ton of feathers this month includes 1) a completely new set of strings (new brand, for me) on my Celtic harp that are not working out as expected – and of course my contact at the company who is helping me figure it out has gone to Scotland for a two weeks. And  2) we are replacing the carpet in my harp studio with a wood-laminate floor. All the furniture and harps have to be moved out and physical chaos reigns. Thank goodness it’s temporary.

 

In running news

I continue to build mileage for my fall marathon.  Most programs take a runner up to 20 miles, but I learned long ago that I need more than that.  In fact, I prefer to keep my 20 milers going year-round, and increase to 22, 23, and 24 in the last 6 weeks of training.  Last week, as the weather was heating up I headed out for my 20 miler.  I knew it would be tough; I don’t “do heat.”  I’m lucky if I can avoid getting nauseous while running when the mercury goes over 70F.

So I was darn proud to be chugging along just fine — albeit slowly — in 75F and bright sunshine, 10 miles from home.  Only it wasn’t 10 miles.  Thank you, Hot Weather, for turning the part of my brain that does math into mush.  I mis-calculated my route and ended up with 21.3 miles total, and an excuse to spend the rest of the day on my…

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Good luck with all your summer plans, bridal or other, and watch out for those feathers!

White peacock

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I feel like the Grinch in Ron Howard’s movie, wondering if he should go to the Cheermeister festivities: “yes! no! yes! no! yes!no!yes!no!yes!no! –aaarrrgh!”  — as the dog pulls the cord to the chute under Grinch’s feet.   So, at least for now, I’m back in the slippery chute of blogging.  Whether I will survive the Chair of Cheer is yet to be seen.

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When last we left our harpist-blogger, she was fed up with the time-sucking vortex of all things Social Media and needed a break.  The thing is, I keep thinking of blog topics, and I miss writing.

Besides the time-sucking thing, there is also a nagging issue in my mind about topics: this is “supposed to be a harp blog.”  I’m afraid it really is destined to be more like a variety show.  So the blog will have to continue to include news about my running, my knitting, the weather, and my endless, strong opinions about food, the economy, children’s rights, and other stuff that very well may piss you off.  Sorry.

Let’s talk about what I’ve been up to.

  • Parenting/homeschooling: It’s awesome, rewarding, worth every minute. I would talk more about this but must respect my daughter’s privacy. (How many of us would have liked our mother to blog every detail of our teenage life? Right.)
  • Running: I am building up my long runs and it is going well. I’m up to 20 miles now, with a goal of 24 before my fall marathon (yes! I’m finally doing another marathon after a 3 year hiatus).
  • Knitting: The sweater drafting experience has been very successful. I’m flying solo now, having completed my lessons and my learning projects.  On the drafting table: yet another plain, British-looking cardigan (can’t have too many). On the needles: 2 pairs of socks, a scarf, a fair isle sweater, and a pullover.  More on these in a future post. 🙂
  • Music: the 2013 Memorization Project is proceeding slowly; I have committed only 3 pieces of my repertoire to memory since January, but they are pretty solid! (Sheep May Safely Graze; Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered; and Ashokan Farewell) There is a Bach Andante that is giving me grief (to memorize), but Dawn (from Pride & Prejudice) is sounding good.  I really hope to make some more YouTube videos this summer. For me filming is a bit like cleaning the garage – so hard, but so rewarding.
  • Also in harp news…

As resurrections go, The Bramble Band does pretty well. This is the now-defunct Scottish Country Dance band in which I met my husband, back in the 80s. Somehow, we manage to pull together enough band members once or twice a year to play for a function.  Last weekend the corpse was revived once again for the Northwest Folklife Festival, in which we played for a dance session.  Someone took this picture of us:

bramble band folklife 2013

To prove that this is an actual resurrection, I would like to point out that you cannot see any clear faces except the ghostly reflection of our pianist on the piano… The stuff of Poe, don’t you think?

With all the music and excitement of the festival, I managed to come home with only one poor photo of… baskets.  I get a bit overwhelmed in big crowds.

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