Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Bishop's Wife

Today winter announced itself as it roared into our neighborhood. It began with rain, turned into wet, heavy snow, and then large, blowing flakes. As I write this blog in my snug, four-season sun room, the wind is howling and blowing around me. I have just finished watching one of my favorite holiday movies, The Bishop's Wife. I love this movie not just because Cary Grant "plays" a harp in it, but for the beautiful message this film carries.

The story unfolds as an angel (Cary Grant) is sent in answer to the Bishop's prayer for help in funding a new cathedral. This task is so overwhelming that he is neglecting his wife and daughter. Naturally, the angel helps in ways unanticipated and unappreciated by the forlorn Bishop. What unfolds is a delight tale of love, chivalry and holiday cheer.

From the moment Cary Grant strolls onscreen he has everyone's attention. He makes the angel, Dudley, just a little bit roguish, a little bit dark. You couldn't really take Grant seriously if he were all decked out in an angel's costume, halo and harp and all, but you can imagine him as a sort of very human angel. Which is exactly what Dudley is.

The lessons in this sweet little romantic dramedy are obvious and much of what transpires can be anticipated. Yet I believe that there are times we could use a reminder of how precious our relationships are - and that we can't ever take them for granted. There are few films that remind us of this with such heartwarming charm. Don't miss the chance to see The Bishop's Wife this holiday season!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Finding the Gift in a Challenge

This article was published in the 2009 Fall issue of The Folk Harp Journal:

I know I am not alone when I say that I have experienced world class stage fright. At times it has been so bad that if I were playing my harp alone in a room with a mirror, and I saw my reflection, I'd make myself nervous.

Not being the type of person to give in to such a problem, I devised a way to help alleviate my distress. I decided to volunteer several times during the holiday season to raise funds for the Salvation Army by playing my harp at one of their red kettles. Towards that end, I chose a Salvation Army facility in a wealthy county, hoping that I could play in one of their up-scale malls with its beautiful decorations and wealthy patrons. However, I was told that the malls in that area would accept the Salvation Army volunteers only if they didn't make any noise. I then contacted the Salvation Army in the county where I live close to Detroit. The commandant searched until he found a mall that would welcome me. I was very familiar with it. It was an old mall with many vacant store-fronts and little traffic. Well, perhaps this was best, I thought.

The first time I played in the mall I was given a spot by a newer department store in an area which was nicely decorated. Traffic was sporadic and I began playing when no one was around. My hands were sweating and I stumbled a bit, but I kept playing. People began to walk up and drop change in the kettle. It was difficult to try and play and say "Thank you," or "Merry Christmas," and I would sometimes make mistakes. But guess what? The world did not end! No one told me I was a lousy harpist! Instead I received compliments as people actually stopped to listen.

People would wait for me to finish a piece and begin asking questions. This was a part of town where there were no orchestras, and no one had ever seen a harp. How much did it weigh? How could I play with all that weight on my shoulder? How long had I been playing? How much does a harp cost?

The most amazing experiences I had in the mall where with children. There was one toddler who broke away from her mother and charged me. Mom was terrified as she ran after the child, but the little one came to a stop next to me and stared - HARD. Her mouth open, she watched my hands as if in a trance through the entire piece, and when I finished she looked a me and giggled. I encouraged her to pluck a string, which she did gently and then looked at me and laughed with her whole body.

Another time a middle-aged woman was herding six children, ages approximately 5 through 10, through the mall. she told them to sit around me and listen, because this was a very special instrument that they may never see played again until they get to heaven. They all politely obeyed and listened intently until I played "Silent Night" all the way through. Then the woman in charge had them all thank me, and gave each of them coins to drop in the kettle as they left.

One little girl helped me with my stage fright more than anyone or anything else. I really messed up a song and had to start over. When I finally got through it, this 10 or 12 year old with thick glasses told me, "You play really pretty, when you don't make mistakes." It was so honest that I had to laugh. The angst I had been feeling about messing up disappeared into thin air.

At one point, after I told the Salvation Army commandant that I was getting over my stage fright, I was moved to a part of the mall that had much more traffic. It was in front of an old, run-down department store that had been replaced by a Value City. This was a bargain basement type store, and there were many people shopping there who were poorly dressed. There were just a few worn-out decorations and the lighting was dim. The amazing thing about this spot was that almost everyone dropped something in the kettle. It may only have been a coin, but more often it was a dollar bill. At times people had to wait their turn to drop their contributions in the kettle because there were so may people! I always received a wide smile and a kind word along with the contribution.

It occurred to me that the people who shopped in this mall understood what it felt like to be in need or close to it, and they were happy to contribute whatever they could to help. What a contrast to the up-scale malls that didn't welcome someone who didn't fit in with the ambiance they were creating for their wealthy shoppers. I've often wondered how many of those wealthy shoppers would have walked past my kettle without leaving even a coin, when they never would have missed a $20 dollar bill.

The hours I spent playing in that run down mall were some of the best hours I've ever known. It helped reduce my stage fright to a manageable level and I had the feeling that I was doing some good with my harp. I also received a most remarkable gift. It happened on the day my husband had the time to help me bring my pedal harp to the mall. I was then able to try some more challenging music, including the Bach Prelude which was often used for the Ave Maria. There were many pedal changes which made me nervous, but I wanted to challenge myself more than I already had. I had run through my repertoire a couple of times and was beginning to play the Prelude/Ave Maria a third time. Then, out of the air behind me and above my head, a deep, soft but strong African-American voice gently entered into the song as if to not frighten me. As our music combined he sang more loudly and I completely forgot that I was playing a piece I considered challenging. In that moment in the dimly lit, run-down mall, heaven touched the earth. People gathered around us with their hands held up to their hearts as my angel and my harp sang. I felt apart from it all, as if I were a member of our audience, and there was no fear - only joy.

At the end of the song, the singer came from behind me so that I could finally see him. As I stood to shake his hand, his towering form warmly embraced me as people gathered around the kettle to leave their contributions before coming to thank us. After everyone left, he went to the kettle to leave his contribution and then walked away. I noticed then the 1940's style top coat he was wearing. It was very similar to the type worn by Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant. How fitting, I thought, that he should bring to mind those wonderful old Christmas movies in which angels played a major role.

At the end of that holiday season, I discovered that my greatest challenge as a harpist gave me one of my greatest gifts. I think about that often when I'm facing new challenges on the harp or in life. I hope that you, too, will look at your challenges in this way - as opportunities to experience things you've never imagined possible.

Monday, October 4, 2010


Last week my husband, two Shelties and I took a trip to Mackinac Island. On the way we stopped in Graying to visit Hartwick Pines. The day was beautiful and we enjoyed the walk through the woods. On the way to our motel room for the evening, we passed by a shop in town called Apollo's Lyre and there was a very old harp in the window. I left my husband and dogs in the car and ran in for a moment to see what this shop was about. Inside was a collection of many different types of art, the old harp and two newer cross-strung harps. The small one didn't interest me much, but the medium sized one boggled my mind. The woman in the store couldn't tell me much about the harp, except that it was a Clement. The thing that freaked me out are the dampening "paddles" near the top of the strings. There are also pedals. I've been waiting to hear from the owner of the harp to get more information, but if anyone out there knows how this harp works, please let me know!

The next morning we traveled on to Mackinaw City and the ferry ride to the island. Duncan and Gracie drew many exclamations from our fellow passengers about how beautiful they are, and as always, it was like discovering old friends as we stood and talked about our dogs.

Throughout the entire time on the island we were approached by Duncan and Gracie's fans. We told them about the breed, or they told us about their own Shelties. We heard many times about the family on the island who owned 4 Shelties but we never ran into them until we were at the dock for the return ferry home.

Northern Michigan in the autumn is a beautiful place, even if the leaves have only begun to turn. The air was cool and crisp, and the feel of the breeze off the the lakes was energizing. The tourists were few and far between, making feel like we had been transported back in time on the "no-automobile/horses only" island.

It was a great trip that left me with memories of friendly faces, beautiful scenery and a harp mystery. What more could you want from an autumn vacation?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Music for Healing

The malfunctioning gall bladder is finally out! So for the next few days I'll be taking it easy, and listening to instead of playing, music. The first artist I've been listening to is one that I've found only recently. I heartily recommend Cathie Ryan if you like celtic or folk music.

Cathie's website is at You can read all about her background there and hear samples of her new album. It turns out that she used to live very close to me, and I never heard of her until only recently from Richard McMullin from Blackthorn.

Here's a sample of her music. I think you'll love it!
Be Like the Sea

Thursday, July 29, 2010

ConKerr-ing Hero

After a month of jungle-like heat, the long, hot summer finally graced us with a beautiful cool and breezy morning. For the first time in weeks, I turned off the air conditioning and opened up all the windows.

Today my friend, Susan, was going to come over and we would sew pillowcases for a children's cancer charity called ConKerr Cancer - a Case for Smiles. In preparation I set up my sunroom with a work table, fabric and sewing tools. I then went into my kitchen and made us a lunch of Ham and Cheese Rolls, Broccoli Salad and, of course, Blueberry Tarts.

We worked and chatted in the fresh breeze flowing through the sunroom, ate lunch, and visited the new garden. Susan laughed at Duncan and Gracie's antics in the backyard. By the end of the afternoon, we had completed a dozen pillowcases.

It was such an enriching day for me that I'd like to encourage everyone to get together with friends to do something to help out a charity. Who knows - you could turn out to be someone's hero...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Blueberry Tarts, Camille Tea and a New Garden!

I've been enjoying blueberries lately, so this morning I tried my hand at blueberry tarts made from scratch. By the time they were ready to sample, the ladies from Two Women and a Hoe had begun work on putting together my new garden. I'm still amazed on how fast they work!

Among the plants now residing in my garden are a pink Double Knock Out Rose, Coneflowers, Coral Bells, Shasta Daisies, Montana Rubens Clematis and an Annabell Hydrangea in addition to the veteran Lilac, Bridal Veil and Stella D'Oro.

One of the best things about this garden? It's almost maintenance free! Jan told me that I don't really need to do anything in it until next spring.

After they left the dogs and I went out to visit the garden. Duncan and Gracie loved the new scents they found there.

After taking a few pictures, we went back into the house. I sat in my sunroom, looking out at my new garden, drinking camille tea and eating a blueberry tart, with harp music playing in the background.

Does it get any more mellow than this?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Two Women and a Hoe

My gardening philosophy has always been, "If it can't survive neglect, it doesn't deserve to live." Yet, due to poor health, I've been unable to get out in my garden even to clear out the weeds all spring and summer. The more the garden became overgrown, the more it bothered me. Then last week I saw a truck in our neighborhood that advertised, "Two Women and Hoe." I smiled at the humor of it and drove by. Before I had finished my task and returned home, I had decided to give these women a call to see if they could lend me a hand in my garden.

My call was greeted enthusiastically by Jan. Within a few days she arrived at my house with her partner and they attacked my garden with energy and efficiency. In a very short time they had turned the jungle into good, clean earth and properly pruned bushes.

Jan had discussed with me several things we could plant to make the garden colorful and low maintenance. As I kept wandering back to the garden throughout the day and evening, I imagined the magic we could create in that fertile land. Each time as I walked back to the house, I pulled each weed I passed in the yard and picked up the twigs that had fallen from the tree. I looked around and saw little improvements I wanted to make.

The dogs have also been drawn to the garden. Gracie has always enjoyed the view from the highest level, but she has been avoiding it this year because of the tall weeds. Now she runs out to the garden almost as soon as she is let into the yard. (That is, as long as the grass isn't wet - she's doesn't like to get her paws dirty...)

As my home has been cleaned and organized these past couple of weeks, I've found that my attitude has been improved greatly. I've enjoyed not having things spill out of closets as I open them, and being able to find things without hunting for them. But my garden is the greatest joy of all. The best part is the anticipation of watching the garden being transformed by someone who really knows how to do it, and who is willing to create something that I will be able to take care of properly myself once it is done.

Thanks, Two Women and a Hoe!

Monday, July 19, 2010


I hate giving up on something just because it's broken. So when the TV suddenly went black when we were watching it, we called the company that held our maintenance contract. To my dismay, the contract had expired just four days before! The cost of having someone just look at it was astounding, and then there would be labor and parts to pay for. So the decision was made to buy a new TV.

We came home with an "LG" model. The picture is bright, clear, and much sharper than the old TV. But my favorite thing about it, is the logo that pops up when you turn it on. "LG - Life's Good." A couple of times every day I see "Life's Good." It's a great reminder to take the time to appreciate all the wonderful things in my life: my husband, my dogs, my harps, and especially the time I now have to relax and truly enjoy them all.

Life's good.

I hope I can keep this TV a very long time...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


So this is what it means to relax.

After spending my entire adult life watching the clock, counting the days, trying to beat deadlines, knowing that I have a finite amount of time to complete each task - I am beginning to realize that my life is finally my own.

I've been planning projects around the house for years. But each time I have a few days off of work, I'm rushing around in an effort to achieve everything I've planned to do and not getting it all done. Now that I don't have deadlines, I'm finding that I'm getting more done.

I love this!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Day One

I hate to call it "retirement," because I'm simply too young. However, the opportunity presented itself, and I eagerly took the leap.

I've got a lot of work to do to get my health back in order. My first step in this was to make an appointment with a surgeon to remove my malfunctioning gall bladder. For that, I'll have to wait until the end of July. So in the meantime...

A special diet is in order. One that is very rich in iron to boost my severely low levels, and very low in fat to quiet my gall bladder. Now, I don't cook. It's not that I can't cook - I just didn't have the energy at the end of the work day. I still don't have the energy. After a morning walk in the park with my husband and dogs, I barely was able to eat lunch before falling asleep. I woke feeling even weaker, but determined to cook a dinner that might make tomorrow a better day. I'm so glad I did! I had found a recipe for Beet and Spinach Soup that I love and have to share!

1 small onion, finely diced (about 1/2 cup)
1 large carrot, finely diced (about 1/2 cup)
2 celery ribs, finely diced (about 1/2 cup)
6 cloves garlic, minced (I skipped this - I just don't like garlic)
1 large beet, shredded (about a cup)
4 cups fresh, chopped spinach or 1 cup frozen spinach
4 cups vegetable broth
1 tablespoon dried dill
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
salt and pepper
plain yogurt for garnish, option

In a large pot over medium heat, saute the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic in 1 tablespoon of water. Cook until the onions and garlic are translucent. Add beet, spinach, broth, dill vinegar, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and then simmer 10 - 14 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

I'll be sitting down to my harp later this evening. I'm looking forward to ending "Day One" with some gentle music before bedtime.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Gentle Life

Today I have officially announced my retirement from a job I've held for 26 years. It's been a stressful 26 years, and full of changes as of late. While it was allowed me to expand upon my creativity and provided me with a good wage, pension and benefits, it has left me feeling battered and beaten. I am currently experiencing some health issues, no doubt due to the stress that has been building over the past three years.

As I heal mentally and physically in the coming weeks, I will be spending much more time with my harp. I am eagerly looking forward to feeling well enough to garden, cook and exercise, instead of rushing though my day and coming home to exhaustion, fast food and the recliner.

Only two weeks to go before I begin a gentler, simpler life. One filled with the creation of music, good food, good friends, and a comfortable home for myself, my husband, and my dogs.

I think I've earned it.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mr. Moore's Opus

A few years ago there was a movie called Mr. Holland's Opus, about a band director and the influence he had the the lives of his students. Last night I got to experience this movie in real life.

Just 10 short weeks ago, a previous student of Mr. Guss Moore (retired) had the idea to gather past students for a special concert. Through tremendous effort and the help of friends, the concert came together. Two of my friends learned of it, and we got together with our husbands for a wonderful evening.

The non-band members among us sat in amazement was Mr. Moore began conducting, then moved to the clarinet, trombone, and tuba as the pieces progressed. Those of us who played in the band just smiled at the memories. It was Mr. Moore who taught me to play the trumpet, french horn, piano, clarinet, and sax. You see, I wanted to be just like him. I wanted to be a band director, too.

I didn't succeed in my childhood dream, but at least 20 other of his students did. Throughout the evening, one band director after another - all past students of Mr. Moore - came up to conduct - including his own son. Mr. Moore proudly announced that his grandson was now studying to become a third generation of band directors.

I have to thank Mr. Moore for a lifetime of loving music. My college years were spent in the music department at Oakland University where I continued my learning, including composition. I played keyboard in a folk group with friends, wrote music, sang in the church choir and finally came to play the harp.

It's a life-long love that began under the tutelage of a man who inspired so many.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

So Here's to You

For my fellow attendees at The Harp Gathering. I wish I could find a YouTube version of So Here's To You:

When first we met, complete awkward strangers
We did not know if we could be friends
How soon we've come for to know each other
And now I know we will meet again

So here's to you and our time together
I'll share with you a parting glass
And I'll bid adieu with some smiles and laughter
Our time apart will be short and pass

We've talked of dreams and of new tomorrows
Of yesterday and its dark despair
We've had our share of love and sorrow
And now we part as friends who care


A long, long road, it lies before me
And fate will take me where it will
But through the valleys and over mountains
I'll not forget, but remember you still

Monday, May 17, 2010

Fertile Ground

I could spend pages recounting the things I learned, and the fascinating people I met, at The Harp Gathering, 2010. The techniques and information I personally gathered will take a little time to process and incorporate into my playing. The inspiration will last significantly longer.

I live in a “blue collar” community, devastated by the troubles of the automobile industry. We don’t have orchestras here – we have bands. When people learn I play the harp, they look at me like I’m crazy and ask, “Whatever would want to make you want to play the harp?”

Then that once a year weekend comes where this question is as absurd as, “Why would you want to breathe?”

As I watch people pushing or carrying their harps around the hallways of the Heritage Inn I feel that this is my real community. The empty, smelly factories with weeds growing up around them in my Detroit suburban neighborhood seem more like a bad dream. The streets were no one knows (and doesn’t care to know) their neighbor’s names doesn’t exist here. Just hallways filled with people with the same hopes, dreams and optimism about their future.

On the last morning of The Harp Gathering I looked out my window onto a newly plowed field. The golden morning sun had turned the plain brown earth into gold dust. “Fertile ground,” I thought. “It looks as if magic could grow here.” So instead of joining everyone under the Oak Tree for breakfast, I carried my muffin and coffee back to my room and continued watching the morning unfold. A pair of mallard ducks could be seen from my window, and as I watched them, a rabbit hopped into sight and began grazing on the clover. “Looks like I’m back in Tolkien’s Middle Earth again, just like last year,” I softly said to myself. I then heard my neighbor quietly tuning his harp. For me, that was even better than being in Hobbiton.

That morning was a beautiful time of reflection. All the time I had spent in workshops and chatting with friends from last year, and new friends from this year, gently swirled around in my head. I had seen the same light in the veteran harpists eyes that I saw in the novices. They were illuminated by the learning and sharing of knowledge.

I thought about Denise Grupp-Verbon’s workshop, Zen Harp: Explore your path. She had said that a person who is following the martial arts tradition doesn’t usually speak about it. They just live it. The workshop I took after that was one of Pamela Bruner’s. As I think back on that now, I think of how she wasn’t showing off her knowledge and giving us strict rules like my previous music teachers. Like a “sensi” she showed us how she had walked her own path without insisting that we march in step behind her. She was also open to learning from us. In my book, that’s the true mark of a teacher.

I thought about the nurturing spirit of Sue Richards. She gently shared knowledge and encouragement. She made us feel precious.

Timothy Harper brought a huge smile to my face as I thought of him. He understood us so well. He knows the worries we have about performing and wanted so badly to help us overcome our fears. One by one he handed us magic seeds to plant in our minds that would assist us in sharing our gift with our audiences.

Planting seeds. That’s what was happening in and around the Heritage Inn that weekend. As the farmers where putting their seeds in the ground around us, our teachers were planting seeds of knowledge and encouragement in the fertile ground of our minds and hearts.

I can just feel the magic beginning to grow.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Home again

My last workshop of the weekend was How to Play With Lead Sheets, again with Pamela Bruner. While I've done some composing and arranging on the piano in the past, I've had problems with doing the same thing on the harp. Pamela showed us some patterns to use with the left hand that really will make a difference for me. She has a real talent for creating simple harp arrangements that sound very fancy. I am looking forward to trying them out at home.

After the workshop, we all enjoyed the last concert of the weekend. The harp ensemble was especially enjoyable, since this year I wasn't playing with them and could just listen. I knew many of the people participating and is was great fun to watch them perform. They played an arrangement of Glen Livet by Denise Grupp-Verbon, and an arrangement of Waltz of the Flowers by Frank Voltz. Frank created the arrangement with Denise in mind. Her amazing skill and talent really shined through!

Sue Richardson then took the stage and completely delighted everyone. Her skill and artistry clearly demonstrated why she's a Scottish harp champ and Wammie winner. I closed my eyes while she was playing and let the ancient Celtic music vibrate through to my bones. I could feel the draw of the ancient ruins and deep forests of my ancestors. You can't hear that type of rich, stirring chords in modern music. It was hypnotic.

We finished up the day with the prize drawings. The main prize, a Dreamweaver harp from Heartland Harps was won the night before. Then everyone gathered their harps, and drifted out of the Inn. The 2010 Harp Gathering has complete.

I'll be summing up my feelings about this weekend later in the week. After a full weekend, and a two hour drive home, I'm ready to put my feet up and relax. I look at my harp, back in it's proper place in my music room, and think, "Tomorrow I'll play around with what I've learned." But as I sit in the recliner, I think I'm hearing a call from the music room.

I probably won't wait until tomorrow...

Magic Seeds

The last morning has arrived, and once again I sit writing my blog with a cup of coffee and harp music playing. This time it's Tapestry's The Journey album. It makes me think about this whole, wonderful journey, and how once a year isn't enough! Although all the hard work Denise, Michael and all the volunteers have put in have probably been enough for them at the moment. You can tell that they're working hard to make this experience an effortless and fulfilling one for all of us.

This morning as I woke that I was hoping to hear harp music from my neighbor's room. They are probably still asleep, but if they weren't I'm sure they wouldn't want disturb anyone. If they only knew... In fact, at home I never get to hear someone play the harp live. It's always me that's playing.

Looking out my window onto the newly plowed farmland next to the Inn, I see the morning sun turning the brown, plain earth into gold dust. It looks like a land where magic could grow. I know that this weekend, the seeds of magic were planted for many harpists.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Love is the Main Course

Tonight's concert was truly magical. Timothy Harper played some familiar songs and a couple new ones. They were a collection of songs all about the journey of love: young man's love lost, the feeling you will never be loved again, the hope of a new love, and making that new love come true. He even sang a song he wrote on the way here that wasn't even really arranged yet - you wouldn't know it unless he told you. I think it was my favorite. It was about the most loving, intimate thing a man can do for a woman - cook dinner! Finally, a man who really knows what women want...

Pamela Bruner always amazes me. Like Timothy, her songs were love songs. Although she was first a singer, and only learned the harp so that she could accompany herself, her playing is enchanting. She explained that what she was doing wasn't really all that hard. So I picked up the sheet music after the concert, flipped through it and thought, "You know, she might be right." Well, let's just see what happens when I try to play it.

I went into the Exhibit Hall after the concert, and found one of the other harpists buying a carbon fiber harp from Dave Woodworth. I don't why I found this so exciting. Perhaps it was her excitement bubbling over into me. I was also pleased to find a couple of people looking at my harp in Bill Webster's area. Of course, I think my harp is the most beautiful harp in the hall. It's great to see other people admire it too.

I tried sitting in on the jam session, just to listen, tonight. But they were playing some very gentle and soothing music. I decided to come back to my room before I nodded off. So this is all I'm going to write for now and crawl into bed. Sweet dreams are a certainty.

Where do I start?

What a day - and it's not over yet! The day started with Dave Woodworth explaining the process of creating a carbon fiber harp. He's the first person ever to do it, and it's been a long and expensive road. But you can see his pride in what he's accomplished and his joy in successfully creating this uniquely beautiful and practical instrument.

My first workshop was Dexterity Exercises for playing Celtic Music at speed with Scottish harp champ Sue Richardson. She gave us some very valuable exercises and advice, chief of which was don't get discouraged. Allow yourself the time to progress at the rate that is right for you.

Before lunch I caught a glimpse of someone playing a harp in the garden. I couldn't resist snapping a picture of Robin. I've also been fortunate to have a neighbor who plays the harp in their room. I just love the sound of harp mysteriously appearing when unexpected!

Lunch included the usual sandwich and salad, and a little something special - a Harp Tasting! We loaded up our plates and went down to the performance hall. With our backs to the harps, we had the opportunity to hear each one played by two performers. That way you could analyse the sound without being influenced by the appearance. Tasty stuff.

My first afternoon workshop was The Art of Rehearsal with Timothy Harper. Timothy has stagefright just like I do. He spent lots of time going through techniques - both simple and complex - to help us give the gift of music to our audiences. He started with what we can do physically to insure that things like broken strings, coughing attacks, etc., don't end a performance. He then when into the mental preparation, followed by practice techniques that could help make us confident in our memorization of the music. Good stuff.

The second workshop was Zen Harp with Denise Grupp-Verbon. This was about us, as musicians and not about playing tips and techniques. Deep stuff.

With my harp back down in the Exhibition Hall with Bill Webster, it's time for me to run over to the restaurant for dinner. More blog later!

Coffee with Timothy Harper

6:00 a.m. Saturday morning: Funny how I can never sleep in on weekends or holidays, no matter how late I go to bed. Thank goodness there's a coffee maker in my room, so I don't have to get dressed and go down the hall for a cup. So here I sit, typing in my blog, swilling coffee, and listening to Timothy Harper's album, Dark Blue. Timothy will be playing in tonight's concert, and I can't wait!

Featured in Canada's premiere Celtic magazine, Celtic Life, Timothy is much more than a singer/songwriter/harper/guitarist. He's also a harp builder. Denise Grupp-Verbon owns one of his Storm King harps. At last night's concert she demonstrated it's power and sweetness. I hope that today I'll get to try one out in the Exhibition Hall.

Time to take a quick shower and get some breakfast. I don't want to miss Dave Woodworth's talk on how carbon fiber harps are made.

Friday, May 14, 2010

My face hurts...

Tonight's concert was pure joy. Tapestry (Denise & Michael Grupp-Verbon) began with some of my favorite pop tunes, including Riders on the Storm, Stairway to Heaven, and Let It Be. Their harp/guitar arrangements were rich and full, and Michael's guitar riffs were, to use a phrase I closely associate with Denise, "Really COOL!" They are an amazingly talented couple, and I could listen to them all night. It was great to sit with one of Denise's new students, Wendy, during the concert. I remember how harp playing seemed to be a magic I could never learn - although I wanted to with all my heart. Hang in there, Wendy. With a teacher like Denise there's no telling how far you can go...

Frank Voltz was once again amazing. All but two of the pieces he played were his own compositions. His music is rich with huge chords and intricate arpeggios. It was truly blissful and relaxing. It was half way through his set that I noticed that my face was hurting. The muscles seemed set in a permanent smile, and I couldn't seem to rub it off my face.

After the concert I joined everyone at the Exhibition Hall. This time I tried out a few of the harps, including a carbon fiber harp from Heartland Harps. The string tension and spacing were just right, and the sound was quite unique. After pushing my mahogany McFall through the hallways, I saw the logic in this "light as a feather" harp. Dave Woodworth is going to have a short presentation in the morning about how they are made. Sounds very interesting.

I got to talk a little to Bill Webster, the maker of my McFall, and Jeff Lewis, the maker of my first harp. Denise also introduced me to Kimberly from Oklahoma. She decided to come to The Harp Gathering after reading about it in this blog. She's had a tough year, and I'm really glad that she was able to do something just for herself by joining us.

I'm skipping the jam session tonight. I felt myself relaxing so much during Frank's music that I felt I just wanted to end the day with some quiet time. I intend to make it to tomorrow nights jam session.

So goodnight Dale, night-night Duncan & Gracie. May we all have sweet dreams.

Sculpting Sound

This afternoon I had the pleasure of attending my first workshop with Pamela Bruner. Although she offered workshops last year, I didn't get to attend one. Pamela is a great teacher, and quickly adapted to all the different skill levels of the people attending the workshop. I think it's safe to say that everyone left with an urge to get back to their rooms and work on the techniques she taught.

The technique that I learned the most from was improvising in a pentatonic scale. It really is a soothing sound, and it's nearly impossible to sound bad! (I'll certainly be doing more improvising...)

This workshop made me think of a quote that's in The Harp Gathering program: Music, in performance, is a type of sculpture. The air in the performance is sculpted into something. (Frank Zappa) The pentatonic scale brings that quote home for me.

At dinner I enjoyed the company of a harpist I met last year (Janice), her teacher and another new friend. It was great to hear about Frank Voltz's first workshop. I really wish that I had a clone so that I could attend all the workshops...

Tonight's concert will feature Tapestry (Denise & Michael Grupp-Verbon) and Frank Voltz. I really enjoyed them last year, and can't wait to see what they'll be playing this year.

Also, I'm looking forward to looking at all the harps in the Exhibition Hall after the concert. Last year I didn't try any of them out, because I had my Webster McFall on order. This year I want to try as many as I can!

I have a couple of photos I didn't post earlier due to lack of time. First is a shot of the lobby. The sound of the harpist carried beautifully due to the high ceiling.

The next photo is the interior garden outside of my room. There is a waterfall and coy in the pond.

I'm off to freshen up before the concert. I'll post again soon.

Let The Harp Gathering begin!

This morning reminded me so much of that morning one year ago when I headed off on an adventure in search of knowledge and music. The sun was shining clear and right, the cool spring breeze was blowing. I once again packed up my little car with a harp. But this year the harp I brought didn't fit snugly in the back seat. This year I'm accompanied by what has been called a "Warrior Caste" harp. My back seats were lowered, and my McFall completely filled the hatch of my Chevy HHR.

The Heritage Inn hasn't changed one bit in the year since I've been here. There was a harp playing in the lobby as I entered, and I was greeted with enthusiasm. The room is spacious and beautifully decorated. This year I have my own porch which overlooks farmland. I doubt I'll be spending any time out there. Right now I'm headed off to listen to the harpist in the lobby before attending the afternoon workshop. I hope to post again after the workshop.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Absence makes the "harp" grow fonder...

A few things have been keeping me from playing my harp for a couple of days. Today I'm at home with a headache, but I just couldn't resist playing my harp. Once again I've experienced something that I've experienced with no other instrument I've played.

I play really great after a break.

I can work very hard on learning something for days with little results. But miss a couple of days of playing, and I can see a huge improvement. Other harpers and harpists have told me the same thing happens to them.

So I don't think I'll play my harp on Thursday. I want to be ready to play like a pro when The Harp Gathering begins on Friday.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Gathering Myself

There's some big, wonderful changes coming into my life soon. Right now, there's not much I can say about it except that I am excited and hopeful.

Aside from my big event (which name cannot be mentioned...), I'm happily anticipating The Harp Gathering. I've been looking forward to it since the last day of the Harp Gathering last year. In one week I'll be gathering up things to take with me - my McFall harp, my computer (for blogging), and my hopes of learning things to make my music better.

I also hope that those attending The Harp Gathering will gift me with something I missed last year. You would think that in a hotel filled with harps that you would be hearing music from all corners of the building, but it was remarkably quiet. I would dearly love to be walking down a hall and hear unanticipated harp music. But it seems we harpers and harpists a rather shy. So here's my request, not only for that particular weekend, but for everyone, everywhere. If you can do something you love - don't hide it! Sing, play, dance, whatever it is, don't be afraid to do it at every opportunity. The world is waiting for you to shine...

In the meantime, I'll be gathering my courage and preparing for a bright, new future of my own.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Third Ear

To a Taoist, the Third Eye is a very clever bit of natural evolution. It consists of all the senses and mind working together as a larger, more powerful sensory organ. They believe it is located on the forehead, above and between the eyes.

The Third Eye as a sense can be used in many different ways. 1) It opens up the senses to patterns around us. 2) It's used to make connections and answer questions. 3) It's part of empathy where a person can touch and feel the emotions of others.

I believe that as musicians, we develop a Third Ear.

This idea occurred to me recently as I was absorbing a beautifully complex piece of music. I had listened to it several times until the main theme became familiar. I then let the theme go, and concentrated on the counterpart. I suddenly had the feeling that, while I was hearing the counterpart with my ears, I was hearing the theme from a spot in the middle of my chest. Was this a third ear?

1) It opened up my senses to the patterns in the music. 2) It made connections and answered questions about the music. 3) It helped me to reach out to touch and feel the emotions of the composer.

What do you think? Could there be, for musicians, a Third Ear?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Loch Lomand

I stay away from those "cliche" pieces like Danny Boy and anything you may hear screamed by drunken crowds at "Irish" Pubs. But one thing I learned early on - the way pieces are played today is not necessarily the way they were written or intended. Many years ago I heard Loch Lomand performed by Steve MacDonald. This tale of lost love was sung so sweetly that it nearly brought me to tears. Still, I never played any of the many arrangements of it that I had. Until last week.

It was one of those moments when the universe aligned and I melded into the sweet sadness of the song. My hands reached into my harp's strings and became it's heart. It was one of the few times that I didn't need to learn something before I could play it. I felt as though my Scottish blood rose to the surface of my existence.

Each time I play Loch Lomand I'm discovering that feeling all over again. I hope it never ends...

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Looking for some really great Irish music? I invite you to try my favorite, local band - Blackthorn . At their site you'll be able to buy all of their albums. You'll not be disappointed.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Gentle Celebration

St. Patrick's day approaches and people are anticipating the celebration. Decorations featuring leprechauns, teddy bears holding shamrocks, and pots of gold are scattered here and there. Soon the green beer will flow! It's a wonderful excuse to drink yourself stupid.

My celebration began the first week in March. It began with decorating my area of our new office with a delicate teapot and mug decorated with small sprigs of shamrocks, a matching ceramic shamrock wall hanging, a list called, "You might be Irish if:" and a sign that reads, "St. Pat's Pub - Blarney spoken here." (What can I say? My name is Pat! I couldn't resist...) This week I've been listening even more to Celtic music, including Kim Robertson, Celtic Woman, Celtic Thunder, and my favorite local Irish band, Blackthorn.

This weekend is Irish movie weekend. It starts with The Quite Man. It's filled with old stereotypes that could be offensive, but it still manages to create a type of charm that you can't put your finger on. It also was my introduction the one of my favorite melodies, The Isle of Inishfree. (I'd love to see what they would do with a re-make of this movie...)

Next will be Waking Ned Devine. Most people I know think it's a strange little movie, but I think its one of the funniest movies I've ever seen. The relationship of the two best friends also warms the heart. And, of course, there is a bit of music that is a favorite - The Parting Glass.

The last movie isn't so much about Irish people, but it has a large portion set in Ireland - Laws of Attraction. Two divorce lawyers "duke it out" over a rock star and his wife's possessions, including a castle in Ireland. The stars include one of my favorites, Pierce Brosnan. It's fun to watch the lawyers fight for their clients while fighting their attraction to each other.

Of course, every day I play Celtic music on my harp, but now it it feels more like a celebration and more authentic on my Webster McFall harp. So while some people use St. Patrick's Day as an excuse to get drunk, I drink in a feeling of belonging to the past, pride in my heritage, and dreams of one day seeing the country of my great-grandfather. It's a gentle celebration, more internal than external. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Harp Gathering

It's happening again. The Harp Gathering. ( I attended for the first time last year, and when it was over I was walking three feet off the ground for weeks. Like last year, I'll be blogging three times a day during the Gathering. But in then mean time, following is the story of my experience from 2009:

A few months ago I discovered that a harp conference was going to be held near Toledo, Ohio in the spring of 2009. It was to be called The Harp Gathering. Being of Scottish decent, I recognized the term “Gathering” as a tradition where clans were called home to celebrate major events, share information and make important decisions about the future. The Harp Gathering’s name therefore intrigued me.

So on a bright, breezy and warm spring morning, I packed up my little car with some “girlie” harpist clothes and my Celtic harp, kissed my husband and dogs goodbye, and got behind the wheel. But first things first, as they say. I plugged my iPod into the car’s sound system and selected an appropriate album – Avalon, a Celtic Legend. The name of the first song on this album is The Road to Camelot, and I was immediately struck with just how appropriate this music was. The name of the little harp tucked safely in my back seat, was Arthur.

When I arrived at the Heritage Inn at Sauder Village in the early afternoon, I was greeted like long-lost family. A lovely young harpist played in the light and airy, yet cozy, lobby which created a the feeling of, “Relax. You’re home now.”

The person at the front desk informed me that my room would be in the far wing of the hotel, and that I should take my car to another parking lot, and go through a different entrance. Following instructions, I parked my car where indicated and used a hotel cart to load up my suit case, camera/computer bag and harp. I didn’t get very far into the doorway when the sight that met my eyes brought me to an immediate halt. Before me stood a two story-tall oak tree – inside the hotel. As I stood looking up, a single thought entered my mind. “I’m in friggin’ Middle Earth!” My room provided luxuries which I was unaccustomed to in hotels. It was spacious and beautifully decorated. Everything was a level above “first class.” The bed linens were even better than the ones I had a home.

The workshops began that afternoon with artist/instructors Pamela Bruner, Timothy Harper and Kim Robertson. The wealth of topics they offered made it difficult to choose which workshop I wanted to attend. I chose Kim Robertson’s workshop on Introduction to Improvisation. Kim is my favorite harpist, and I enjoyed the workshop tremendously. She made us learn and laugh at the same time, with her dry wit and enchanting manner. While she was teaching us, I heard and saw elements of familiar recordings being put into action. I also learned how to make the music I play (her arrangements and others) sound more artistic. Although I chose Kim Robertson’s workshop, I know I would have enjoyed and learned as much from the other instructors. When the workshop doors opened harpists lingered inside, not wanting the workshop to end. As they slowly filtered out into the hallways, they were smiling and chatting about the amazing things they learned.

After a companionable dinner under the oak tree, harpists were treated to a concert featuring Tapestry and Frank Voltz. Denise Grupp-Verbon (aka The Queen of Harps) and Michael Grupp-Verbon (guitarist) are the artists who weave the magic into Tapestry. They began the evening with songs either written or arranged by the artists/instructors participating in the conference. It was the perfect way to showcase not only the participating artists, but also their own amazing abilities to enchant an audience with both ancient and modern music.
The electric Frank Voltz (aka The King of Strings) then wowed the audience of harpists with his lightening quick lever changes which brought forth gasps and applause from musicians who truly understood the level of skill this technique requires. His personality emanated from his harp as he played gospel and pop tunes that were as charming as Frank himself.

Friday evening also brought the opening of the Exhibit Hall. The hall was filled with new harps from several harp makers, sheet music, flutes, psalteries, tuning keys, CDs and all things “harp.” I had the opportunity to chat with Bill Webster, whom I had met several months before when I visited his workshop in Warren, Michigan. Bill is making a replica of a McFall harp for me, and I’m very excited about it.

I also spoke with Jeff Lewis, maker of my first harp. I brought the harp to him that day because I had a string that was giving me trouble. He took one look at the harp and exclaimed, “The Poppy Harp!” He then told me something that I didn’t know about this harp. He said that he had made it when he lived in California, and his sister-in-law had painted the poppies on it. She had used the Donna Dewberry One Stroke technique. Serendipity had struck again! I had once taken a One Stroke painting class from Donna Dewberry herself!

Even though several participants were fatigued from their long trip and the excitement of the day, many stayed up late to hear or play in the evening jam session. Harp maker/singer/song-writer and workshop instructor Timothy Harper guided the first timers through the elements of the session, and soon everyone was contributing the own twists to songs old and new. I had my first opportunity to see the improvisation techniques I had learned just that afternoon put into action as we were treated to some very familiar tunes (Ash Grove, Come to the Hills, among others) and a lovely 12th century piece that no one had ever heard, but that was perfect for "jamming." People brought not only their harps, but also flutes and concertinas. Before beginning each song, the question was frequently asked, “What key?” Once someone suggested Pachelbel’s Cannon in D. Then the frequent question of “What key?” was asked, I wasn’t certain that it was asked in jest. After a second or two of silence, everyone broke out in raucous laughter.

Saturday was a full day for all the participants with workshops in the morning and afternoon lead by Denise Grupp-Verbon, Timothy Harper, Kim Robertson and Frank Voltz. My first workshop was Geography of the Harp with Frank Voltz. Frank worked constantly with the group to have everyone use a good hand position. After a while, he turned to me and said, "I don't know you, but would I embarrass you if I had you come up and show the class your beautiful hand motion while you play?" I told him not to worry about embarrassing me and proudly demonstrated the exercise for the class. A few hours later (of course,) I thought of a better response. I was, after all, wearing a “butterfly” style blouse in purples and gold. I should have said, “With a blouse like this, do I look like someone who embarrasses easy?” After the workshops, I joined several harpists and Frank to rehearse his arrangement of Scott Joplin tunes, and Denise Grupp-Verbon’s arrangement of Greensleeves. At first it was a challenging task for harpists who were accustomed only to playing solo, but Frank stood like the captain of a ship before this armada of harps, and gently eased everyone into formation.

My afternoon workshop was with Kim Robertson again – Tricks of the Trade. She told us about tricks she uses to feel more comfortable while playing in front of people, and things to do when your mind goes blank while playing. Among the tricks I learned was to create a “sacred” area around your harp. A piece of cloth will do. The cloth can cover up carpets with figures in them that obscure your strings, and when playing background music in public places, it can keep people of approaching too close and throwing off your concentration.

The Saturday night concert brought harpists/singers Timothy Harper and Pamela Bruner to the stage. Timothy Harper can be best explained as a beautiful soul, full of grace. He wears a black kilt, black t-shirt and black boots. This sounds intimidating, but then you see his ever-present joyful smile. Timothy demonstrates all that is wonderful about folk music with his original songs accompanied by harp and harp-guitar. His songs tell stories that tug at the heart-strings (pun intended). His first song was one I had heard many times, but hadn't really listened to - Wayfaring Stranger. Timothy really brought the meaning home for me. It touched not only me, but the people around me. I saw more than one tear being wiped away!

Pamela Bruner's music is a reflection of her calling as a life coach. At times the audience sang along and got out of their seats to dance. Her style was so light and airy that I had visions of little girls, dancing with home-made fairy wings on. Then Timothy and Dave Woodworth (luthier and husband of Pamela Bruner) stomped through a waltz in front of the stage.
All that remained to the evening was more socializing in the Exhibit Hall and another jam session, this time led by Sara and Pete Walthery. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t attend. I was simply too exhausted to stay up late that night.

Sunday morning dawned, and devotions (for those so inclined) were graced by Jo Lynn Messer, who is a highly requested performer at charity events and churches. Then it was time for the final workshops, where I finally had the opportunity experience the joyful energy of Denise Grupp-Verbon. There is so much to say about Denise. She brings a joyous energy into the room with her. When she talks with you, you know that she is listening with her whole body. There is a effortless connection with Denise - which makes her an ideal teacher. After demonstrating a technique, she went to each student in the room and gave them individual attention. She has an abundance of knowledge to share, and a great joy in sharing it. This is evidenced by her frequent, "Wait until you hear this - it's really COOL!"

The Sunday concert began with the ensemble performance. Later in the day I was approached by several people who told me that they really enjoyed our kick-off to this last, special event. After we were finished, the ensemble took seats in the audience and everyone was in for a treat as Kim Robertson took the stage. Kim was (as usual) funny and awesome. I always enjoy her, but this time was even better. Not only could I understand the improv tricks she used (because I took her improv class), but she also used most of the techniques that Denise had showed us just that very morning! Like all the performer/instructors, she has an incredible talent that touches the heart.

One more important detail remained to the day – The Harp Hunt and Gather(ing) raffle. With over 30 prizes, ranging from gift certificates to the Grand Prize of a Lewis Creek harp, the harpists cheered and applauded as each winner was announced. Prize winners assembled on the stage for photographs, surrounding the grand prize winner who cried grateful tears.

As I loaded up my car for the drive home, Bill Webster was driving away. He stopped when he saw me and waived me over to his van. His face was just beaming. I’m certain that all those people playing and praising his harps was a total joy. He also is a big fan of Kim Robertson, and told me that the last concert was a major highlight for him. His only regret, he said, was that he wasn’t able to attend the workshops because he had to stay with his harps all day. Next year he would bring a helper!

I, too, felt like I was beaming. I've never been part of such an open and accepting group of people. As a solo traveler, I never wanted for companionship at a meal, or in what little "down" time I had between activities. The weekend was full and exciting, but at the same time beautiful and renewing.

I left The Harp Gathering feeling a new sense of my own abilities, and a new goal for my harp. My college music studies (which included theory and composition), and my harp training in my middle years made me a "by the book" musician. Not a bad thing, and a pretty good way to start. But the inspiration I received at The Harp Gathering has given me a sense of freedom to explore more, improvise more, and give myself of gift of slowing down. I don't have to constantly challenge myself with harder and harder music to play. (If I want to - that's OK too.) I don't have to be someone else's idea of what a harpist should be.

This weekend I found the freedom to play my harp without restrictions.

This weekend I believe I found my wings . . .

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

In Real Life

Yesterday we had a furniture delivery at our home. When I arrived home after work my husband told me of a remark the delivery man made when he saw one of my harps. It was something that all harpists have heard dozens of times. The man had told my husband, "I've never seen a harp in real life before!"

Hearing someone say that they have never seen a harp in real life always makes me smile. I still get that feeling of surprise at times myself, when I look at my harps. It's like the harp is from another place and time and I have only been graced by it's presence through some supernatural accident. My pedal harp stands over me like a king demanding my allegiance, and my Celtic harp seems to have become grafted to my heart. They are mythic individuals who have entered into my real life through a magic I can't begin to understand.

I also can't understand how I endured this world for so long without them.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

I've opened a second web shop! This one is called "The Harp Bazaar" and it's at I will have the same designs of celtic, folk, and pedal harp, but on different products and styles of shirts. Here's just a few:

Don't forget about my other shop, "Harper's Bazaar." It's at

Friday, February 12, 2010

Strung Too Tight

I’ve been betrayed by my own harp, just when I needed it most.

This past weekend I was suffering from a tension headache which was the product of a stressful week at work. Saturday was busy, but I made time to work on the Sonatina No. 3 by Dussek, as arranged by Kim Robertson. There is something about classical music that seems to put order into my world. I watch for how the melody works, and how the chords flow into each other. Understanding the order of the music helps me to feel that there is an underlying order to life.
But when I approached my harp on Sunday, I immediately discovered a broken second octave C string. I’d have to replace it before I could begin to play. This was a problem. My already bad vision often gets worse with a tension headache. It was very difficult to see the path the string had to thread for levers that I was still unfamiliar with. I tried looking through the bottom, middle and top of my bi-focals, and even tried not using my glasses. There was just no way I could clearly see what I had to do. Somehow, by sheer luck, I finally got the string going where it needed to go, and began winding when the string next to it snapped . . . and so did I.

I won’t repeat what I said at that moment, but when I use that word my husband drops everything and rushes like a linebacker to my rescue. Through gritted teeth I explained to him that I couldn’t see what I was doing, and I really needed to fix these strings now. Knowing that light can help me see, he ran and got his high powered flashlight, and shined it on the levers until I got the strings in place.

It was a perfect lesson – almost a parable. I had spent a week wound so tight that I was bound to snap. I struggled to handle the situation on my own, thereby creating more stress. It was only when I had help and a little “illumination” that I was able to put my world back in order.

My headache is gone now. And when the stress hits this week . . . and it will . . . I won’t let the tension build until I snap.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Discovering the "Inner Light"

Exploration and discovery seem to be a key themes in my life. Perhaps it started in childhood, as I sat and watched the very first episode of Star Trek air for the very first time. At 11 years old, I was hooked for life on this saga of exploration, courage and hope.

Recently I discovered a new piece of orchestral music. It first caught my ear because of the harp part which was a key supporting element to the main theme. The theme seemed familiar – very much like the Sky Boat Song. I quickly found out that the theme was first introduced in a Star Trek, the Next Generation episode called Inner Light. In this episode, Captain Picard is rendered unconscious by an energy beam from an unidentified probe. Picard wakes up on the surface of a planet and, despite the knowledge that this is not his life, has no choice but to live out the life of this stranger in whose shoes he now finds himself.

Years pass and he grows old, outliving his wife and friends. One day, while sitting with his grandson, Picard is summoned by his adult children to watch the launch of a missile. As he walks outside, he sees his wife and his best friend, as young as when he first saw them. They explain that knowing their planet was doomed, they placed the memories of their planet and society into a probe contained in a missile, in the hope that it would find someone who could tell others about them. Picard suddenly recalls his earlier life aboard the Enterprise as he watches the missile launch.

Picard wakes up on the bridge of the Enterprise. Only 25 minutes have passed since the probe arrived. In the meanwhile, the crew of the Enterprise had tracked the probe's course back to a scorched and desolate planet which was destroyed long ago. The probe, now inactive, is brought aboard the Enterprise for examination. The crew finds a small box within the probe, which a somber Riker gives to Picard. Inside the box is the flute. Picard, now adept at playing the flute, plays a melody he learned during his life on the now dead, alien planet.

Listening to the Orchestral Suite which was developed from Picard’s flute music, I found myself greatly moved. The theme seems at first to wander about, without much direction or resolution. It occurred to me that this is very much the way we live our lives. We head in one direction, and often do not reach the intended goal. Instead we are pulled off in another direction – one just as beautiful and exciting. The harp’s accompaniment of the flute melody also brought to mind the gentle presence of Picard’s wife. The counterpoint was quickly realized as his friends, community, and major life events. The piece ends very much the same as it begins – the simple and beautiful flute theme, supported by a gentle harp arpeggio, which is symbolic of the love by which we enter – and leave – this life.

To discover this haunting music, and explore a wonderful music video of the episode, you can go to: It's a journey that's not just for Trekkies.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Frank Voltz

Below is a link to a short interview with Frank Voltz. I met him last year at The Harp Gathering. His talent and skill are absolutely amazing. And what's more, he's a great teacher. I learned a technique from him at a workshop that has improved my playing ten fold! I wish I lived close enough to him to take lessons from him...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Yesterday I took some more photos and created more gifts for Harper's Bazaar ( These are just a few, featuring my Lewis Creek harp.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

New Harp Gifts

New items added at my internet harp gift shop, Harper's Bazaar ( - Bumper Stickers!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

To Boldly Go...

Last night I thought I’d give myself a little break in my harp practice, so I pulled out some simple music. The harp is the type of instrument that makes even the simplest music sound beautiful. There is no need for massive chords and intricate melodies. It had been a long time since I’d given myself the chance to experience this simple beauty.

Yet I found that I was strangely unsatisfied. There was no electricity to it. I didn’t feel the familiar vibrations I’ve come to expect, or the connection to my instrument. We were not “one.”

I switched over to the new Kim Robertson arrangements I’d just begun working on. The electricity was back! The connection reestablished! The large chords vibrated all the way through to my soul. The deeper I delved into the bass strings, the higher my spirit climbed, even at those frequent times that I stumbled.

The following morning I pondered this experience. I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason the practice was so much more satisfying was not so much the fact that Kim Robertson’s arrangements where so overwhelmingly beautiful – which of course, they are – as the experience of “discovery” was so much more fulfilling. I was discovering the way the music was developing through the piece; the way the chords flowed into each other; the feeling those vibrations brought to my body; my own anticipation of what the next chord would be; my ability to play the chord and make it sound full and rich; and many other subtle nuances that came with the learning of a piece.

I was truly an explorer on a journey of discovery, and the sheet music was my map. This thought gave me an insight into the motivations of the great explorers of history. I have to say that I never understood what made them strike out into unknown territory and face hardships they could not even anticipate. Now I have a clue – it’s the thrill of finding something new and magical – in the world or in yourself. It’s the wonder of seeing majesty and nobility – in nature and in action. And most of all, learning about and understanding the universe – both the universe around us, and inside us.

So I continue on the quest. There are many maps before me. I wonder which one I’ll choose next, and I wonder what I’ll discover.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Being Irish in America means...

• you will never play professional basketball
• you swear very well
• at least one of your cousins holds political office
• you think you sing very well
• you have no idea how to make a long story short
• much of your food was boiled
• you have never hit your head on the ceiling
• you're strangely poetic after a few beers
• you're poetic a lot
• someone in your family is incredibly cheap
• it is more than likely you
• you don't know the words but that doesn't stop you from singing
• you can't wait for the other guy to stop talking so you can start talking
• "Irish Stew" is the euphemism for "boiled leftovers from the fridge"
• you're not nearly as funny as you think you are, but what you lack in talent, you make up for in frequency
• you are genetically incapable of keeping a secret
• your parents were on a first name basis with everyone at the local emergency room

(It's astounding how many of these sound just like me...)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

There and Back Again

Once upon a time, in a forest far, far away…

That’s the way stories about enchantments always begin, don’t they? At least, that’s the way the story of my enchantment begins.

It was the autumn of the year 2000, and the “forest” was located in Holly, Michigan. My husband and I were on our annual visit to the Michigan Renaissance Festival and it was the weekend of our 25th Wedding Anniversary. We were spending the day browsing through the shops, watching the shows, and listening to music. The day was warm, clear and bright and the atmosphere of the festival was colorful. We were walking down a lane of shops when the breeze blew a gust of magic in my direction.

The “magic” came to me in the form of a song played on a Celtic harp. I had no choice but to follow it. The harper sat in an open-air shop presided over by Jeff Lewis, a luthier from Howell, Michigan. I sat on a bench outside of the shop and could not move. Eventually the harper took a break, releasing me from the spell, and I approached the shop with all kinds of questions.

It took a few days of deliberation, but I couldn’t find an argument that would hold up against my desire of obtaining one of these beautiful instruments. The following weekend I returned to the festival and chose my first harp – a twenty-nine string walnut model with levers on the C’s and F’s, and yellow poppies painted on the sound board and column.

My first challenge was to find a teacher. Jeff had given me a list of teachers in the area and I began making calls. In the end I chose Mary Bartlett, a veteran teacher of many professional harpists. While she was not impressed with my small, Celtic harp, she still agreed to take me on to see if I had any promise. After a few months I continued to feel the magic, although I keenly felt the limitations of my harp. Mary encouraged me to purchase a Lyon & Healy lever harp, and I choose the Prelude.

My mahogany Prelude taught me many things about playing the harp. Yet, as my ability grew I continued to find the limitations of a lever harp slowed my progress. Again, at Mary’s encouragement, I traded in my Prelude went the next step to a mahogany Lyon & Healy Style 85PG pedal harp.

The freedom the pedals gave me was perfect for the music Mary was teaching me. I’ve always enjoyed classical music and the sense of order it brought to my life. I continued to play a piece or two of Celtic music, but Mary kept steering me back to classical music. I worked hard and continued to learn. Still, I was left feeling unequal to my ideals of what a “harpist” should be. As economic times turned bad, I stopped taking lessons in order to save money, but I never stopped playing the harp. I then began playing the music that called to me most – the Celtic arrangements of Kim Robertson.

I often thought of a harp made by a local luthier who was friends with my teacher. Bill Webster had repaired her harps, and she, in turn, taught him to play. She also encouraged him to build high tension harps. I had visited his website and had yearned for the McFall style harp he built. Being of Irish/Scottish heritage, I felt the Celtic style was beautiful and dreamed of owning one. As I was now playing Celtic music exclusively, I no longer needed the pedal harp.

Of course, the day came when I determined that I’d had enough dreaming. I didn’t have enough money, but I did have the down payment. I went to Bill’s shop and we worked out the details for my dream harp. It would be months before he began work, but I would have my harp before Christmas. That would give me plenty of time to save up the funds I needed.

The first email from Bill came in late summer. He had started working on my harp! Every few days I would receive an email with a photo of it. My work days had become hectic and stressful, but an unexpected email from Bill in the morning made me relaxed and happy all day. The day I received the email that the harp was ready, I had to fight the urge to run from the office and straight to his shop. As it was, I left work early, and on November 6, 2009, I brought my mahogany McFall harp home.

So now I have come full circle. It was a Celtic harp that left me living under an enchantment, and it is now a Celtic harp that fills my evenings with joy. I am still discovering all it has to give me as it grows into what it will one day become. I have to admit that there is a connection with this harp that I haven’t felt with the others. Is it the design created by Irish born James McFall over 100 years ago? Is it the expert craftsmanship of Bill Webster who has added modern improvements to create such a magnificent sound? Or is it the freedom I feel to be the type of harper I choose to be, and not what someone else believes I should be?

That’s right. Harper. I’ve chosen the term “harper” over “harpist” because of its connections to the lands where my great-grandparents were born. And also because it reflects that I follow a specific musical tradition. I will always love classical, and many other forms of music. But it is Celtic music that enchants my soul and sooths my heart. In this hectic, modern world, it transports me to a quieter time and a land where music is more than background noise. It is magic.