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 (www.zazzle.com/harpersbazaar). 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 (www.zazzle.com/harpersbazaar) - 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.