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.