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For the past few years the Manchester based contemporary music group, Psappha, has run a scheme for composers to write a new piece for a specific instrument or group of instruments which is workshopped with a performer from Psappha over a six month period and then recorded. Called "Composing for..." the 2019 scheme has involved new works for Eastern European Clarinets, Piano and Percussion, Solo Bassoon and Solo Harp.
Six composers, who are all at an early stage of their careers are selected for each scheme by Psappha and the overall project is supported by the Arts Council England; Garfield Weston Foundation; Idlewild Trust; PRS Foundation Talent Development Partner scheme; Radcliffe Trust; and RVW Trust
It has been a great experience to have been involved with this project and I've very much enjoyed the journey working with the composers on all of these six new pieces for solo harp.
Getting everything packed for the recording session including 3 harps, various effects pedals, my amp, lever harp stand, spare strings for 3 harps (only 1 string broke in the session), card, coils & paperclips for the prepared harp piece, assorted plectrums, iPad and page turning pedal, lots of different cables and then (most importantly) industrial quantities of fresh coffee and chocolate!
Psappha - Composing for Harp Videos
tangible/intimate/half-life by Joss Smith
PREPARED PEDAL HARP More about Joss HERE
Harp-Tronics by Daniel Ehrlich
LEVER HARP WITH EFFECTS PEDALS More about Daniel HERE
Glass Cathedrals by Grace-Evangeline Mason
PEDAL HARP More about Grace-Evangeline HERE
retina by David Nunn
PEDAL HARP (utilising quarter tones) More about David HERE
Distant Dances by Joseph Howard
PEDAL HARP More about Joseph HERE
Splitting Paint by Carmel Smickersgill
LEVER HARP WITH LIVE ELECTRONICS More about Carmel HERE
Posting about Kety Fusco got me thinking about trance like music and how emotive it can be. I played in a performance of Gavin Bryar's incredibly moving minimalistic piece a few years back with the large version of Psappha Ensemble at Royal Northern College of Music. Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet is a hypnotic piece which seems to connect with people in an extraordinary way. It certainly never fails to give me goosebumps when I listen to it.
I found it quite challenging to play, as it was incredibly difficult to keep the concentration going and for my mind not to start wandering whilst playing this music. As a player and a listener, it sends you into a meditative state and you start to literally hear and feel all sorts of things that make it difficult to play. Quite an incredible piece of music that gets 'under your skin'.
Words from the composer about his piece...
In 1971, when I lived in London, I was working with a friend, Alan Power, on a film about people living rough in the area around Elephant and Castle and Waterloo Station. In the course of being filmed, some people broke into drunken song - sometimes bits of opera, sometimes sentimental ballads - and one, who in fact did not drink, sang a religious song "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet". This was not ultimately used in the film and I was given all the unused sections of tape, including this one. When I played it at home, I found that his singing was in tune with my piano, and I improvised a simple accompaniment. I noticed, too, that the first section of the song - 13 bars in length - formed an effective loop which repeated in a slightly unpredictable way. I took the tape loop to Leicester, where I was working in the Fine Art Department, and copied the loop onto a continuous reel of tape, thinking about perhaps adding an orchestrated accompaniment to this. The door of the recording room opened on to one of the large painting studios and I left the tape copying, with the door open, while I went to have a cup of coffee. When I came back I found the normally lively room unnaturally subdued. People were moving about much more slowly than usual and a few were sitting alone, quietly weeping. I was puzzled until I realised that the tape was still playing and that they had been overcome by the old man's singing. This convinced me of the emotional power of the music and of the possibilities offered by adding a simple, though gradually evolving, orchestral accompaniment that respected the tramp's nobility and simple faith. Although he died before he could hear what I had done with his singing, the piece remains as an eloquent, but understated testimony to his spirit and optimism. The piece was originally recorded on Brian Eno's Obscure label in 1975 and a substantially revised and extended version for Point Records in 1993. The version that is played by my ensemble was specially created in 1993 to coincide with this last recording. © Gavin Bryars
About the composer: Gavin Bryars has continually shunned convention, choosing to create his own distinctive and unique path: He studied philosophy at Sheffield University and became a professional jazz bassist and a pioneer of free improvisation working especially with Derek Bailey and Tony Oxley. In the late 1960s he worked with John Cage and this influenced his early works. He has formed fruitful collaborations with international artists from across the spectrum, from Merce Cunningham and William Forsyth to Juan Munoz and Robert Wilson. The Gavin Bryars Ensemble and GB Records continue to document his work. Serene, graceful and achingly beautiful, his music is characterized by a sense of contemplation that is revealed through harmony of underlying depth.
Kety Fusco is an interesting Italian harpist and one to watch out for.
She's on tour in Europe summer 2019 with her project called SPACE HARP.
I'm not a particular fan of electronic trance music but I think her music is very appealing. 👇
More about Kety on her website HERE
It's great to see more and more young musicians using harp in all sorts of different musical genres. Long gone are the days when harps were purely used in classical and folk music, and what a great thing that is. More power to the harp becoming a versatile genre busting instrument suitable for any type of music..
The discerning amongst you might have noticed that my lever harp has an unusual sound and the reason for that is because I have customised the string set up. I've blogged a fair bit on the re-stringing process before here on Harpyness, but I wanted to share what the final string set up is and more importantly WHY I've done this.
I've always been after a very particular sound on lever harp, and I really loved the sound of my little 27 string Camac Bardic, but I wanted a 34 lever harp with a slightly brighter sound then the Bardic, I never really found the sound I heard in my head by any of the main harp makers but I had a feeling that the Starfish Glenelle was the closest. Although it is an absolutely FANTASTIC harp, the sound of it wasn't quite what I was after though.
I was very fortunate to be given some money by my Dad after my Mum passed away, and he wanted me to do something 'harpy' with it. So after much thought I decided to place my order with Starfish for one of their harps as his gift covered the cost.. I asked them if they would make me a Glenelle but use carbon fibre strings instead of the gut strings which they are designed for. Understandably they weren't keen, but after some persuasion made the harp and strung it with carbon fibre strings.
They have a really long waiting list, and eventually the harp arrived which was mega exciting, but it just didn't sound quite right to me with the strings they put on, and some of the strings just kept breaking. I waited about 6 months thinking maybe it would settle in, and the sound would change but it just didn't work. I talked to my Dad about my reservations and that I might experiment with the stringing and he encouraged me to go for it. And so began my re-stringing journey, which I have posted about previously.
It's been a slightly scary journey to undertake, and one that I wouldn't recommend as at times it was down right terrifying to be playing about with what is essentially an amazing instrument. The scariest moment was when I had to take off the levers, plug in the screw holes with filler and re-drill new holes to re-sit the levers to get the correct regulation. I felt physically sick during the entire process with the potentially foolhardiness of the whole undertaking. HOWEVER I am absolutely delighted with the result as it's created, for me the sound I was after.
The sparkle and lightness you get from nylon in the top range...
...but with enough warmth, earthiness and graduation through the lower register to the bass without any of that brightness you can sometimes get with lever bass wires.
...but with enough strength and "guts' in the strings to be able to cope with me not only playing around doing extended techniques, but also being able to 'give it some welly' and go for it.
So WHY do this? This was of course the first question the good people at Starfish asked, what was wrong with the sound of their harp as it was? There isn't anything at all wrong with the sound. The Glenelle is an amazing harp with an incredible sound with gut strings. YES, I could have ordered a Glenelle with their stringing and I would have been really happy with the sound. BUT, and it's a very big but in the equation...
Just after my Dad gave me that money he went a bit off the rails and wasn't quite right. To be honest it was a gradual thing over many years but you just don't notice the slide really so no-one was surprised when eventually he got his Dementia diagnosis. He spent years nursing my Mum through her cancer and the caring he did for her towards the end was extraordinary. After her death he really should have had the chance to recover from his caring role and start a new life, but his dementia robbed him of that. TIME is short and you never know what is round the corner. My dad loves music and has a connection to my harp playing. He has good days and bad days, but always loves to hear me play. He's in a residential home now and with regular medication he's in the best place he can be and as happy as someone with sliding dementia can be.
Yes I ran the risk of damaging a beautiful instrument, but I also ran the risking of forever regretting and wondering "what if". I had this dream of a particular harp sound in my head. My dads gift enabled me to take this gamble to see if I could find that dream. I've never been one to sit around, but since my Mum passed away and my Dad has slid down the dementia road, I'm a great believer in just going for whatever it is that excites you because you never know what's round the corner. He's been thrilled with the Starfish journey and loves hearing me play on it and I just utterly adore the sound of it.
I REALLY don't recommend anyone doing this as I could have ruined the harp. It's been my dream of a sound, and I wouldn't expect it be anyone else's personal taste but my own. So as an aide memoire for me for when I need to order replacement strings here is what I have used.
1st A through to 4th D Nylon Strings for Carmic Bardic harps
then Carbon fibre (all Alliance Savarez) from Matthias Wagner http://www.music-strings.de
4th C - HPK136C
4th A & B - KF140A (you can get 2metre length coil of string)
4th G - KF 145
4th F - HPK145B
5th E - KF160
5th D - KF172
5th C - KF180R
5th B, A, G Folk Multi-filament from Salopian Strings (phone only UK 01386 750631)
5th F - Folk wire (for Starfish) from Salopian Strings
6th E-6th C wires from Starfish
My earlier posts about re-stringing Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Wires
I've finally ordered MC & The 7 Pedals album GLUTEN FREE from Bandcamp. I've been meaning to do it for a while,so I'm looking forward to that arriving in the post. I've posted a blog about Maria-Christina a few years back and I absolutely love her playing, the special effects she does on the harp and the way she uses loops.
Check out the cheeky tuning key in the pedal slot to create a consistent buzz, I am SO GOING TO borrow that idea! I had to do a whole load of pedal buzzes recently and I could have done with knowing how to achieve the perfect pedal buzz.
Her website is HERE
Support her music by buying her CD here if you don't already have it.
I always like to physically buy albums to support music creators if I can rather than use the streaming services where artists get a pitiful amount like 0.0001 per stream
I also love her collaboration with activist rapper Potent Whisper - brilliant video!
info taken from YouTube ~ Rapper and activist Potent Whisper has teamed up with award-winning Electric Harpist Maria-Christina & The 7 Pedals to release new single 'NOW' "The single is a fusion of Harp and Rap; politically responsive lyricism set to the experimental - non romantic - sounds of the Electric Harp. After hearing a preview of the single, a reviewer asked me how many musicians feature on the track and I had to explain that it's just the two of us. Every sound that you hear on the track was played by Maria-Christina, she has one hundred and one different ways to manipulate her Harp; she's a real innovator in that respect." - Potent Whisper
The South London rapper and BRIT School graduate made the papers in 2015 with his anti-gentrification single 'Brixton First' featuring Lara Lee (star of BBC's The Voice). The single was supported by Tom Robinson on BBC Radio 1 and Radio 6, receiving further coverage from The Evening Standard Since winning first place at the Wales International Harp Competition in 2010,
Maria-Christina & The 7 Pedals has gone on to tour Europe and given performances at numerous prestigious venues in the UK, most recently featuring on Later With Jools Holland on BBC2. She is currently undertaking her PhD on the Modern Harp at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London
Maria-Christina Website: http://www.mcandthe7pedals.com
Potent Whisper Website: http://potentwhisper.com/
Download 'Now' - https://amzn.com/B01APVVBFQ
It's been a wonderful month of networking on Instagram thanks to the lovely harpists at @lowpressureharpshare instigating a month of #harpril posts. It's been a great way to find and meet lots of harpists across the world who haven't necessarily met each other online before. (If you haven't done so already, search #harpril on instagram and you will be in for a treat!)
One of the highlights for me, and probably lots of other harpists too, was seeing the posts by @arezoo.amirjamloui and her incredible upside down looking harps - which I must confess to not knowing ANYTHING about prior to seeing them on instagram.
@arezoo.amirjamloui referred to them as Iranian harps, (or table harps?) but the Persian Cheng is more curved and these are very straight. Perhaps these are a new modern interpretation of the Cheng? I know they do play what we consider 'normal shaped' harps in Iran, so I've no idea how popular these particular harps in Iran. I would love to know. If you have a link to more info about these harps please do comment below. I've tried to do a websearch on these harps and these harp players but my lack of knowledge of the Persian language is preventing me from doing basic internet research which is frustrating.
So - in the spirit of sharing what little I could find out - a bit about the Persian Chang in this next video...
and more of these 'table harps" < I wish I knew what there were called!!! >
Video taken from this website HERE <disclaimer I don't know whether this is a legit website or not. This video has been re-shared in good faith. I wanted to share the video but it would only let me download the video rather than the standard embed like we have on YouTube videos. Hence me reposting the source link>
again <disclaimer - this video has been shared in good faith because I don't understand the language on the website to know who to contact for credit. The video has come from HERE >
The Chang is curved so you can reach the upper notes. But it must be hard to comfortably reach the upper notes on these harps? Certainly you couldn't really see them??
More about the CHANG on Wikipedia HERE
24th May 2019 - I've since had some communication with @arezoo.amirjamloui and they are indeed modern interpretations of the Persian Chang and are made (or promoted?) by @shahoo_orchestra www.instagram.com/shahoo_orchestra
Lauren Scott is a harpist & composer and has been blogging on Harpyness for over 10 years.
If you enjoy reading Harpyness and you'd like to buy me a virtual coffee that would be very welcome. Cheers!