The latest issue of HARP magazine (for UKHA members only) should have landed on your doormats by now....if you are a member of the UKHA.
Included in this issue is an article I did about cars (!!!) which includes the results of a survey of 100 UK harpists. What cars they drive, which harps they transport, and which cars have split seats for fitting harps plus passengers in the back. Oh yes! If you're a harpist and drive a car it's a must read!!! ;-)
HARP magazine comes out twice a year and is exclusively for members of the United Kingdom Harp Association.
If you love the harp and live in the UK, you NEED to be a member of the UKHA. As well as producing a great magazine of news, reviews and articles, the UKHA put on events around the country, and gives out a bursary twice a year to members.
It's easy to join online, and if you do that NOW from this link here, Rita, our lovely membership secretary, will send you a copy of our latest magazine.
Our AGM is happening in Cardiff on Sunday April 17th this year, and we're delighted to be hosting a concert for the winners of the 2015 British Harp Chamber Music competition. They are a fabulous trio, and it should be a great event in Cardiff.
I have a recurring nightmare where I look down at my harp and the strings look like this!!! However, this is no bad dream - instead it's an amazing video of a Chopin Mazurka played on a 6x6 cross strung chromatic harp by Dutch harpist, Mirjam Rietberg.
To quote from Mirjam's website;
'The 6x6 cross-strung chromatic harp is named this way because it has two rows of strings that cross each other.
One row is tuned in whole notes (6 notes in an octave) from C (c, d, e, f#, g#, a#)
and the other row is also tuned in whole notes but from C# (c#, d#, f, g, a, b) '
Mirjam has a lovely website here which includes info about the chromatic harp, and also more about the FRIENDS OF THE CHROMATIC HARP here
I love the idea of the chromatic harp being used for contemporary music and that she plays jazz on it, rather than exclusively being used to play baroque music.
Playing in a bubble has been around a little while now, but it seems to be getting more common place.
picture above of harpist Shelley Frost performing in a bubble. Looks lovely doesn't it?
and here's a video of her getting into the bubble
and another, Canadian harpist Elena playing in Dubai,
and an agency in the UK is now offering it too
more job and work opportunities for musicians?
I'm all for there being more work for musicians, really doesn't matter where or what as long as it's work, and good luck to the lovely ladies playing harp in the bubbles.
I don't have an issue with playing an electric lever harp in a bubble, because at least then you have full control of the harp and levers standing up. Likewise playing a violin or saxophone is fine, because their playing is not restricted by standing up.
But I do find it very odd to play an instrument fundamentally designed to only be played sitting down - in a standing up position - when you can't change the PEDALS standing up!!!!
What a great promo video for a concert...
and what a creative harpist Uno is.
A Norwegian harpist and composer, Uno Vesje has his Carnegie Hall debut coming up in March, and and is definitely a harpist to watch out for!
He has such a lovely sound, (and a stunning harp), a really brilliant website and I'm going to download his album now...
First performance of his harp concerto - watch out for the paper in harp strings half way through
This amazing looking harp caught my eye a while back...
Tyrolean folk harps are single action (with a rather loose tension) Austrian folk harps, with a traditional curved back. The playing on them seems to involve an extraordinary amount of damping whilst playing.
The lovely silver and black model is made by Extravagant harps and although I can't find a website for the harps themselves there is a rather stunning online catalogue which can be viewed here.
From what I can make out the harps are made by the Tyrolien harp maker Peter Mürnseer, but they don't seem to be listed on his website. However these models are promoted online by Barbara Plattner.... It's proving difficult to track down what the deal is with these harps, so I would welcome any feedback from anyone who knows!
However, they do seem to be for sale online here
I must confess to having not listened to Austrian folk music before, and what I treat I have missed out on!
***WARNING - this video contains offensive language. Don't listen if you are likely to be offended. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED***
One of my favourite harpists, Lavinia Meijer playing "Cities change the songs of birds" composed by Jacob ter Veldhuis.
Otherwise known as JacobTV he has been described as the 'Andy Warhol of music' and this piece was written for Lavinia and caused a bit of an uproar when it was performed at the 2008 World Harp Congress!
To quote from JacobTV's website...
And at the World Harp Congress 2008 in Amsterdam the world premiere of Cities Change the Songs of Birds by Lavinia Meijer caused a scandal: the combination of beautiful harp sounds and heartrending monologues of female drug addicts in the streets of New York was too much for some of the audience. Kathy Elarte wrote: "The harp, as we all know, is an instrument of beauty, of worship... To see it in the center of this atrocity just goes towards promoting more hate toward American society and is, in my opinion, just another form of Musical Terrorism!"
Now I'm going to warn you again, if you are easily offended don't watch.
You might want to have a quick look here to see the lyrics that will be spoken throughout the piece first.
Lavinia is a brilliant harpist, and I think she performs this piece, brilliantly.
Whether you agree with the use of so much profanity within a piece of music will be to your own personal taste, it is certainly shocking... but that is what it is supposed to do.
I remember seeing the fallout of Claude Delange in concert playing a piece by JacobTV on saxophone and a distressed father walking out of the audience with his young teenage daughter appalled to have gone to a contemporary classical saxophone recital to then be confronted with the repeated use of 'motherf***er'.
As a mother of similiar aged children I did have sympathy with the father at the time. However, I am disappointed I missed the premier of this harp piece, I would have loved to have seen the reaction! Having listened to it now a few times it is certainly growing on me.
A harp.... made of buttons!
This astonishing piece of artwork is by Augusto Esquivel, and his sculptures are absolutely amazing!
I've been busy past few weeks doing new harp arrangements for my lovely students and have just finishing filming a few for my online students. Here's David Bowie's Life on Mars arranged for harp. It's quite chromatic so pedal changes throughout (but nothing too tricky pedal wise!) and it gradually gets more challenging through the piece.
Live on Radio 3 tomorrow night (and available for a week on the iPlayer), I'll be playing this baby with Psappha ensemble. Quest by George Crumb which is an amazing piece full of evocative sounds, and it's the physically largest score I've ever had to play from!!!
(Quest is on in the first half of the concert and not after the interval despite what it says on the BBC website)
A real privilege to have been playing in the band for this one!
The London Philharmonic Orchestra's principal harpist, Rachel Masters with her fabulous singing dog :-)
It's been a pretty stressful couple of years, if you have been one of the unlucky harpists playing Russian Roulette with your spare harp strings. That sinking feeling of knowing you have a full spare set in your bag when you are on a gig, but if you happen to have a string that breaks and you go to put the replacement string on.... will it work or will it break as soon as you put it on?
I first blogged about the harp string saga nearly a year and half ago, although I've been experiencing it for much longer.
I think the thing that annoys me the most is when I see posts on facebook now from harpists who think they are just unlucky to have strings which keep breaking and that it is just them, and not a manufacturing fault.
I've always used the same make of string and when my 1st and 2nd octaves started breaking, I too thought it was just me and would be completely stressed out when I needed to replace a string before a gig and the replacement string just kept breaking as soon as I put it on. To the point where I no longer had any spare of the broken string left and had to use the nearest string I had spare - 1st octave G string on a 1st octave A etc.
I must have spent loads of money over the past few years on strings which were completely useless until I realised it wasn't me.
Then I started sending them back to the shop I had bought them from, who would send me a replacement free of charge. Then when the replacement came, the same thing would happen, it would constantly break and I'd send that string back. Over and over.
The lack of a simple stock control sticker on the individual string packet so any "dodgy batches" can be identified by whoever is re-selling the string seems to me quite astonishing.
Whilst I completely sympathise with the problems of the manufacturers, and would always normally use their strings, the fact that it is the harpists who have bought the strings that have to then play Russian roulette is really unfair. If you are a professional gigging musician and you don't have the spare strings for your instrument, it makes your life kind of tricky to say the least.
So after resorting to putting nylon strings on I had a light bulb moment, WHY NOT TRY A DIFFERENT MAKE OF STRING!
With Pirastro gut being out of my price league, I started using Camac gut and have been using them for over 6 months now and... it's been absolutely fine. There isn't a difference in thickness and they have been no problems having a mix of strings on my harps. No intonation problems at all. No difference in sound between the strings. The Camac do 'feel' a bit different, but nothing that is off putting.
The only downside to the Camac strings is that they are a bit more expensive and that they take a bit longer to get to settle and stay in tune, but once they are settled in they are fine - and they don't break as soon as you put them on.
Which to my mind is what you want when you put on a string from a new packet that you have paid for.
I've written before, briefly, about microphone position but it's a subject always worth coming back to. I suppose it's a bit of a "holy grail" type thing for harpists; like wind players in the search of the perfect reed! Every harpist will have their own preferred set-up with microphones.
There is a really good article online from DPA microphones about miking up a harp. Definitely worth a read, despite it being about selling their particular brand of microphones.
I haven't done any CD recording sessions lately, but I have been miked up a lot on stage for live gigs.
Interestingly, the only microphones I'm given by sound guys now when I turn up on stage, are the small omni directional DPAs, the likes of which you see singers wearing on stage either in their hair, or just discretely on the side of their face.
Unlike the image above, (from the DPA website), I wrap (carefully) the lead around that strut (?) of the harp and then use a bit of gaffer tape over the wire to hold it in place on the inside of the harp so that it is held dangling about one inch inside the harp.
When I work with the NSO on the Katherine Jenkins gigs, the whole orchestra is miked up. For those gigs we use the small DPA above, wrapping the mike inside the harp, with the addition of an AKG pencil mike (or similiar) on a stand sitting on the right hand side of the harp and pointing to around middle C.
I HATE IT.
It picks up every finger noise on the string. It's fine when playing tutti and playing high in the harp. But playing completely solo below middle C is a nightmare. You get that FUTT noise as you place your fingers on the string, and you have to do LOADS of damping just to play a single solo line without it sounded rubbish through the PA.
On the latest KJ tour, during the sound check one of my strings snapped whilst I was miked up. That was interesting!
Since I got my lovely Camac Little Big Blue last year, I've been using the Camac harp all the time on solo corporate gigs, plugged into a battery powered Roland amp.
WHAT A DIFFERENCE playing on a harp where every string has it's own individual pick-up. A really round and gorgeous amplified proper "harp" sound.
I didn't use the Camac on this years KJ tour, as it's still sounding a bit "new", and although it's fine for solo corporate gigs it's not quite ready for taking out on pro orchestral-pops gigs yet.
However, next time, I will take my Camac and see what the sound guys make of that.
Over the years I have taught lots of adults who are learning a musical instrument for the first time and I always get asked,
"I've always wanted to play the harp, am I too old?"
The answer is NO.
The harp is a brilliant instrument to learn for many reasons, not least being that you can make a pleasant sound from the first lesson. Being able to flip some levers and get "hollywood" glisses by the end of a first lesson is pretty amazing.
It's good for you.
It's excellent for improving your co-ordination, a great "brain trainer" and that's without even going into the "therapeutic" healing effects from the vibrations coming from the sound board.
I'll never forget the time during a school workshop when a deaf girl came up to the front and hugged my harp with her hands flat on the soundboard and her cheek against the side of my harp. The look of joy on her face when she suddenly felt the vibration as I started to play was beautiful.
I've taught people who have had all sorts of long standing health issues, and it's possible to adapt your playing style so that you can play comfortably to suit you and your hands/health. You can get brilliant lightly strung, good quality, physically light instruments which are easy to pluck. There are just so many really great lever harps of all styles you can buy now.
You can play ALL styles of music.
It's not unusual to see a harpist playing jazz, pop or as part of a rhythm section as well as in the moretraditional folk and classicalsettings. You can learn to a high technical capability without having to play classical music if classical is not your thing.
It's easier than ever to connect with other harpists.
I was one of the first harpists to teach via Skype. Unless you are living in an Internet connection blackspot, if you don't have access to a harp teacher living near you, there is now a big choice of online teachers.
There are so many great harp festivals and harp organisations that there is no reason not to connect and meet up with other people who share your passion.
ALWAYS WANTED TO LEARN TO PLAY THE HARP?
There really isn't a good reason not to. Go on, it's never too late to learn!
Folie a Deux is a very exciting new opera for lever harp, electro-magnetic harp, and 2 vocalists by Emily Hall and Sjón by the Mahogany Opera Group.
It's been on tour and will be performed in London at the Spitalfields Festival 6th and 7th of June. details here
So what's an electro-magnetic harp?
OK - not harps as such, but..... a fascinating video interview with Andy Cavatorta, talking about the new instrument he's creating which is a magnetised piano-harp
Andy is the creative genius behind the Gravity Harps which he built for Bjork's Biophilia Tour which featured Zeena Parkins on harp.
Another lovely little news item, this time about therapeutic harpist and zoo volunteer, Teri Tacheny who plays once a month at her local zoo for the primates, big cats and polar bears. Teri says the Guerrillas show the most appreciation!
Click on image for video.
Oh my goodness!! A lovely article in The Journal & video about David Watkin's father, Donald Watkins who was a locomotive pioneer and amongst other things, designed the dead man’s handle safety device for train drivers.
It was seeing David Watkins in concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank when I was 6 that made me decide that I wanted to play the harp. The next day I drew a little picture of him playing the harp at the concert and my mum sent it to him. He was so kind and took the trouble of sending me a signed photo and kept up a little written correspondence with me for a while always making the effort to reply to the fan letters I sent him. Lovely man, a true gentleman.
I don't think I am alone in suffering some "disappointment" when the wheels from my lovely Harpo trolley first started to fall off.
The trolley IS really good and has lots of PLUS points. But the wheels falling off are a real design flaw. (This is of course a massive understatement on how annoyingly frustrating the wheels are.)
But here is how you can fix the Harpo trolley using just a cheap metal teaspoon.
The design problem is very small... it's the teeth on the metal disc which turn the wrong way round with use, meaning that rod can't go full length into the trolley.
The teeth should be pointing towards the tyre and flush with the wheel - the wheel below is ok
If it looks like this (below) then you need to fix it
Grab a metal teaspoon rather than a screwdriver as you don't want to accidentally break off any of those teeth, you just want to push the ring down and at the same time try to push the teeth so it's going inwards towards the tyre.
BE CAREFUL NOT TO BREAK THOSE TEETH - don't use a small screwdriver - use the teaspoon as it's less likely to cause breakage.
Make sure you pull the rod towards you so that it is extended to it's fullest and carefully push that ring down.
and voila! The pesky wheels go on the trolley first time without any fiddling about.
It's a 10 minute job and saves hours of cursing at your trolley when you try to get it out of the car and the trolley decides to be a pain... and the wheels keep dropping off... and you're trying to get the harp unloaded... and it's raining... and you're annoyed because you spent so much money on this expensive trolley and.....
Well here's a website worth bookmarking - New York Philharmonic Leon Levy Digital Archives
Where you can view over 370 harp parts from the library of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
How amazing and incredibly USEFUL is that! FANTASTIC.
It is for research only and not for printing and using on gigs. How many times do you get booked for a gig, and the librarian can't get you the part to look until just before the gig... and it would be really handy to look at the part before you get there.
Well now you can check out that harp part and know whether you need to panic or not!!!
That's worth a round of applause to the amazing archivists who have done this work.
Steve Swallow's Ladies in Mercedes.... great piece and a great find on YouTube of this live performance from 1989 with Emily Mitchell on harp.
Fabulous playing from the Hermanos Corbalan harp duo, and also solo harp ofSixto Corbalan.
It's got everything: passionate playing, great music and also both are brilliantly filmed videos.
They also have free PDFs of sheet music of a few of their solo harp pieces on their website, so no excuse to not have a go at playing their music.
They are coming over to the UK soon, it will be great to see them play live.
Just done this teaching resource for a student - now there is no excuse not to practice ALL those scales, arpeggios and dominant sevenths as required for the ABRSM Grade 5 exam.
Feel free to share with any harp students who could do with this free handy practice chart.
Double click on each image to open the image fully and then print off.
Tick the box as you complete each one you need to do at least 10 each day if you want to get through the cycle in a 2 week period. Select across different keys and types of scales/arpeggios rather than working down the list in numerical order.
Isabelle Perrin and Barbara Fackler have created a guide to harp notation as used by composer Bernard Andrés with the intention that this collection be shared freely among harpists at no cost.
A Guide to Harp Notation Used in the Compositions of Bernard Andrès