New Orleans Jazz Harp Conference

This month, my harp-roadie (hubby, Rick) and I did an epic harpmobile road-trip through the southern states. Our purpose was primarily for me to attend the New Orleans Jazz and Pop Harp Conference but we added on a few destinations before and after the gathering. When the tires made their final rotation of the trip into our garage we had gone 1,967 miles in Alora, my trusty harpmobile, and she performed admirably. My black harp, Sabrina, was also along for the ride—well, of course, you have to have a harp to go with the harpmobile! And Sabrina really got the chance to perform because our dear pal and extraordinary harpist, Martha Gallagher, borrowed her (picture right) to use in the featured concert of the weekend. Wow! Martha sang and played after conference organizer, Patrice Fisher, and her group including her husband, Carlos, and all were top-notch. A large crowd gathered for the afternoon performance in the public library space and they gave a standing ovation when everyone finished. I was impressed by the number of people that came from the local community to see the harps in action.

The concert sets were inspirational and the intimate class sizes that we enjoyed during the weekend were perfect. I attended classes by English harpist, Ben Creighton Griffiths on preparing a Jazz standard (Parts I and II), and an overview of electronics and amplification options for the harp. NOLA harpist Rachel Van Voorhees did classes on the chord structure of pop songs and adding musical pizzazz. Martha, who lives in upstate New York, taught classes on playing the blues and working with Jazz standard (photo below). AND I was able to visit with Martha for a while about the music project that I’m working on right now. That time was well spent and is going to pay off for me in a big way. Soon. Really soon. I’m working on it… I promise.

 

During our lunch break each day, we set up harps in the coffee shop area that was part of the entrance to the library where we had our conference. People strolling in were greeted with music of all types and styles. We got lots of “I’ve never seen that” comments. I even had an opportunity to interact with a couple of kids. I played a few of their favorite songs for them and then they got to do their own mini-concert set. The smaller size of this conference was really a major benefit for attendees. I met several new harp friends and know that those are contacts I will cherish into the future.

On Saturday night, eight of us met up in the New Orleans French Quarter for dinner. We had a jovial time telling stories and talking about music. Then on to the main attraction. We went to Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro to see some local musicians that Patrice and her husband know. The featured performer of the group was an older drummer who knocked all our socks off with his virtuosity. The best way to describe him is to say it was like watching a hummingbirds wings flapping at 4x fast forward speed. Yet, he never sounded rushed or unmusical. Oh, and the rest of the band wasn’t too bad either. Yeah, just world class. I was exhausted just listening to them. I loved that Snug Harbor is a serious music place despite the laidback café atmosphere. The ticket lady told us as we went in that there was no talking allowed during the performance and she was serious. I thought she was going to kick a couple of people out because they wouldn’t stop chatting. I’ll contrast with an experience in a Nashville bar a couple of nights later where the music was so loud you couldn’t hear yourself think but everyone was trying to yell above it nonetheless. There are all kinds of musical experiences to be had in the world.

Hope you get to enjoy some summer music soon, too!

 

 

An afternoon practice session in Mandeville, Louisiana.

 

Motivation from the Energizer Bunny

I’m fascinated when I hear authors talk about how they started writing a fiction book with a general outline in mind and then “the characters take the book in a different direction.” Aren’t they in control of the characters? As more of a visual and aural artist, I don’t experience this phenomenon often. I generally see the piece of art in my head and reach that goal (or never reach it!) or hear in my head what I’m trying to create. Sometimes things go a little off the path but usually I stay close to the trail I planned.

However, my new CD project is going in some unexpected directions from what I initially envisioned. Can’t say that I’m not excited about this, either!

Yesterday, I had the privilege of speaking to one of my harp idols on the phone. She is 93 and still very active in her community and performing almost daily. She plays the piano in her retirement community for everyone before dinner. They love her! This is completely not a surprise since she is a delight. Occasionally, she also brings her harp out for concerts and she was telling me about a new project that she is working on. “You need a good project to keep you motivated,” she said. And clearly this has worked for her because she is like the Energizer Bunny.

And obviously, I agree. I came up with the title to my new CD and thought I had a theme, era, and sound that I was working towards. The theme has been massaged some since then and the era has morphed in some ways. I’m moving into some new professional territory and I’m completely energized by the process. The project is growing organically into the thing it wants to be.

I am truly counting the days and minutes until the start of the harp conference in New Orleans. I think this will really be a life changing moment for me and help round out my project. I do not regret one moment of devoting the first ten-plus years of my harping career toward my hospice work. But the last few years of growth into different areas with my harp have been so much fun. I look forward to continuing down this path with my harp to see where we go. And I’m sure I’ll always have one project or another dancing around in my head keeping me motivated.

Catching up…

Well, I can’t believe it has been over a year since I posted to this blog. Time flies! No posts so you would think I haven’t been doing a thing with my harp. Wrong. Guess I’ve just been wrapped up in making beautiful music and working on the Folk Harp Journal. I just finished producing my 10th issue of the FHJ! I still can’t believe they let me do this job. The magazine is a lot of work but what a joy.

Last year, one of the highlights for me was playing as part of the Artosphere Festival. If they would have asked me where I would have wanted to set up at Crystal Bridges, I would have said “By the Frank Lloyd Wright house.” Guess where they put me? Yep. And it was a gorgeous spring day! Interacting with the people strolling around the lovely grounds was fabulous.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another highlight was playing at the Fayetteville Public Library at their Literary Festival in October. You know I’ll do anything for the library.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking of which, I decided to create my own library—a Little Free Library in our yard!

And, so many beautiful weddings! 2016 was special and 2017 has already produced some memorable events.

Although I didn’t get to attend any harp gatherings last year, my husband and I have been on a major music museum viewing spree. This past year we have visited: the Clinton Museum in Little Rock for their Beatles exhibit, the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum and the Stax Museum in Memphis, Tina Turner’s childhood school house museum in Tennessee, the Musicians Hall of Fame and Grammy Museum, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville and The Musical Instruments Museum in Phoenix, Arizona (with my Aunt instead of Hubby). I have LOVED every second of these adventures. And my husband still likes me! He’s not very musical but he’s a radio man so he doesn’t mind the quest. We just have a few more music museums on our “to do” list…

We have exciting things planned for the rest of this year. I’m thrilled that we will be traveling to both the New Orleans Pop & Jazz Festival in June and the Northern Lights Harp Festival in Montreal in October. I’ll also be there to say hi at the start of the Harp in Worship Festival, in Denver, in July but, unfortunately, I won’t get to stay. So many festivals… so little time… but I’m working on my harp-fest bucket list and trying to hit them all! I look forward to seeing all my harp friends and making new ones.

Come along for the adventures by following me on my social media sites.            Instagram

But I hope to see you in person soon!

The big news is that I’m also working on a new CD project. I’m having so much fun putting this one together and I think you will be as excited as I am about the project. Stay tuned in for more details as I get closer.

Cheers, Beth

She Built a Harp.

Apparently I needed a little adventure in my life so I decided to build a cardboard harp from a kit. These great kits come from Dennis Waring at Waring Harps and are so much fun and educational to make! If you don’t have a new sincere appreciation for your harp builder after building one of these—you must already be a harp builder. Making the harp was a challenge and there might have been a lot of swearing involved as well but it was totally worth it! I thought I’d share the process with you.

First, here is my finished product! I think the harp came out pretty groovy. I’m just starting to get it up to tune but so far I am very impressed with the sound.

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The kit comes in a box with full instructions and almost everything that you need. You supply the paint, if you want, and glue.
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The first step is to assemble the frame—with the help of a little glue and some screws. I don’t have a picture of this but I also glued the bridge piece on to the frame. The strings rest against this and you’ll see this later in the process.

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Next, if you want, you can paint the sound box and frame. Dennis Waring suggests that you put the zither pins in at this point but I wanted to wait until after everything was painted. I used my favorite spray paint.

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Now it is time to assemble the sound box and attach the frame. Spend some time on this stage. Make sure that you see how everything is going to glue together and the sound box will be tight and without gaps. You really need two people when you are gluing. Here is another important point. Make sure you double check the fit and alignment of the frame and the cutout in the sound box for the strings. Pick the box up and peek inside. You might make a small mark on the top of the sound box so that when you glue the frame in place things line up. I missed the mark on this a little bit and it made it harder later to put the strings on. Dumb, dumb move on my part. Also, apparently I’m not as DIY as I thought because I couldn’t figure out the banding ties that he sent to hold everything in place while the glue dries. So I just used some handy paint cans. We’re cooking now!

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Here comes the fun part! And as I am want to do, I went crazy with the paint job. Far out, eh? Notice that I even painted the tuning key to match but this turned out to be a bad idea. I think because I didn’t prep it enough—I should have sanded it down a little bit first.

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OK. This is the hard part. Zither pins. Hammer, twist, hammer, twist, swear, hammer, twist, swear, then FINALLY! I don’t know why but this part took me forever! But then when they finally seat into place, you can feel it catch and they slide right in. You have to be careful with all of this because you don’t want the pins to be loose later and you don’t want to split the frame. As you can see, there was so much twisting that I rubbed most of the paint off the tuning key! I got out my gardening gloves for this part to save myself from blisters. I guess I really do need to work on my DIY skills.

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Now comes the stringing! Dennis suggests that you start on string 19 and work your way up. I suggest that you start on string 13 so that you get into the groove and then do the lower strings which are more difficult to work with. But then again I apparently don’t do enough restringing on my harps! This is a blessing, usually. I also prefer Sharon Thormahlen’s method of tying the inside loop. I also use toggles on every string although Dennis says to start at string 13. The string lengths that Dennis provided in my kit where sufficient but not generous so be careful at this point. I ended up breaking the lowest C string and I’ve had to order a replacement. I broke another low string but I had a replacement for that one in my Harpsicle string kit. I love my Harpsicles, by the way, but I couldn’t resist this challenge of building a harp and getting to paint it. Since I don’t do enough restringing on my Harpsicles I had trouble getting the hang of the motion to lock the strings in on the pins. Here is a quick tutorial…

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Step 1. Make sure that the hole in the zither pin is up and down. Then put the string through the hole. On the larger, lower strings, you might have to trim the string to a point to get it into the hole. It is exactly the same width!
Step 2. Twist the pin a little bit, turning clockwise.
Step 3. Loop the string to the back of the pin and pull the string up towards the frame.
Step 4. Hold the string in at the bridge point so that as you continue to twist the pin the string will be caught under the string that is looping, as that strings is falling in place to the right of the hole. See above the visuals, they will help!

Wooo Hooo! We have a HARP! Now, I’m working on tuning and getting ready to play. I’m super impressed by how stable the harp is when it is standing up by itself. The harp feels study and substantial and I think the tone will be great when it gets in to tune.

Happy Harping!!

 

The Department of Inevitable Corrections

I love being the editor of the Folk Harp Journal! Truly, this job is such a great fit for me—the perfect storm of all the miscellaneous things I’ve done in my life coming together to work in perfect harmony.

Of course, once in a while, there is a bad note. This is totally my fault. The perfectionist in me screams. You can remind yourself that you were juggling a hundred balls and only one of them dropped but that doesn’t really help.

In the Winter 2015 issue of the FHJ, I included the first page of a song and not the second. I’m am grateful to Chris Neiburger for sharing so many of her wonderful arrangements. Here is the link for both pages of her arrangement of “Now a New Year Opens / I Saw Three Ships. (Now a New Year Opens.Neiburger)”

There was also a missing phrase in Joan Reid’s arrangement of “I Wonder as I Wonder. Here is the corrected file… I Wonder as I Wander-corrected

How a Harpist Should NOT Spend Downtime.

After a very busy summer (including an amazing trip to the Somerset Harp Festival in New Jersey) and anticipating an equally busy upcoming late fall/winter… I had an unexpected break in my schedule. So what did I do? I had hand surgery. As you can imagine this is generally not something that a harpist wants to do in her downtime. Especially since I had surgery on both hands.

This was a good way to get out of doing dishes for several weeks but I still don’t recommend it. Luckily, my harp roadie husband is the real angel in our duo.

The last few years I have developed fibroid lumps on my knuckles and sometimes they do bother me while I play. A few years ago I had one taken off the middle finger on my left hand. This time I had one removed from the ring finger on my left hand and my right pinky. Pop quiz…. If a harpist has a ring finger and pinky out of commission, how many playing fingers does she still have? Seven! Harpists don’t use pinky fingers while playing. Aren’t you glad you know that?!

Recovery on this surgery has gone better than expected and my fingers are quickly getting back up to speed. Actually, it was a lovely break and I enjoyed letting my serious bookworm side have free reign for a while. After the stitches were removed and I was further along in recovery mode, I did some concentrated work for the Folk Harp Journal. Typing is excellent exercise for the fingers.

Also, as they say “absence makes the heart grow fonder” and while I didn’t think I could be any “fonder” of my harps, it is true. I’m very excited about being back to work! I have some exciting new material that I am working on, lots of weddings coming up, and concerts planned. My fingers are stronger, better, and up for the challenges.Beth-note

I look forward to playing for you soon!

 

Concerts at the Library

Recently, I did two concerts at libraries in the area. If you know me, then IMG_1330eyou will know that I think the only thing better than playing the harp is getting to play the harp in a room full of books. Actually, that is pretty close to how it is at home but you can never have too many books around you. I think that is in my DNA.

On June 23rd, we went to Berryville for what was billed as more of an adult evening concert. It turned out that it was a small gathering equally split between children and adults and everyone was equally enraptured by the harp! One young lady came up to me as soon as I started to unload the harp. She pulled up a stool right next to me and declared she wasn’t moving—and the only time she did was when she got up to play the Harpsicle. After the event Mark Schuster, the head librarian, wrote me a kind review.
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On July 1st, I went to the Fort Smith Library to take part in their Wonderful Wednesday programs. This is an event especially for kids and we had a large and active crowd. I learned some good lessons about working with such a large group of kids. It is a challenge but all the kids were happy when they got their chance to play the harps including the Reverie harp and the small “thumb piano.”

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Artosphere Trail Mix Concerts

This past weekend I was lucky enough to participate in the Trail Mix Concerts as part of the Artosphere music and arts celebration sponsored by the Walton Arts Center and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Saturday I was on the Trail in Fayetteville and Sunday in Bentonville at Crystal Bridges.

It was hot but the energy of the fantastic crowd really heated things up and I had a memorable weekend. Interacting with the crowd and the kids (of all ages) made the time fly along with my fingers. Both days were just too short and they had to pull me off the trails. This weekend was just another reminder of why I love the beautiful area that we live in—the wonderful people and the groups that are committed to arts and music in the community.

Here I am on the Trail getting ready to play. (This photo won 2nd place in the Artosphere photo contest. Thanks to my hubby and the many hats he wears.)IMG_1321

Here is a small sample of the crowds going by!

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Here I am tucked in the trees at Crystal Bridges.  DSCN3153e

This beautiful couple started to dance to one of my songs. IMG_0104

A nice article that appeared in the What’s Up! section of the paper before the weekend.IMG_1308

Going to Harp Camp!!!

I’m going to Harp Camp!!! Ok, it isn’t really camp. It is a beautiful Hilton Hotel in New Jersey but it will feel like camp! I’m like a 10-year old excited about summer vacation and getting to see old friends and meeting new ones. Of course, there will be lots of music and songs but I’m sure the Hilton will prefer that we skip the campfires.

The first harp event that I ever attended was the Somerset Harp Festival. It was 2003 and I had been playing the harp exactly four months. It was an amazing and overwhelming experience for me and I met several people that changed my life. I was in awe of the performers, presenters and teachers and felt more out of my comfort zone than I had ever felt before. However, I was struck by the kindness of so many of the people and their willingness to befriend, teach, and encourage. I was able to go back in 2004 and I felt only slightly less overwhelmed.

A lot has changed since 2003. I’ve been able to attend harp festivals and gatherings from coast to coast, both big and small but haven’t been back to Somerset. I am still awed by the people that I met at those early conferences (and since then) but now many of them are friends and most are colleagues—either directly with my work for the Folk Harp Journal or in the wider sense as we are all professional harpists trying to make it in a tough business. This year will be a totally different experience then that first time but I know I will still be overwhelmed and inspired by the performances and teaching. I’m spending a full day taking an improv class with the incomparable Deborah Henson-Conant whom I’ve never seen before in person but I know this will be fabulous. I received a professional artist’s grant from the Arkansas Arts Council to help with expenses so I will be partially representing the state of Arkansas. But primarily, it will be an honor to be there representing the FHJ and the Folk Harp Society (ISFHC). I’m so thrilled about this and it is mind-blowing for me—something I never would have dreamed of or imagined back in 2003. It feels so perfect and appropriate that Somerset will be my first official event as the editor of the FHJ.

One project that I have been working on as editor of the FHJ is to update the index that we have of back issues. It has been interesting to review the past issues and see all the people and work that has gone into creating and maintaining this impressive society that we have. When a group of harpists get together, we generally call it a harp circle. A circle—no beginning, no end, not limited in width or circumference and strengthened by the bond of all of those gathered together. I’m so thrilled to be a part of the circles that will form at Somerset—just slightly disappointed that there won’t be a campfire.

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Summer Concerts

I’m very excited about the great concerts that I have on tap for this summer! Stockdell, Harpist-summer calendarCome out too one of these public events and join me. See the calendar for more details.