Saturday, July 30, 2011

World Harp Congress - Day 5


Is it really the last day? I finally managed to get everywhere on time and then I have to leave.

I went to another technician's workshop and got to ask some personal harp-specific questions that some other people were interested in, and I'm feeling a little better about not wearing out my harp beyond repair.

Then, since I hadn't checked anything as "must see" for the rest of the morning, I decided I must see more harps. And by "see" I mean "play". All the harps I played sounded better than mine.

I played:
  • Aoyama's Sakura and Orpheus 47. There were slight differences - the Sakura really does seem to have lighter tension and was easier to play. The Orpheus was heavier.
  • Salvi's Echo Rainbow EA sounded fine without the amp, but plinky in the headphones.
  • Salvi's (forgot which model) CG extended sounded plinky in the top, ok mid-range, and good bass and the glisses sounded great from the mid-range all the way to the top. But the body is way too thick for me and puts my neck in an awkward position.
  • L&H - too many other people playing so too loud to judge any type of sound quality. I played a Salzedo model because my teacher growing up had one. They're much smaller now than when I was 9. :)
  • Camac was gone by this time. :(

On to the Library! It's a wonderful space (they have a workroom to die for) with plenty of signs telling you where you are and what you can do on each floor. I got an internet access library card which is good for a year. Anyone can get one!

Back to St. Andrew's for a Renaissance lecture and recital on Handel and the Baroque style. Maxine Eilander played a triple-strung harp with the Pacific Baroque Ensemble. The played a delicate and lovely version of Handel's Harp Concerto. Handel apparently had a thing for the harp in an era when it wasn't popular. Go Handel!

The White Nights recital was another ticketed event at the Vogue Theatre. Once again, I liked Scottish alright; Irish is just not my thing. But they totally rocked the audience. And they had such charming accents that I recorded a little bit for a friend of mine and ended up catching a pretty funny story.

Since the afternoon events at the Vogue had one ticket, and there were no entries after exits, I stayed to catch a little bit of Máire Ní Chathasaigh's Irish harp through the centuries. It was interesting, but I decided to head out to dinner a little early instead.

Onto the final Evening Concerti at St. Andrew's. I have checks next to everything in my program. All four pieces were so good.
Kaori Otake played "Concertino for Harp and Strings" by Jean-Michel Damase. It sounded like it was written in the 50s for a television performance by a harpist wearing lots and lots of tulle.

Mieko Inoue played "Piano Concerto in D+, Hob. XVIII arranged for harp" by Joseph Haydn and arranged by Inoue. The cadenzas were cool and composed by Tomoyuki Asakawa specifically for Inoue.

Willy Postma played "Ballade for harp and strings" by Einojuhani Rautavaara. This woman gets fantastic sound out of the harp. The piece is incredibly atmospheric and should have been the soundtrack to Ladyhawke (worst. soundtrack. ever.).

Belgrade Harp Quartet played "Dream, light, movement, for four harps and orchestra" by Božidar Obradinović.

At last, it's over. Good-bye, Wall Center. You've been tall.

Friday, July 29, 2011

World Harp Congress - Day 4


I thought I'd stop in to hear a bit of Peter Wiley's Technician's Workshop and cut out early to catch the performance I had marked as "must-see" on my schedule. I got there late (really? still?) and hung out in the back. His information consisted mostly of don't-touch-anything-let-the-professionals-do-it, which as a mechanical engineer and tinkerer, Does Not Work For Me. Oh well.

The Pictures on Silence duo was first up in the Coffee Concert. I had wanted to see them especially because it's a harp and SAX duo. Would that work? How would that work? It turns out: perfectly. The harp and saxophone were so well balanced and complemented each other impeccably. They played "Alba" by Graham Lynch, "Empty Every Night" by David Smooke, and "Rumba" by Maurice Whitney.

"Empty Every Night" is described on their website as a "challenging work using many extended techniques." One of the techniques Jacqueline Pollauf used was tying a length of cassette tape around a couple of her bass wires, and pulling them through her fingers - like curling Christmas ribbon - to create a buzzy/droning sound. In the picture, Jacqueline is at the end of drawing the tape out. So cool! I will be trying this posthaste. They also just released a CD. Score!

I had 45 minutes before I had to be anywhere else, so I took the time to play harps from all the manufacturers. I have a brief note that says: "L&H & Aoyama tied 1st, then Camac, then Salvi?" It took me a few plays to get my hands warmed up and remember Prelude 1, but pretty much every harp sounded amazing.

Salvi Apollo
Salvi Daphne detail - Of course I'm drawn to the only ebony harp. And the accents are teal, yummy!

Aoyama showroom

Camac showroom

Lyon & Healy/Salvi showroom (be careful of the volume)

Next was a panel discussion on "Hand position and relaxation for better playing and preventing injury". I made it ON TIME. The panel was made up of harpists, harpists with medical degrees and a hand therapist. Guess what! Once again, my hypermobility means I have to work harder than "normal" people to play the harp. The reason my thumb bends completely backwards is because of the loose volar plate in my thumb (Thanks, Mom!). However, a lot of people have that "design feature" and are not hypermobile.

The panel talked specifically about hypermobility and had us test ourselves. I got a 9 out of 9, of course. But then they had people who were 9's raise their hands. Yes, I was the only one. (Besides a Alison Austin (teacher) on the panel.) AND THEN I GOT CALLED UP ON STAGE. Luckily, it was not only me - people who were (I think) 5 and higher were considered hypermobile and also got on stage. I didn't have to do any bendy stuff, just talk about what problems hypermobility creates for me (have you got an hour?).

Other interesting things from the panel:
  • Proprioception - Is something like compensating for the lack of tactile input due to calluses by increasing pressure used to pluck the strings.
  • Kinesthesia - Knowing where your thumbs are! Mind mapping is a way of looking at what the mind considers important - the thumbs are the biggest followed by hands and face. There were sculptures that showed this and were quite silly.
  • To find your comfortable playing position, hold your hands out like a zombie, wiggle your fingers over an invisible ball, slowly turn your palms as if they would face each other (keep wiggling your fingers), and stop when you get to the right spot. If you go too far, you'll know because your fingers won't wiggle as well.
  • During the day - do light activities first, then heavy (lifting weights). Don't do heavy before practicing. (I had already figured this out through trial and error.)
  • Mental practice - If you are injured, play hard two hours a day WITHOUT TOUCHING THE HARP. Apparently, you can learn up to 90% of your music this way! I must try this.

The lunch concert was "Renaissance to Early Baroque Music" by Therese Honey. She spoke a little between each piece and I finally know what a bray harp is (pegs are turned so they buzz against the string giving it a middle eastern flavor). It was sweet.

The afternoon concert was a tribute to Ceren Necipoğlu who was a well-loved teacher and who had passed away in 2009. The notable pieces for me were "Sultan-i Yegah Saz Semaisi" by Danyal Manti played by Sebla Akbulut and "Amhrán Slán" by Garrett Byrnes played by Lavinia Meijer. You can hear a sample of "Amhrán Slán" on Garrett's "works" page and I recommend checking it out. It really is beautiful.

The next event was a Master Class with Marie Pierre Langlamet. I did not know anything about her or the pieces; I had never attended a master class before and wanted to know how they work. It's basically like watching someone else's harp lesson. So I headed out to another performance at St. Paul's. I would like to say that I managed to walk straight there and back. No getting lost or turned around. W00t!

I wanted to catch Jennifer Swartz performing "Storm's Morrow: Haikus and harp solo" by Amit Gilutz. She narrated the haikus between each movement.

Back to St. Andrews for the afternoon recital with Heidi Van Hoesen Gorton. She is an incredibly expressive player and she was wearing an awesome sparkly floofy dress.

And Arpello Duo were wonderful together.

After dinner I headed over to the Orpheum Theatre for the evening concert with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. It's really fancy.

The standout piece of the evening for me was "Baker: Harp Concerto" by Michael Conway Baker performed by Kristan Toczko. Modern yet melodic. The piece is "dedicated to [his] wife, Penny, who has always loved the harp and who has provided [him] a warm and loving home". So sweet! I found out the harpist had stepped in at the last minute (6 weeks) and had learned and memorized it in that time. Three orchestral movements, people! Holy. Crap.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

World Harp Congress - Day 3


Armed with a Translink day pass, I completely skipped all the morning sessions to head out to Capilano bright and early. I got every place I was supposed to be when I was supposed to.

Waiting for the shuttle

But don't let that allay any assumptions you have made about the rest of my day.

I started out on the Cliff Walk. This picture gives a slight sense of the possible vertigo you might feel there:

I was fine for the most part. However, crossing the main bridge is ... arduous. For some reason, I didn't think the suspension bridge would be bouncing and swaying like, oh, I don't know, a suspension bridge. It was nearly impossible to get decent pictures on the bridge as I was bouncing around.

I got back in enough time to get lunch sorted out AND attend the lunch concert (late). The Debussy Trio was in the second movement of "In the Blue Glen" by David Evan Thomas when I arrived. It was a piece well suited to the trio and I really liked the third movement - Debussy re-imagined for modern times.

I had some time between performances so I decided to do a little shopping and take a quick look at the vendors (ie HARPS!). I stopped by La Magasin de la Harpe and prevented myself from buying a metric crap-ton of music, just some basics that my collection has been lacking.

Then I checked out some of the harp rooms. *drool*

Aoyama's Sakura

Me wants.

For the next concert, all I had to do was cross the street to St. Andrew's Wesley Church, which I managed to do. The Four Seasons Quartet is four harpists (without a website!) who formed to play The Four Seasons by Vivaldi arranged by Quartetto d'Arpe di Venezia and stayed together. I really think Vivaldi is better suited to the original instruments he composed for, but despite that I forgot how relaxing harp music can be when I'm not the one playing.

I then headed to St. Paul's Anglican Church (without the labyrinth this time) and got turned around again and arrived late. I didn't think too much of it because I normally am not fanatical about Irish harp music. But it was unfortunate because I was sorry to miss any tiny morsel of the "Cape Breton" Harp Duo. They were amazing! They completely blew me away. Their focus is the musical cultures of Scotland, Ireland, and Eastern Canada. It turns out I like Scottish harp a LOT. You can see and hear them (not the best quality) here playing a beautiful slow song. Their voices are so well suited to each other and they were just spot on together. Go see them if they play near you.

I left the church and got lost. Again. I had wandered a little past where I wanted to go because I wasn't paying attention because I assumed by now I'd know where I was going. Right.

I grocery shopped and took a couple much-needed hours for dinner.

This evening's concert was again at the Vogue Theatre. I made it without a hitch. Yay!

First up was Park Stickney et al. I'm not a fan of jazz harp, but he's quite talented and I see what all the fuss is about. He and Rudiger Opperman (Oppertronic Electroharp), Ricardo Medeiros (bass) and Craig Scott (drums) did a version of Jimi Hendrix's "If 6 was 9" that I actually found not-too-cheesy.

Next was the Eastman Chamber Ensemble playing one very short piece, Venezolana for 5 pedal harps by Alfredo Rolando Ortiz. Pretty setup.

The final performance was titled "Latin American Virtuosos!" I didn't quite get into it at first, but halfway through they (or I) seemed to catch their (or my) snap. It was after Eduardo Betancourt soloed. This guy is an INSANE player and completely charming.

You can see a video here (warning: the sound is not good). What are his hands even doing?!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

World Harp Congress - Day 2


Whew! Crazy day. I hit the ground running at 8am and didn't stop until 9:30pm.

The first (late) stop was a panel discussion "The Acoustics of Harps" presented by three enginerd professors from Canada and France (and France), Chris Waltham, Benjamin Elie and Jean-Loïe Le Carrou respectively. Even though the French guys were not speaking their native language, they were speaking my language. I found their experiments and charts mapping the sound envelope of the harp interesting. Unfortunately, they ran over their time and didn't want to miss my next session so I left before I could find out any conclusions. However, I did get a couple websites: and that I will check out later.

Next, I was headed off to someplace called "St. Paul's Anglican Church LABYRINTH", which did not bode well, for a session titled "Yoga and Pilates for Harpists". I found the actual labyrinth ok and... (I just realized right now that it was referencing the Chartre Labyrinth that was painted on the floor of the room we were in. Dur.)... Anyway, the walk to the church was .5 miles, but I made it more. Did I mention I'm a panicky traveler? Vancouver is so completely easy to navigate I have no idea what was going on with me. I arrived late (you will be hearing that more - it was my theme for the congress) and missed some info, but I think I got the gist.

It was taught by Danielle Perrett (England). She is a harpist and saw a need for this kind of instruction and filled the need. She teaches mostly Yoga with a little bit of Pilates and McKenzie Method (My PT folks use this method!) There were some things she said that really stuck in my mind:

  • Our bodies mold themselves to playing the harp, therefore we need to do a lot of opposite motions.
  • Instead of shoulder rolls, perform shoulder "D"s (no forward motion).
  • Core strength is what holds us up when playing -strengthen it!.

The demonstration harp was loaned and made by David harps. I don't know if you can see in the picture, but it is a grey and white marble finish with maroon accents. Yes, really.

I got turned around finding my way back to the hotel, so I didn't have a chance to get lunch before my main reason for attending: The Hongyun Konghou Ensemble. I have a 30 second video of them playing posted over at facebook. In this short span of time you can see and hear the girl in the middle bending the strings and using her retractable pick. They have picks attached by string to tiny retractable rollers attached to rings they wear around their index fingers.

Warming up.

The rest of the afternoon was a free afternoon for tours and such, however the Capilano Suspension Bridge tour was cancelled due to lack of interest. By this time I was famished, so I decided I'd find a place to eat and then just go out to the Bridges myself using public transportation. I made my way back to a sushi place I found on my earlier wanderings back from pilates, surprisingly accurately, I might add, and had an extremely late lunch, something which I cannot function well doing at all.

By the time I was ready to catch the hotel shuttle to the Bridges, I would have had to get across town in a record two minutes to catch the last one of the day, so I mapped out a route taking all public transportation. The instructions had me get off the bus too early so I walked (some more) to the Waterbus station.

This is the bus I hoped to be on:

I went into the station to get a ticket for the next one and couldn't find my bus transfer, which meant I would have had to shell out another $3.75, which I refused to do on principle. The station also does not have a bathroom in it, and a guard pointed me in the wrong direction to public restrooms. I ended up using one in a coffee shop, but it was actually in a health club to which the barista escorted me through their storeroom and up a couple flights of stairs to a room with showers and ONE toilet.

I walked all the way back across town.

To give myself a break, I got takeout at a restaurant downstairs from my apartment. They got the order wrong.

The evening concert was Winter Harp and Patrick Ball. I wasn't too interested in Winter Harp, so I wasn't too concerned that I arrived late (Surprise! I got lost. But I found the Vogue Theatre with the help of an increasingly concerned police officer). My suspicions they weren't my cup of tea were confirmed, but they are some talented musicians.

The pedal harp is, I believe, a sister to mine. The decorations and carving looked almost identical.
They have a 5 foot tall Psaltery (they're normally 1.5 - 3 ft) you can see 2nd from the right.
At the far right is an Organistrum, which is a hand-cranked drone-type instrument. There is an engraving in Latin on the side that says, "Do not turn past 300rpm." Hee!

I had never seen Patrick Ball perform, so I was looking forward to it. Right before he came out, though, they announced no photos. Grrr. In this day and age, that seems a bit odd. And he looked really great, too - his costume made me feel nostalgic, even though it was period from the 1730s.

Patrick's performance was a scene acted entirely by him, punctuated with music. I had difficulty following the performance, which was the story of Turlough O'Carolan's last days as told by Charles MacCabe. The music was a different matter. Patrick's playing is effortless and flawless. Watching his hands move over the strings seemed more like he was gently scratching a cat's ears and the harp purred its content. Simply amazing.

I managed to make it back to the apartment in a relatively straight line and collapsed in bed, hoping to have a better navigational next day.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

World Harp Congress - Day 1


Travel Day
I hadn't taken the train out of Portland and had only seen pictures of Union Station. It's a lovely old station that originally opened in 1896 and has lots of great neon.

I'm an infrequent traveler (and tend to be a skosh panicky) and I figured once I got there I'd just print out my tickets and hop on the train. As I was printing out my tickets at the kiosk, a preemptively helpful attendant was walking by and let me know I'd need to get in line at the desk across the room 1/2 hour before boarding to get my seat assignment and that there would be an announcement when that happened. Thank you!

The trains all have digital signs on the side identifying the train and car numbers. Once you're on the train and have located your seat, the clear plastic bar covering the seat number serves as a holder for your seat assignment paper. The attendants can then come through and easily check full and empty seats.

One of the great things about train travel is you get lulled to sleep whether you want to or not. One of the not-so-great things - the bridge out of Portland was stuck in the "up" position for about 15 minutes, then we got diverted behind a freight train. But another great thing about the train: you're guaranteed a connection even if the train is late. I ended up having 5 minutes to spare to catch my bus from Seattle to Vancouver, where I was originally supposed to have an hour.

Catching a bus from the train station into Vancouver was pretty easy, as well. Their "Community Shuttle" bus numbers all start with "C" and I caught one to the place I was staying in town. It was a nice studio apartment with rooftop access.

I found this place through airbnb, which I highly recommend, even though I've only used it once. You can rent things like castles and igloos, for Pete's sake!