I’ve Moved!

And I’ve brought WordPress Blog with me!

Please visit my  New Blog Home

Scared Cat Drawing by Deborah Henson-ConantThe flight home from Atlanta night-before-last got pretty choppy, and we had one of those pithy pilots who just says, “everyone get to your seats” instead of something comforting like, “Well, folks, we’ll be going through a little band of turbulence as we descend into Boston, so I’d like you to just buckle in and … blah blah blah.”

OK, I’m not always a really calm flyer anyway (though I no longer scream out loud, causing people in the front of the plane to turn around and say, “Whatever you do, please just don’t throw up”). However, I do occassionally ask the person next to me to hold my hand.

Last night was one of those flights, probably more to do with my caffeine intake than the turbulence, though both were on the way-higher-than-average level.

I’d scoped out the situation in advance:

On my right, across the aisle, was a guy who I knew had once been a basketball player,and whose wife – further to my right – was also a basketball player and a jewelry designer. They both looked pretty calm, but they were across the aisle and my general rule is to only request across-the-aisle hand-holding if nobody is sitting next to me (or if, as has happened, the person next to me has already indicated their own anxiety level is way beyond mine – usually via a mime-activity of some sort).

To my left was a young man in a uniform, who was really happy because he was headed home on leave. He hadn’t actually been in battle conditions, but he’d been in training and he looked pretty sturdy.

When the turbulence hit, about an hour out of Boston, I weathered it OK for awhile, but it moved into hand-holding territory.

So … hmmm … a guy who protects people for a living, in a comforting uniform with insignias on it is to my left, and an ex-basketball player and his wife are way across the aisle on my right. It should be a pretty simple choice.

BUT … I have reason to believe (bring in the ominous low musical underscoring) … that the enlisted man has … (big timpani roll) … a cold.

So … I reach across the aisle, startling the ex-basketball player, who, it turns out is not the hand-holding kind, but who assures me there’s a lot of turbulence (which is oddly reassuring).

And we make it safely to the ground.

So someone explain this to me, someone who studies the human psyche: I’m so anxious about this flight that I’ll reach across the aisle to invade a stranger’s personal space — but I will not reach to the guy next to me – a guy whose profession is protecting people – because I think has a cold.

Am I really more afraid of a cold than a plane crash? If I don’t really think the plane is going to crash, why am I responding with such physical anxiety?

Why do I feel afraid of the turbulence but act afraid of the cold?

And while we’re at it, how come the taxi credit-card screens in Boston only allow you the option to give 20%, 25% or 30% tip? Do they know that the quotient of our math skills, multiplied by our laziness … no, never mind, I can’t even figure out how to end that sentence. I’ll just go for the answer about fear.

After years on the fence about Facebook, I realized last week that Facebook is whatever you make it, and I posted two questions that happened to be foremost in my mind that day.

One was about musical notation and the other about the ‘maggot scene’ from “Mutiny on the Bounty.” 

From the flurry of comments, I learned many things about both, including these:

“Toasted they taste like pine nuts (I accidentally discovered once when I didn’t sift flour…)” (Thank you for that one, Mimi)

A recipe for Maggot Crisps, written out in full by Kristine (thank you Kristine)

The lyrics to a 70′s band ‘worm song’ (many thanks, Clem)

Also how singers like to see rhythms notated – at least in one specific situation — which is the subject of this blog.

The specific situation is a passage from “Songs of the Pyre,”  a 5-movement dramatic song-cycle for soprano, harp, piano and cello.

I premiered the song-cycle in NYC back in the ’80′s and it’s been on my “Prepare for Publication” shelf ever since — because given the choice between “Prepare Finished Piece for Publication” or “Write New Exciting Piece,” guess which I choose?

This year I’ve committed to releasing the works on that shelf, and I’ve hired composer-and-copyist Noah Brenner to help. So Noah is taking old hand-written versions, digitizing them and standardizing layouts and notation.

But standards aren’t always clear, and sometimes what makes sense to composers doesn’t read sensibly to performers. Facebook gave us the chance to provide two examples and let performers weigh in.

Noah made an A-B comparison chart and I  asked singers to weigh in,  choose between two ways of notating the same line – and to tell me which they preferred and why.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the comments were all illuminating.  The kind of feedback you could normally only get in a classroom.

And the last one, especially, made me realize that this was an excellent tool.

So, I take back all that stuff I said about Facebook (don’t bother looking for it – I mostly said it to my cat).


If you’re already my friend on Facebook and you’re thinking, “But, hey, I don’t remember reading anything about maggots OR music notation!” it’s probably because you are only my friend, but you do not officially “like” me.

I do most of my posting on my “official” fan page, so please join the conversation here – and if you have a recipe for maggot mousse, I’m all eyes.

So last Sunday…

… after a ridiculously early Sunday morning flight, jazz harpist Susan Ottzen picked me up at the Atlanta airport and brought me to the Atlanta Harp Center, where I immediately took a nap on the floor of the Harp Storage Room (it was like bedding down in a forest of towering harps – really).

Then I spent a rollicking afternoon with 13 intrepid harp players, singing and playing the Blues.

This was a workshop that mixed four things: passion, Blues, adult beginners and professional musicians. And here’s what I love about that:

As adult beginners, the adult part of us has a choice:

We can use our adult mind to strategize a path for the beginner … or we can revert to being a tantrum-throwing juvenile. Both are fun. But if you go for the first, as a musician, you can use your strategic adult mind to simplify music so that you can enjoy playing with others even if they’re “way beyond you.”

Unlike running with people beyond your ability. Trust me, I know.

If you’re a slow runner, like me, you can’t really run “with” a fast runner and both of you be challenged,  engaged and comfortable. Even if you start off at the same time, they’ll be ahead of you within a few steps (did I mention my husband is a marathon trainer?).

But music moves at the same rate no matter who’s playing.

So if you’re a beginner who knows the secrets of simplifying, then you can decide to play fewer notes and still play music together with people of far greater technical ability. Sure, they may be playing 10 times more notes than you (or 20 or 30 times) — but you’re still playing the music together.  The strategy comes in knowing which ones to leave out.

And, by the way, I learned this many times in my life, once from the great bass-player, Rufus Reid.

So I was really excited to have players with a huge range of skills – from Susan Ottzen, who teaches jazz harp – to a student who’d only just had her first 3 harp lessons. So how did this all happen?

I’m working on two education-type projects right now:
One’s called “Blues by the Dozen” and the other is called “Strings of Passion:”

The Blues project is about creating simple, immediately playable structures and the Passion project is about revealing underlying principles.

So one is about learning through doing, and the other is about deconstructing an idea — the idea of passion in performance — so we can find it, practice it and explore it everywhere in our lives.

In “Strings of Passion,” the point is to create an “Enhancement Loop” (I just made that up, so don’t bother Googling it),  where exploring the expression of passion in life gives us insight and connection to performing with passion as performing artists – and exploring passion in performing arts enhances how we live with passion.

In the Blues project, the point is to just get your fingers on the notes, sing, play and have a rollicking good time.  You learn a ‘technique’ and immediately put it into practice.

‘Til now I’ve always thought of “technique” workshops and “concept” workshops as – well, basically as opposites — even though I use a lot of physicalizing in concept workshops.

I wanted to see what would happen if I put these two ideas together in a workshop: I wanted to combine a simple playable structure with concepts of passion and performance — within a fairly short amount of time.

And, judging by the experience of 12 harpists belting out the Blues on harp and voice, the experiment was a success!   

What I discovered was that by describing principles of impassioned performance before we even started learning notes, and by telling just a few stories to put the principles into context, the level of performance in people’s playing was so much freer right off the bat, in terms of physical investment and energy. (And remember, this was a mixed group of professionals and adult-beginners – each of whom have different issues when it comes to freely expressing themselves through music).

So I’m excited to continue exploring this in future workshops and I’ll keep you posted!

It turns out I’ll be doing a lot of this in March at the “Beginning in the Middle” retreat near Richmond, VA.  This is an entire learning retreat just for adult beginners on harp.

I’ve heard about this festival for years, loved the idea and always wanted to give my workshops at it — and 2012 is the first time it’s worked out with my schedule.  So if you know an adult-beginner harpist or a harpist wannabe, tell them about “Beginning in the Middle” – or, heck! Buy them a registration for Christmas!

Me, I’m off to begin in the middle of dinner …

It was a composer’s Cinderella story:  a CD/DVD project with symphony orchestra and all my original music.  7 cameras, a director, designers, producer, Union negotiations, makeup artists … and did I mention the full symphony orchestra?

The video would go beyond simple documentation to truly bringing an audience into my world, my experience as an orchestra composer and soloist. I didn’t know at the time, but it would eventually be shown on PBS stations all over the US, and the CD would get a GRAMMY® Nomination.  I’d sit in the dark, waiting to see if my name was called, terrified about tripping on my way to the podium.  Then keenly disappointed that I didn’t have that chance.  A huge, rich, vibrant slice of life most composers only dream of.

And all of it was made possible by one man, a philanthropist – and now my friend — Peter Wege.  He’d walked up to me after my first concert with his regional orchestra, the Grand Rapids Symphony, and he said, “What I saw out there on stage, I want the whole world to see.”

Peter Wege and Deborah Henson-Conant

Peter and me

And he meant it.

When he invited me to submit a proposal for a project, I knew this was the chance of a lifetime.  My husband, producer Jonathan Wyner, encouraged me to propose a project that was not just about my music, but about me as a performer, something that could bring the audience into the very middle of my work for electric harp and symphony orchestra.  That meant making a DVD as well as a CD.

Once the project was approved, I spent over a year simply preparing the music, rehearsing and practicing.  And this was after 10 years I’d spent writing, performing and editing the pieces.  Meanwhile, Jonathan, as the producer, was spending all his time putting together the greatest team he could find, watching video after video to find the best lighting designer, the best director, editor, production company and graphic designer he could.  We’d never done a project like this, so were assembling a team from scratch, but he already had ideas of some of the ‘dream people’ he wanted to work with, like multi-Grammy winning audio engineer Tom Bates.

So while Jonathan’s challenge was to assemble the team, my biggest artistic challenge was that I was the composer, the orchestrator and the soloist.  I had a year of work to do as composer and orchestrator – but my performance was what the audience would actually see.  The 3 days of taping (one of which was my birthday) were high stakes: each minute on stage cost over $1000. The key to my being free and focused as a performer in those high-pressure moments –  as well as the key to the crew’s being able to capture it — was to be completely prepared, and for everyone on the team to know the material.

I knew that the best way to do that was to practice the project in miniature as much as we could before the official shooting.  We needed to make what my architect friend Fred calls a “Maquette” – a mockup .

So Jonathan and I created two musical “Maquettes,”  Instead of a 70-piece orchestra, we used a 9-piece ensemble that represented the orchestra.  Instead of a 2,000 seat hall, we used two small local theaters  Instead of a ballet company, my dancer-friend Karen Montanaro created on-the-spot choreography and two volunteers held silk streamers; instead of 7 cameras and a huge editing truck, filmmaker Ian Brownell taped with 3 cameras and edited it himself … and so on.

It meant I had to write the music twice in many cases: once for chamber ensemble, and then for full symphony.  But that was the only way we could test the whole project and see how it would work on stage. It would also create the foundation for chamber music repertoire with harp – another dream of mine – but that’s another story.  We scheduled 2 Maquette performances, with a few months between them, for me to edit or create new material.

So these two Maquettes became part of the scaffolding of the final orchestral project. They allowed us to practice the music and the moves, and the edited videos became reference clips to help the director and lighting designer to envision the final project, since they came in fairly late in the game.

But the Maquettes themselves were real performances, and these ‘miniature’ chamber music versions were as fun and challenging to play as the full-orchestra versions.   And since we had a limit on how much orchestral music we could include in the final release, they also include some music that never made it into the final project.

Now that the final project has been out for a few years, I lan to release the Maquette versions on YouTube as part of my 2011-2011 “Re-DHC” project. In part I want to release them because I love them for what they are – and in part I want people to have the opportunity to compare the two versions, so that students of orchestration can see examples of the same piece in ensemble form and full symphonic form, and so that other performers interesting in learning and programming these pieces, can see how they work in the more economical chamber music versions.

These releases are part of my “Re-DHC” blog project, a year of weekly releases of projects that are sitting on my shelves … some that are “done” and were simply never released, and some that will never be ‘done’ and that I want to share in their ‘final’ sketch-form.

(As soon as I get the first ones up I’ll link them to this blog)

A Double-Workshop at the Atlanta Harp Center
“Jumpstart the Blues” & “Passion in Performance”

Deborah Henson-Conant is a GRAMMY®-Nominated recording artist, and the world’s foremost electric harpist, known for her Blues, Flamenco and a performance style that ranges from fiery to intimate.   She’s debuted with the Boston Pops, soloed at the Kennedy Center, opened for Ray Charles at Tanglewood, and appeared on NBC’s “Today” show. She’s won grants from the NEA and “Meet the Composer”, and starred in her own music special on PBS.  She’s been so crucial in the development of the electric lever harp that the newest CAMAC model is named after her, the “DHC Light.”

But did you know she started harp as an adult, studied classical music, was signed to one of the top jazz labels in the country and then spent the last 15 years creating her own genre of performance?

Talk about reinvention! Her summer performance workshop in Maine attracts harpists from all over the world, from beginners to professionals — and she’s passionate about teaching and sharing her love of performance with artists and students of all levels.

On Sunday, December 4th, she’s collaborating with the Atlanta Harp Center on a double-workshop from 2-5 pm that combines a jumpstart in the Blues with the art of creating passion in your performance.

Session 1: Jumpstart the Blues 

Do people ever ask you if you can “play something fun”? Do you wish you could rock the house / move them to tears / bring ‘em to their knees?

Whatever level you are, you’ll walk away from this workshop playing the Blues — a musical style embraced by everyone from beginners to professionals both for its simplicity and its infinite possibilities for self-expression.  We’ll harness its simple underlying form,  learn some cool riffs and explore how this musical playground – which is fun even in its simplest form -  can be developed over a lifetime to accompany your own voice, develop a soulful instrumental solo or be a ‘common language’ to play with other musicians.  PLUS, you’ll get a sneak peak at Deborah’s new “Blues by the Dozen” Project.

After this workshop, when they say “Take it away!” you’ll be able to!

Session 1 runs from 2:00 pm – 3:15 pm.

Session 2: Passion in Performance

If you “know you’ve got it in you” but you just don’t know how to get it out, then performance skills can set you free — whether you’re stuck artistically … or don’t even know where to start!  Many people just like you – from adult beginners to  lifelong professionals – don’t realize they can instantly improve any performance without learning a single new note — simply by putting themselves more into their playing, and by performing with a greater personal connection.  You can take everything you learn in this session and apply it to every single note of every piece you play — and then beyond your instrument to the art of performing your life with passion.

Session 2 runs from 3:30 – 5pm and is followed by a short reception with Deborah.

What Deborah says about this double workshop:

I wanted to combine these workshops because the Blues is such a great musical gem to have in your creative jewel-box — but it’s also a perfect example of music that’s simple to learn, but that can be utterly transformed by how you perform it, whether you’re a beginner or a professional.

I also love basic musical ‘ideas’ that allow people of different technical levels to play together, or give people a ‘structure’ that’s fun in its simplest form but can be developed over a lifetime. I collect these musical ideas, and Blues is one of my favorites.

The art of performance is one of my lifelong passions and I’ve studied it in many intensive situations, from working with one of the world’s most innovative mimes and immersing myself in a month-long Shakespeare intensive, to working one-on-one with theatrical directors on my own one-woman shows.

I’ve learned that performance isn’t about the challenge of learning to more and more technically difficult pieces–  but about the challenge of playing exactly what you’re already playing with complete commitment, emotional resonance and personal expression.  The true art of performance removes any sense of competition or inability and focuses directly on your own deepest personal connection with the music you play. Some of the most moving performances I’ve ever seen have been by students in my workshop who suddenly ‘connect’ with their own expression, regardless of technical level.

How we perform music directly connects who we are as musicians to who we are as human beings – and teaches us be more deeply and authentically ourselves in everyday life. It brings the illumination of music into the art of being alive.  I’m thrilled to be sharing these two workshops with you in collaboration with the Atlanta Harp Center! (Deborah Henson-Conant – Nov. 2011)

Call or email the Atlanta Harp Center to register  770-619-2920  info@atlantaharpcenter.com
Harps will be provided and brief reception with the artist will follow.  Workshop price, including handout materials.  $79

The "Pluck U" T-Shirt Design

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (Nov. 6, 2011 Event)

Electric Harp Pioneer Trains a new Generation of Rockin’ Harpists – whether you play harp or not!

“I think of it like a cross between test-driving a new Ferrari and bungee-jumping …” (Deborah Henson-Conant)

LINK TO MORE INFO & REGISTRATION HERE


On Sun. Nov. 6 at 6pm, GRAMMY®-Nominated Deborah Henson-Conant: composer, performer, singer, songwriter and electric harpist joins with the Regent Theatre in Arlington, MA to launch the pilot project of her “Pluck University” electric harp training.

Sound esoteric?  Well, it is … and it isn’t. Deborah Henson-Conant is ‘THE’ “DHC” behind the world’s fastest-selling electric harp.    Henson-Conant has collaborated with the CAMAC Harp company in France for nearly two decades to develop revolutionary harness-style harps, and now CAMAC has come out with it’s newest carbon-fibre model, and named it after this Boston-area electric harp pioneer, calling it the “DHC Light” the elite racing-bike of the harp world.

In fact, the CAMAC company used racing-bike technology to craft the carbon fibre body of this unusual instrument.

Weighing in at 11 pounds, it’s about a 7th of the size and weight of the 6-foot tall, 75-pound concert harp Henson-Conant played when she got her start as a jazz harpist in the Boston area in the late ’80′s. She went on to sign with one of the counry’s top jazz labels, GRP, and later received a Grammy Nomination for her independent CD, “Invention & Alchemy,” but has continued to make the Boston-area her home.

Now she’s developing a training program for electric harp and is collaborating with the Regent Theatre and the Ultra-Sonic Rock Orchestra to present the first pilot project for that training on Sun. Nov. 6th, in an event called “Pluck University.”

“Hey, I strap this thing on every day and create sounds that make people’s jaws drop, on an instrument that’s like nothing they’ve never seen before,” says Henson-Conant.  “To me it’s an everyday thing. But it’s truly an incredible experience – and I want to give other people the chance to experience that too, because they can!   Unlike the violin or the clarinet, you can actually make great sounds on a harp from the first pluck — and that experience is liberating and inspiring, whether you’re a musician or not. I think of it like a cross between test-driving a new Ferrari and bungee-jumping — you know, both scary and elating — a fantasy-experience to shift you into a new sense of what’s possible”

This unusual training is open to musicians and non-musicians alike and is a chance for people to literally strap on her unique instrument and see what it’s like to strut across the stage with it, bend notes, and give a try at the kind of signature harp ‘wailing’ that has made Henson-Conant a pioneer player. She’s currently the only person in the world to own 3 of these instruments – and all 3 will be with her at the Regent Theatre at the launch of “Pluck U” on Sun. Nov. 6.

The Sunday evening event kicks off a week of open rehearsals that culminate in Henson-Conant’s birthday concert celebration on her birthday, “11-11-11,” Friday Nov. 11th at 8pm.

There’s a tradition where I come from that’s called the ‘Birthday Rose,’ and it goes like this:

On your birthday, someone gives you a rose and your job is to head out for a long walk and take this rose with you.  It’s generally better if you’re in a city with a lot of people around, because your job is to find the person who belongs to that rose.  And when you find them, you explain this is your Birthday Rose – and if they’ll take it, then you get to make a wish and they get to make a wish, and both those wishes will come true.

The Birthday Rose

Sometimes people absolutely refuse the rose, even if you explain that it’s a tradition and that they get to make a wish.  And some Birthday people get the rose and refuse to take a walk with it.

I understand both, because it’s frightening to approach a stranger with a rose.  But it’s also exhilarating.

So that’s the tradition of the Birthday Rose

There’s just other thing about this story – which is that I don’t actually come from anywhere.  I moved every year of my life ’til I was in my 20′s. So when I say it’s a tradition where I come from, I basically mean “I made this up,” but nobody will do it if I say that.  So I made up the part about it’s being a tradition, too.

On the other hand, the place I come from is the place where you make things up. So turns out this is a bona fide tradition, which means you can feel utterly safe doing it yourself.  At least, where I come from.


From now ’til 11-11-11 I’m blogging on Birthdays Remembered in preparation for my Birthday Concert Fri. Nov. 11th at the Regent Theatre in Arlington, MA: http://www.hipharp.com/events/2011-Bday-Regent.html

NOTES FROM TOUR:

When I asked our host of last Tuesday’s Workshop, Betsy Chapman, what to expect in Boyertown, PA – and a little bit about Marianne, the owner of the beautiful Inn we’d be staying in, Betsy sent me this email. While I was there, I took these photos.

Marianne Deery is the Mayor of Boyertown, the town I live in.

Here in Boyertown we have Bear Fever – our mascot, the Boyertown Bear can be found all around town in various guises – a Doctor Bear in front of the medical center, a laywer Bear in front of Borough Hall, a dentist bear – you get the idea.  These Bears were all created by a coalition of businesses, students, and townspeople to bring collaborative public art to our town.

Boyertown is “A Special Kind of Place” – a town of 4,000 residents that boasts its own Farmer’s Market, has a Museum of Historic Vehicles that is recognized for it’s excellent collection by the Smithsonian, a fabulous 1912 restored theater for movies and live performances, Studio B, a non-profit art gallery, and a main street of locally owned businesses that make it hard to want to shop anywhere else!

Tattoo Parlor Bear

We have an important place in the history of theater as well – in 1908 a fire in the Rhoades Opera House killed 171 people, and wiped out whole families.  That fire caused many of the fire-safety laws to be written that are still in effect.

Note that all doors in theater open out, remain unlocked during performances, and have panic bars.  Many exits are required, not just one door.  Curtains must be fire-resistent.  Exit signs are clearly marked and lighted.  Fire extinguishers are in prominent places, etc.,etc., etc.  All thanks to a fire in our little town.

As for Mayor Marianne?  Besides being renowned for her baking, it is an open secret that her favorite duties as mayor are tapping the first keg of beer at our annual Oktoberfest, and performing wedding ceremonies.  Not necessarily in that order!

The Bear in the Inn

So … you like bears?  Get thee to Boyertown!

“Baroque Flamenco” is one of my most fiery & dramatic pieces that’s the dramatic finale of PBS music special “Invention & Alchemy” and the 3rd movement of my concerto “Soñando en Español.” (Read about the piece in this blog).  Now the piece is in the hands of many other harpists …

(Sign up for the next hands-on workshop)


In 2008 I arranged “Baroque Flamenco” for other harpists to play, and instead of just making a single arrangement, I created 3 arrangments: one for beginners, one for intermediate players, and the concert version I play, myself, for advanced players.  All the versions are playable on concert harp, and the beginning & intermediate versions are also playable on the lever harp (also called “Folk Harp” or “Celtic Harp.”  You can see both concerts harps and lever harps – the blue one, and the one I’m playing – in the photo below)

Workshop with DHC

Hands-On Workshop with DHC

So now harpists all over the world are playing this piece.  But to really play the piece - to bring it aliveyou need to not just play the notes, but also play the “character” of the piece — and that’s the kind of thing you can’t pass on via written notes.  

So I created a hands-on workshop specifically for learning how to express the character of the piece  — which is both the simplest, and the hardest part of the music.

To work on that, we use a simplified version of the piece, so that players on all levels, from beginning to advance, can work together at the same time. Interestingly, it’s often the less advanced players who have an easier time connecting with the ‘character’ of the piece, so working together in a multi-level environment is useful to everyone.

For that same reason, I invite any advanced players  to present a brief section of the piece during short “Master Class” interludes, so that the entire class can learn from watching these short one-on-one sessions (which are also a nice break from the playing … well, for everyone except the ones presenting!).

By  the end of the evening, everyone knows how to ‘get this piece across’ to an audience, regardless of their skill level, and they can then take that understanding and apply it to whatever level of the piece they’re working on. They also get my tips on practice techniques for Baroque Flamenco and ideas for developing their own unique performances of the piece.

I love sharing this in person because as a composer I have a limited language through just written notes – but when I can be in the same room with you, and show you exactly what I mean, musically, you’re getting all the music, not just the notes.  You get to literally look over my shoulder.  You get to experience the passion of the piece – you get the living music and then you become part of the life of that piece.

THE NEXT HANDS-ON “BAROQUE FLAMENCO” WORKSHOP:  is Fri. Sept. 30 at Kolacny Music in Denver, CO.   Get more info or sign up here.

Blog Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.