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(Press Release – Cambridge, MA – April 2011)

GRAMMY®-Nominated Electric Harpist Deborah Henson-Conant takes to the streets in Harvard Square to promote her Mother’s Day Eve show

Electric harpist Deborah Henson-Conant, who typically performs in formal concert halls and theaters, is taking her instrument out of its ‘natural habitat’ and onto the streets of Harvard Square. While she plays, she’ll be street-tweeting, posting, and encouraging pedestrians to do the same.

She says that the point of this project is to be where people DON’T expect her to be.

“When you go to a concert, you expect to see the artist on stage,” she said. “It’s like going to a zoo and expecting to see a giraffe. There’s no surprise. But if you see a giraffe on the street, there’s something magical about it. It wasn’t planned, it’s not repeatable – and it wakes you up.”

Henson-Conant came up with the idea after returning home to the Boston-area from some very successful shows in Seattle area. “We tried new, more community-based ways of reaching the audience there,” she said, “And not only did it work well, it was a lot more fun.”  She realized she could do something similar to promote her May 7th Mother’s Day Eve show at the Regent Theatre in Arlington  – being much more interactive, by literally taking to the streets.

In Harvard Station heading home

Unlike other street musicians, or “buskers,” Henson-Conant won’t focus on collecting donations. She says she considers her outdoor performances a kind of “reverse-busking.”  “Instead of giving me money, I want them to take something:  the flyer for my May 7th show, a photo to post on Facebook or Twitter and a new experience.”

“I love showing people the instrument,” she says, “because it looks like something out of a fantasy story.”  Invented for Henson-Conant by Europe’s top harp builder, her instrument is a hybrid of guitar, harp and racing-bike technology with airbrush designs “by a guy who usually does motorcycles and trucks.”

Inspired by her recent workshops for both adults and children on the West Coast, Henson-Conant realized that connecting with people one-on-one is a powerful experience.  “Most people have never seen an instrument like this, much less gotten close enough to touch it, but on the street” Henson-Conant says, “you can have that one-to-one contact that’s not possible in the concert hall.”

And if those people come to the show, Henson-Conant says “Imagine an audience of people I’ve personally met on the street, people who’ve touched the instrument, seen it up close, know something about how it works.  The experience will be so much richer for them and for me, both. That would be one very special audience.”

Deborah Henson-Conant is known for mixing theater and music in styles from Flamenco to Blues. She’s opened for Ray Charles at Tanglewood, toured with the Boston Pops, jammed onstage with Bobby McFerrin and offstage with Steven Tyler, premiered her works with ensembles from the National Symphony Orchestra to the Prague Radio Orchestra and starred in two music specials on PBS. She’s won grants from the NEA and “Meet the Composer,” and a GRAMMY® nomination for crossover classical project “Invention and Alchemy.” She’s been interviewed by Scott Simon, Charlie Rose, Studs Terkel, Joan Rivers and featured in stories on NBC, CBS, CNN and NPR and yes, the Food Network.

For more about Deborah Henson-Conant:

Henson-Conant will post street ‘showtimes’:
On Facebook:
On Twitter:

For media inquiries regarding Henson-Conant’s Street Performing Project contact: 
Darcie-Nicole Wicknick
”..Ask Darcie” 
Music Business Consulting and Publicity

WHEN: Saturday, May 7, 2011 at 8pm
WHERE: The Regent Theatre, 7 Medford Street, Arlington, MA
TIX: Tickets are $22 – $50 (Student Tix: $15): Order by phone at 781-646-4849, at or

FOR MEDIA INQUIRIES and more information about Deborah’s May 7th performance at the Regent Theatre in Arlington, MA contact: Michelle Roche – / 706-353-3244

TO SCHEDULE INTERVIEWS: Beatriz Harley: 781-483-3556


I lived in the Mother Lode when I was 7, near Angel’s Camp, one of hot spots of the 1849 California gold rush.  And it keeps reminding me of the music business today.

As a kid, in Calaveras County, I was fascinated by the architecture and how it seemed to embody both the excitement of the gold rush and its ultimate decrepitude.  The feeling never left me, and all the details I learned later to fill it in: the explosion of gold and possibility, the jumping of claims, the hopes both realized and dashed; the veins with huge promise, some of which panned out spectacularly and others which collapsed; the outlaws who stole gold and claim stakes — and the fact that many who became successful financially weren’t the prospectors themselves, but those who provided services for them: the merchants, the saloons and dance halls.

And the madness and addiction that came along with the sense of freedom and possibility, the belief that “I, too, could get lucky here!” but also a rabid sense that “I HAVE to get lucky!”  It was a leveler in some ways, and a drug in others.*

Being in the music business right now feels like the Gold Rush to me: a huge migration to the new music business in general, and constant rushes to the areas where someone hits a rich vein.  The message that “anyone can succeed!”, the rise of new services, and ‘platforms,’ news of rich new veins and a rush to stake your own small claim to them, stories of huge riches, brilliant successes based on a wonderfully wacky YouTube video or becoming a Twitter Millionaire;  property disputes (this time over intellectual property).  It’s all there.

Facebook is a Boom-Town – MySpace may be becoming a Ghost Town; intellectual property is the new claim stake to the stream you can pan; ‘anyone’ can stake a claim —  and more and more technology is offered as the best new way to get gold out of the hills.

So what does that mean to me?  I wish I knew.

Some people made it rich in the gold rush, but the vast majority came out with little more than they went in with — probably many with less. It was a rich experience, a cultural phenomenon, and little by little, the gold either got panned out, or lost its value or small claim-holders got bought out or beaten out by larger ones.  And some people just stayed there, gave up the mad search for gold and simply made a home in some of the most beautiful country there is.

I don’t really know how or why the Gold Rush ended … it might be helpful to know … or I might not want to know.

But when the gold dust settles, and the saloon has lost its paint and mirrors, I hope I’ve found some beauty in my claim besides the madness of wild riches — and can sit on the porch with my old mule by my side, pull out my harp and sing at least one sweet chorus of “Oh Susannah.”

 p.s. In looking for an image to add to this post I wasn’t surprised to find the one below – but before you grab your gold-pan and hardtack, this land grab is from 2009.

p.p.s.* NON-HISTORIAN DISCLAIMER: There’s a whole lot more to the Gold Rush I know I’m ignoring here, like how destructive it was for American Indians; the place there was or wasn’t for women; how it seemed to be a primarily white-guy phenomenon — or was portrayed that way in books; how it utterly destroyed Sutter’s dreams for an agricultural paradise when gold was found on his property.  Any ‘facts’ here are from Wikipedia, by the way.  The impressions are mine and right now I’m just looking at it one way: how it parallels the current music business.
Harpist Sabine Meijiers

Harpist Sabine Meijiers (Netherlands)

Dutch harpist Sabine Meijiers recently performed my concerto, “Baroque Flamenco” at Vredeskerk (The Netherlands).

I was excited to hear that Sabine wanted to add a few creative flourisheds of her own.  I asked her to write the story of how this musical adventure came about.  Here’s what she wrote:

I was asked to be harp soloist with the Altea Ensemble, because they wanted a special instrument featured in their upcoming concert.

I wanted a program that will feature my new custom-painted chrome 44-string CAMAC acoustic-electric harp. We knew we wanted to program “Debussy Dances” and I wanted another piece to feature harp in a contrasting style.  I immediately thought of “Baroque Flamenco” as I have already learned the cadenza and worked with Deborah [Henson-Conant, the composer] several times in performance workshops.

We licensed the parts and score from Deborah, and because this ensemble has different instrumentation, she also sent us the “Finale” source files for some of the instruments so we could change them.  So, for example, we changed the “Oboe” parts into “Saxophone” parts by transposing them into Bb.

“Baroque Flamenco” is a harp feature – but the orchestra ALSO includes harp. The orchestra harp part is, of course, much simpler.  I wanted to involve more of the harp community in the piece, so instead of having just one orchestra harpist, I invited THREE harpists to play in the orchestra, they are all students of the Music School, BplusC, in Leiden that is organising this event. Denise van Abswoude (15) is first harp, and plays the concert harp, her two wing-women on slightly amplified lever harps are Nelleke Louwe-Kooijmans (44), a huge Deb-Fan who participated in Deborah’s performing workshop in Maine two years ago and Yara van Boven (16), who recently studied the solo lever harp part of the Baroque Flamenco.

As a teacher this project gives me the chance to introduce my students to orchestral playing, and of course it’s very exciting to the audience to see more harps on stage.  It also helps fulfill the mission of the composer, which is to increase the visibility of harps in concert and expand the way most people think of harp music. It’s also a unique project for the Music School since it is a collaborative project between the classical and jazz department. And last but not least, I am very excited that the debut of my new harp will be the Grande Finale of the evening, with such a great piece as the Baroque Flamenco, accompanied by the enthusiastic young talents playing under the lead of Johan Top (director classical ensemble) and Anja Nielsen (director Jazznonet).

The performance was at Vredeskerk, 2nd of April, 7.30 PM.

BRAVA, SABINE!! from me, Deborah

COMPOSER/TECHNICAL NOTE:  In fact, CAMAC harps altered the design of their early-model acoustic-electric harps specifically for this piece.  Originally, those harps included only individual string piezo pickups, but when I composed and began performing “Baroque Flamenco,” CAMAC added a special sound-board pickup to the harps to amplify the percussive aspect of the piece.  Thank you CAMAC!!

I’m usually happy that my current phone is a Dumb-Phone, and that all it can do it send and receive phone calls – and I have a FlipCam that I use to capture video.  But on the road last week from Seattle to Eugene, I discovered my FlipCam was on the fritz and my phone … well, it was just a phone.

Here’s how I described the situation to the radio announcer who played a pivotal role:

From: Deborah Henson-Conant
Sent: Monday, March 28, 2011 11:20 PM
To: Christa Wessel / On-air Host & Producer of “Played in Oregon” /
Subject: Bassoon and Plastic Streamer

After a performance with the Tacoma Symphony on Sunday, I drove to Portland, spent the night and headed out early this morning for a masterclass at U of O. I ended up behind a truck carrying plastic-bound crates. The plastic had come loose, was trailing in the air behind the truck, and waving, eddying like crazy.

I was listening to your program. The bassoon piece came on, and suddenly the bassoon and the plastic streamer became one. I swear, each ornament in the music was reflected in that ribbon of plastic. Breathtaking leaps. Trills. Everything. It was one of the most thrilling music-and-dance experiences of my life.

And my flipcam batteries were dead.

Someday I’ll try to re-enact it on stage. It was the performance of a lifetime.

Thank you! I’ll never forget it!

Deborah Henson-Conant /

The worst part was having to deal with my frustration that I couldn’t catch this incredible performance and share it. I finally gave myself a good talking to: “Look,” I said, “your batteries were dead. That’s the way it was. You’ll never get that video, so you’re going to have to figure out another way to recreate the experience.”

“Aaaggh!  But it was so perfect!  The roadway, the sounds from the car, the bassoon on the radio, the incredible plastic streamer!!!!  It’s gone forever!  This incredible piece of art!!! I’m the only one who saw it! Aaaaagh!!”

That’s when I hit on the idea for a Bassoon-and-Streamer piece, a re-enactment of the roadway reverie. I can see it all now! Hand percussion and gentle pizzicato for the rain, wet finger on drumhead for the squeak of the windshield wipers, low rumbles from the basses and deep bass bissbigliando from orchestral harp for the roadway noises.  The bassoon begins, in Baroque style, as I wave a streamer of white silk … aaahhhh…. we’d almost get it!  Close enough.

So the next time I play with the Tacoma Symphony, expect that to show up on the program!

By the way, the piece was Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto in Bb Major, the bassoonist was Klaus Thunemann, the host Christa Wessel of, the highway was Route 5, my rental car was from Enterprise and the truck with the plastic-covered boxes was a medium-sized white Toyota.*

Bassoon Concerto /

The fateful Bassoon Concerto

*OK, I made that part up.  I’m a girl**, of course I have no idea what kind of truck it was.

**Don’t take that amiss.  It doesn’t really have anything to do with my gender.  I’m just using that as a convenient excuse.

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