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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
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)


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.

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