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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.

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)

ON SEPT. 30, 2011 – Denver, CO:  I’m presenting a hands-on workshop for harpists on “Baroque Flamenco” on Friday, Sept. 30 at Kolacny Music in Denver, CO.


Baroque Flamenco is one of my most famous and fiery pieces. But it wasn’t always.

The first time I heard the melody, it was in a  Minuet by Jean-Jacques Rousseau  (pictured below – quite fetchingly, I think).

I found it in one of my first harp books (“Medieval to Modern, Vol. 1″ by Samuel Milligan) under the title “Minuet in A Minor.”

I fell in love with the melody and started improvising on it, first in a Baroque style, and then over time, I started adding rhythm to the variations.

Little by little the piece became a conversation of styles: the melody was Baroque, but the variations took on a Latin rhythmic character (a lot like the rhythm of Bernstein’s “America.”)

Then, one day, packing up my gear in a rock club in Berlin, and hearing Ottmar Liebert’s “Nuevo Flamenco” on the house sound system, I had a revelation: “Wait a minute!” I yelled at myself over the music, “The harp … the HARP … is just a big GUITAR!”

By which I meant: there’s a whole other instrument here, not just the strings, but the sound box as well.

I started experimenting, and created a cadenza for the piece that included my best imitation of a flamenco troupe, from strums and slaps to foot stomps – all created on the strings and soundboard of the harp.

DHC Playing Baroque Flamenco with the Grand Rapids Symphony

Me playing "Baroque Flamenco" with the Grand Rapids Symphony

Thus was born, “Baroque Flamenco,” which morphed from a sweet, haunting minuet into a fiery tour-de-force that was the dramatic finale of my PBS music special “Invention and Alchemy”, and later became the 3rd movement of my  concerto “Soñando en Español.”  You can see a video of the performance of “Baroque Flamenco” from the DVD (and GRAMMY-Nominated CD) “Invention & Alchemy” here:


SEPT. 30, 2011: I’m presenting a hands-on workshop for harpists on “Baroque Flamenco” on Friday, Sept. 30 at Kolacny Music in Denver, Colorado – for all levels of harpists.



NEXT: Hand to Hand: Passing on Baroque Flamenco…




(This is from an note I just wrote to members of the Seattle-Tacoma harpist community)

Play-Date with an Orchestra

I’m excited about coming back to the Seattle-Tacoma area and thrilled to play with the Tacoma Symphony Sunday, March 27 at 2:30 pm! Seattle-Tacoma is a hotbed of harp activity in the U.S. and we’ve been in touch for years looking for just the right time and the right orchestra program — and this is it!   Details below about tickets, program, etc.  But here’s the story of how this happened…

What’s so cool about this concert is that, every time I play with a symphony, it’s the realization of a vision. Really!  A vision!  It happened one New Year’s Eve about 20 years ago:  I was sitting on my porch in Boston, shivering in my parka and I saw a vision of myself playing an electric harp in front of a full orchestra. The harp was strapped on and each string I plucked soared with the brass, woodwinds, strings and percussion of the orchestra.   I could see it all very clearly — and I knew that’s where I wanted to be.

There was just one problem:  no harp like that existed, and I had no idea how to write music for orchestra.

But I had a friend who played in a string quartet, so I asked if she’d perform a concert with me, she agreed, and I played that concert on an old acoustic Wurlitzer with a little pickup to amplify it.  But it was a beginning.   Little by little, I kept learning to write scores for more instruments — by taking ‘lessons’ from other instrumentalists, and getting them to show me how to write for their instruments, and to critique the parts I’d written for them.  At the same time, I kept talking to all the harp builders I knew, trying to get them to build me the kind of harp I’d seen in my vision.

Harvey Felder, Tacoma Symphony Orchestra conductor

Harvey Felder, Tacoma Symphony Orchestra conductor

Many builder friends built me beautiful ‘harp-monsters’ trying to find a way to recreate the one I’d envisioned. And I wrote many orchestra and chamber music scores that almost worked, but that I had to rewrite many times until they started sounding the way I heard them in my head.

In the same way, CAMAC Harps kept building and rebuilding, changing and testing, investing  years of research, new technology and new models between the time they handed me the first one, made of wood, with thick plastic levers – to the streamlined, silver-levered, carbon-fiber model I play today, and that carries my own name, the “DHC Blue Light.”

This journey to simply having the ingredients for this wonderful artistic feast — the journey of learning  how to compose for orchestra, and to finally having the instrument I imagined – has been an amazing one, not always fun, and definitely not easy!  And  it’s taken over 15 years!   So when I walk out on stage now, wearing that gorgeous 11-pound electric harp that CAMAC built me — and when the conductor raises his baton and the orchestra plays their first notes — I feel like I’m finally stepping into the vision I had that New Year’s eve.  It’s like the end of a journey to where I wanted to begin … and the beginning of a huge new musical adventure.

I  hope you’ll be there to share it with me, and that while you’re in the audience,  you’ll envision yourself on the stage … because my next vision is seeing YOU up there playing these pieces.

WHAT MUSIC I’LL BE PLAYING:
Almost all the music I’m playing is original, all of it features the harp and I’m working to publish all of it so you’ll be able to – literally – get your hands on it!   That means that I’ll be very interested to hear from you all after the show about which pieces you most want me to publish first — which ones you can most see yourself playing. And all the music on this program is playable on both lever and pedal harp.

Right now the program includes Cosita Latina, Minstrel & the Wild Harp, Belinda, The Nightingale, Dance with Me, Siana’s Dream, and Way You Are Blues  — all in full-orchestra versions – as well as Nataliana as a solo.  Sometimes the program changes as the date nears. AND … it’s possible that we might even be doing a full-orchestra version of “New Blues” with not one harp, not two harps — but … well … as many as we can get on stage! (More on this as it unfolds!)

WHAT HARP I’LL BE PLAYING:
I’ll be playing my wonderful new 32-string, 11-pound carbon fibre “DHC Blue Light” which has a gorgeous sound and looks like something out of a science fiction novel.

Please make sure you’re on my mailing list and a fan of my Facebook page, because if I can, I’ll also be trying to share some solo harp versions of the music from the show ahead-of-time on line.   You can join both from my homepage: www.HipHarp.com.

TEACHING & OTHER CONNECTIONS IN THE NORTHWEST:
I’m hoping there’ll be a chance for me to connect with all of you when I’m out there, let you see the harp up close and personal and just hang out a little bit!  I’ll also try to come a day or two early to be available for lessons, so if that’s something you’re interested in, please email my office (info@HipHarp.com).

(I’ll also be in Eugene later that same week performing a solo show so Oregonians, you can chime in, too!)

So…. I’m hoping all the harpists in the Seattle-Tacoma area can come to this show because the program is harp, harp, harp and harp.  Oh, and also harp!  And because the concert’s at 2:30 on a Sunday – March 27 – you’ll miss any rush-hour traffic by a good 16 hours!  I’ll see you there!

BASIC SHOW DETAILS:
Sun. Mar. 27, 2011 – 2:30 PM
Pantages Theater – 901 Broadway – Tacoma, WA 98402
Deborah Henson-Conant, Electric Harp with The Tacoma Symphony
Harvey Felder, Music Director
Buy Tix: (253) 591-5890 / http://bit.ly/gh8d1K
Tix: $24, $42, $62, $77 – Discounts available for groups of 10 or more

More info about the show on my website

Revisiting an old project that’s been niggling at me since I was 18.  Finally took it to my musical theater writer’s lab – opened it up for criticism after decades.

I thought it was something to be protected, the music I’d written.  But they said, “Hey, if that doesn’t work, throw it out.”

Just throw it out? Throw. It. Out??? What a revelation.  How daring.  How friggin’ WONDERFUL!

Reminds me of a time, sitting at the piano with my mother, working on a piece I’d written.  I reached over, crossed out some lyrics on the page and rewrote them.

She gasped,  “You can’t do that!  You can’t change what the composer wrote!”

“Mom – I am the composer.”  But the fear is still there: what if I screw something up that was good?  What if I throw the baby out with the bath water?  What if I just throw the baby out and spend my life stupidly trying to raise responsible bath water?

“It was better before.”
“Why’d you have to change it?”
“Leave well enough alone.”

The idea that even the most successful of my work is sacrosanct … (I looked it up, it means “Regarded as too important or valuable to be interfered with” – surprising to me that I often use words correctly even when I don’t really know what they mean) … it’s stifling.

We deserve the opportunity to ruin our own work by trying to get it closer to the truth.

Conductor & soloist disrobe after "Danger Zone"
Conductor & soloist disrobe after “Danger Zone”

In April of 2010 I presented a concert of my music for harp and Chamber Ensemble. The project included a brief residency working with two professional harp soloists (Eleanor Turner & Amanda Whiting), my husband Jonathan Wyner (who was conducting), musicians from two professional ensembles (Ensemble Cymru and the Mavron String Quartet), selected students from the Canolfen Gerdd William Mathias Music Center and the CAMAC Harp company, who were co-sponsoring the project.

Journalist Ffion Williams sent interview questions for a local article — here’s the full transcript of what I sent her and my overview of the project itself.

First of all, here’s a description of the genesis of this particular concert:
This concert has two parts to it: in one part I’ll be performing as a soloist — and in the second part, I’ll conduct a Chamber Ensemble as harp soloists from the U.K. perform my original work. So for me, this is an exciting moment, and the culmination of a dream that began many years ago during my last big project.

That project, ‘Invention & Alchemy,” released in 2006, was a DVD/CD of alternate symphonic music for harp, vocals and orchestra, fusing classical and jazz forms with the genres from Flamenco to Blues.  It was a huge multi-year project with 80-piece orchestra, taped for TV.  To prepare for the final video-shoot,  I created Chamber Ensemble versions for each piece.  These “miniature” arrangements, for 8 instruments instead of 80, allowed us to practice performing and filming the project on a smaller scale before the huge final recording sessions.

BUT … I fell in love with the ‘miniatures.!’ So even though the full-orchestra versions were very successful, winning a Grammy Nomination and appearing on television throughout the U.S. —  I promised myself I would publish the ‘miniatures’ so harpists all over the world could perform them. I’d chosen the orchestration I did: Flute, Clarinet, String Quartet, Bass and Percussion — because it’s very similar to the instrumentation of one of the most famous pieces for harp soloist and chamber ensemble: Ravel’s “Introduction and Allegro.”  That means that, once they’re published, these pieces can be programmed along with some of the world’s greatest chamber music for harp – which is very exciting to me as a composer.

DHC Conducts ensemble
Conducting the Ensemble

There was just one problem: since I’m largely an improviser, it was very difficult to get myself to write out the solo harp parts! So I had a set of beautiful musical miniatures just waiting to be performed, but the solo harp parts were all in my head!

Jakez Francois, president of CAMAC harps, knew of my dilemma, so he and the Wales International Harp Festival invited me to present the European premieres of these pieces with a concert at Caernarfon in April 2010, and to launch publication at that concert.  The deadline would force me to finish the harp parts and the concert would be a kind of International “release party” for the first of the new publications.

To make sure I would get the harp parts written, they suggested I work with two wonderful harp soloists from the U.K. By doing that, I’d be forced to write the harp parts for at least two of the pieces which would then become part of the available repertoire for harpists world-wide.  For the rest of the program, I would continue to improvise.

Thus was born the idea of this concert: half of which I will perform alone or with the Chamber Ensemble, and the other half of which I will conduct, featuring harp soloists from the U.K. This is all part of my long-term goal as a composer to develop new concert-quality material for harp and chamber ensemble – pieces that can be programmed as new “alternative” repertoire on Classical Chamber Ensemble programs.

Whiting, Amanda
Soloist Amanda Whiting

It’s been very exciting to work together with the harp soloists over the past months as we prepare the concert: Amanda Whiting and Eleanor Turner.  Since many of the techniques I’ve developed are new, and there’s no standard way to notate them, our communications include sheet music, audio track and video tapes, as I show them how to play the techniques and they respond with questions, suggestions and their own videos of the same music so that I can comment on it.  It’s like a Cyber-Rehearsal in preparation for our first rehearsal the week before the concert in April.

You’re clearly exceptionally passionate about music. What drives you to keep breaking the boundaries of music and to continue experimenting?
My life seems often to be an exploration of that very question, so I’d probably answer it differently a week from now, but today my answer is this: If I had not been a musician, I might have been a scientist.  I see both science and art as passionate inquiry, as exploration.  I see music as a voice, which can say things no other voice can.  I see my harp as a prosthesis –  the voice I was born without.  Sometimes I think of it as the prosthetic voice of my soul.   I don’t think of myself as experimenting, but rather searching for ways to speak with this voice, to gesture and sing with this part of myself that is both connected and also removable: my instrument.

I’ve been very lucky to collaborate for the past two decades, with the CAMAC harp company, who have built the instrument I dreamed of having: a wearable harp, an instrument that simply did not exist when I first started playing.  So I am in a unique position of having had an instrument invented specifically for me so that I can develop my particular voice. Part of what drives me is the exploration of this new instrument – to find out what I can say with it.

Soloist Eleanor Turner in "996"
Soloist Eleanor Turner in “996”

You first set eyes on the harp at a young age, but didn’t pick it up until a few years later. What is it you enjoy about the instrument itself as well as the music genres you play on it?
My fascination with the harp increases daily. First off, I love it because it is entirely naked. Fingers directly on strings, the sound is immediate and direct.   I also love that it is a perfect musical metaphor: I play high, you hear high notes, I play low you hear low notes. I play gentle, you hear gentle.  There is a great sense of connection between what the audience sees me doing and what they hear.  I find that very satisfying, knowing that the magic of the harp isn’t about hiding anything, but about revealing as much as I can of the instrument.

I play both the lever harp and the pedal harp and find different things about each fascinating:

ON THE PEDAL HARP: The pedal mechanism I find utterly magical.  The thousands of moving parts, the synchronism and grace of the mechanical design, the juxtaposition of mechanics and wood, the fact that what looks like an ornate decoration – the column – houses the linkage that shifts the harp from key to key.  I love that it’s the only instrument that physically shifts from key center to key center (sorry, I know that’s a little technical).

Most people see the beauty of the wood and the graceful curve of the neck.  I see the beauty of the mechanics and the fact that each curve is a metaphor for a musical principle.  The neck curve shows how the length of strings affects pitch; the straight line of the column shows that a level of tension must be maintained for the instrument to sound.  So I see the physical beauty of it as a machine – a machine with the soul of a music.

ON THE LEVER HARP: I love the choreography of flipping levers to create chromatic notes.  I love, when I flip a lever to change the pitch of a note, and especially when I ‘bend’ a lever in the Blues, that the audience sees exactly what it hears.  That’s what I mean by ‘physical metaphor’ — and I find that beautiful.

For years I dreamt of a harp I could strap on and play moving around — something that combined ‘harp-ness’ and ‘electric guitar-ness’ and after many years of development and experimentation, the CAMAC harp company has designed a spectacular harp for me, an 11 pound (about 5 Kg) carbon-fibre harp, which has become my signature model: the “DHC Blue-Light”.

The earlier wood-based prototypes of this harp were also great — I made my 2006 DVD/CD project with one — but they were much heavier.  This new carbon-fibre model is the first one that can realistically be manufactured for commercial sales – and that is very exciting. It heralds a new age for harp playing.

For me the revolution began years ago in my collaboration with CAMAC harps.  Since the first prototype they made for me, the harp has allowed me to completely change my repertoire, my relationship with the instrument and my future with the harp.  To be involved in that kind of development is thrilling.

Muchas Manos - Many hands, One Harp
“Muchas Manos” – Many hands, One Harp

Musically, are you inspired by anyone in particular?
I am inspired by many people, some famous, some obscure – some musicians, some dancers, artists, writers, scientists — and some just ‘everyday people.’ I am constantly inspired by what I see around me, by the struggles of people to create beauty or sense.  As for musicians, composers:  Debussy, Ravel, Bernstein, Jimi Hendrix, Yo-Yo Ma, Bela Fleck, my mother, a spoken-word artist named Ken Nordine, many street musicians I’ve seen … and so on.  I am excited by great performers in any field, in any genre or discipline and I’m excited by anyone who can find a way to tell their truth or experience in a way I can understand it.

What are the differences between your own electronic ‘body harp’ and a conventional harp?
The first thing people will notice is that my harp is smaller, it’s strapped onto me, I’m moving around with it and it’s electric Blue with flames airbrushed on the column. The sound is very clear, harp-like but different than an acoustic harp: there is a pickup on each string, but no ‘sounding box’ — so what people hear is the pure sound of the string, not the sound of resonating wood.  This is not better or worse than a conventional harp, it’s just different – and yet still quintessential ‘harp’ sound.

Because each string is amplified separately, effects are audible that are too subtle for a conventional harp to project, especially when playing with an ensemble.  So that means the audience in many ways hears more of the harp, and it gives me broader pallet of sounds.  These are still ‘acoustic’ sounds, in that I am creating them with the harp and my fingers — but the audience can hear a greater depth of subtlety because of the way the strings are amplified.  The electric harp also allows me a huge dynamic range:  I can play both much louder — but also much softer and still be heard.

I also use two “effects pedals” at certain times in the show that I migrated over from guitar: a distortion pedal and a looper. The looper allows me to set up “loops” of sound, rhythmic beds that I can improvise over.  The distortion pedal is like what you hear with electric guitar: it distorts the sound, but it also extends each pitch, so I can play longer, more singer-like lines that soar and bend.

In Caernarfon, since the festival is sponsored by CAMAC Harps, I will also be playing both my signature “body harp” — and also an acoustic-electric concert harp, a 75-pound instrument I don’t play so much simply because it’s difficult to travel with.  This looks more like a conventional harp and is a hybrid, with pickups on every string — but an acoustic soundboard, which is also amplified.  This instrument is exciting, in part, because of the percussive possibilities of the amplified soundboard.  One of my favorite pieces which I’ll play in Caernafon, “Baroque Flamenco,” combines a very Classical melody with Flamenco strumming harp techniques and harp-percussion.  In that piece the acoustic-electric concert harp acts almost like a huge, 47-string Flamenco guitar.  Very exciting.  I think there may be some YouTube video of me playing this piece.

What are you most looking forward to at the Harp Festival, and what type of an experience can your audience expect?
The concert in Caernarfon is unusual and exciting for me, both as a performer and as a composer.  I’ll be playing solo pieces, but there will be a small chamber ensemble (Flute, Clarinet, String Quartet, Bass and percussion) – so the music will at times be a kind of crossover, using a classical format, but more contemporary musical genres, from Blues to Flamenco.

It’s particularly meaningful to me because it’s the debut concert of a new phase of career as a composer:  For the first time, I will not only be performing, but will also be conducting 3 of my original pieces with harp soloists. These pieces are unique in that they combine stories, music and some unconventional harp techniques. I’m really looking forward to that!

What the audience will experience is a new side of the harp, but in ways that will seem both familiar and completely unique.  In other words: at some moments, it will sound and seem as though they are watching a classical concert; at other times they will be seeing me solo on an instrument that is a cross between harp and electric guitar. So this particular concert is a very unique opportunity for the audience, the performers – and me!

For people who’ve never seen my harp or my style, I encourage them to visit my website, HipHarp.com — and click the YouTube link on the home-page.

In addition to my own concert I’m excited about the workshops I’ll be doing — and also the chance to see so many other great harpists, and to meet with builders, players, composers — in other words, to “commune with the harp world” — and since Wales is one of the most vibrant and important countries vis-a-vis the harp, that’s particularly exciting for me.

Jonathan Wyner / Deborah Henson-Conant - Conductor & Soloist
Conductor & Soloist: Jonathan Wyner & Deborah Henson-Conant

Now on to the work you will be doing with young people when you come over to Wales. Do you do a lot of this type of work with young musicians? What do you enjoy about it, what do they learn from it and why do you think it’s important for them to have this type of opportunity?

I have started doing a lot more work with young people in the past few years.  I think it’s essential that young musicians have a chance to work with living composers, and with musicians who use their instruments in new ways.  It’s also important that young musicians get a broader concept of what a ‘composer’ looks and acts like, that young women musicians can see a woman composer at work — and that every young musician can see that an instrument even as “classical” as the harp can speak with a very contemporary voice — that’s it’s up to the players to find new ways to make the instruments speak.

I also think that, in this age of technological advances, it’s great for young people to understand that the instrument I play is made possible because of technological changes — and because of the collaboration between an artist (me) and a manufacturer (the CAMAC harp company).  It’s important for them to know that their own experience and feedback is part of the technological revolution and that technoogy can give them artistic freedom — in addition to the internet and social media! It’s also important for them to know that, even with new, hip, uses of technology, the same principles of practice apply: I still have to use a metronome when I practice;  I still have to practice scales.  In other words, my development as a musician still goes through the same phases, and must be as intense and focused as someone playing a centuries-old violin.

There’s something beautiful about that:  that regardless of how the instruments change, we as musicians, still must train our bodies with the same combination of regimented practice and creative freedom as musicians of any epoch.  This is how we learn to speak through our instruments.

Deborah Henson-Conant / Ffion Williams – April 2010

All photos by Jakez Francois (CAMAC Harps) – at the concert at Caernarfon in Wales

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