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“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.

Line drawing of DHC playing harp (artist name: "Friday")

Line drawing of DHC by audience/artist "Friday"

I got a set of questions from Betsy Chapman, who hosts “The Morning Show” on WPAZ, a tiny station (“with a big heart!”) in Pennsylvania. WPAZ is co-sponsoring my “Fireworks for the Creative Spirit” next week, so Betsy interviewed me on air. But first she sent her questions, starting with the question I most dread and am most often asked.  So I started writing to find out what my  answer would be this time:

Q: So … why the HARP?

A: This is a question I ask myself over and over.  Did I play the harp as avoidance for writing musical theater, which is my first love?  Because it was an incredible physical challenge, a way I could be both an athlete and a musician at the same time?  Is it because it was an underdog instrument?  Is it because it was so identified with women, and so marginalized in the music world, that I felt like I wanted to liberate it in some way?

If someone had told me it is THE traditional storytelling instrument through history, that might have made me choose it.  But I did NOT know that.

If someone had told me it’s the missing link between the piano and the guitar, with all the double-handed dexterity of the piano but the ability to get right in on the strings and bend them and snap them like a guitar – that might have done it.  But I didn’t know that either.

So I honestly don’t know why I STARTED.  But I kept going for many reasons.  First, the challenge.  Practicing the harp completely enveloped my mind.  The dexterity between hands and feet, it calmed my mind and focused me in a way that nothing else did.  I think that my brain and my body needed something to connect them in that way: something complex and intricate, that required huge physical coordination and physical strength.  I found that very satisfying.

I also loved the excuse to get dressed up in long gowns,  high-heels, rhinestones and red-red lipstick, and I loved that I could pay my way through school by playing in dining rooms — PLUS I got free food.

When I started focusing on jazz, then again was the physical challenge I loved, and the understanding that by practicing a structure, I could eventually have huge musical freedom.

Then, later on, I fell in love with the international community of harp builders and players.  Which is good because a few years after that, I developed this idee fixe: the idea that it must be possible to strap on the harp, play it like an electric guitar.  And that was something I couldn’t make happen on my own.


I’ve made a tradition of playing Mother’s Day shows. For one thing, it gives me a built-in excuse to talk about my mother — which I always do anyway — but when it’s a Mother’s Day show it just feels more fun.

I also love the kind of audiences who come out for Mother’s Day shows – folks with whimsy and adventure, who want to do something together that’s not entirely fattening. Not that I’m against fattening celebrations.

When I see families, multi-generations, at my shows, it reminds me of one of my mother’s deepest impulses – the shared experience, immediate — my mother grabbing me and pointing, “Oh, Debby! Look at THAT!” It could be a cow, it could be a cellist playing jazz. The point was that the experience must be shared.

Mother’s DAY, on the other hand, never meant much to me until one year I suddenly thought: wait! What does my MOM really want??? Oh sure, finger paintings are always a big hit, but … is there something else? A stinky marigold (required Mother’s Day gift by my elementary school)? Does she really like that??The idea that I could actually give my mother something about her instead of about me — that was cataclysmic.

I remember the year the light bulb went on for me. I was 9. We’d just moved to Canada. Mother’s Day came along and I decided I should really do something my mother would like. I should invest. I should take my prize 1953 Two-Dollar Bills, exchange them for mucho Canadian cash and make my mother a meal she’d never forget.

These $2-bills were the only money I personally had. My Great-Aunt Amy — or was it her sister Ruth? Or the other sister, Jean?? — well, one of them sent me a $2-Bill for my birthday every year and I’d been saving them. So I took them all and headed down the street. I made the exchange at a local shop where, conveniently, I also shopped, selecting a wide variety of impressive foods.

The next part is hazy: setting the table, artistically arranging the food into separate bowls, selecting the correct serving spoons — but what I do remember is my mother’s face when she saw the table — a sumptuous feast of licorice, jawbreakers, jellybeans, chocolates and Snow-caps. Sadly she wasn’t hungry that night, but by the look on her face, I knew she was deeply impressed.

Fast-forward 30 years. I’m in Germany on tour with my band. I’ve left the hotel early one morning, walking to the market, when I see a flower shop busy with women, each leaving the shop with an arrangement – sometimes two.

And then I remember … it’s Mother’s day! My own mother’s been dead nearly a decade by then, but I go in the store and I, too, buy a bouquet – huge, colorful, like spring.

The next part is hazy: walking who-knows-where — embarrassed, feeling indulgent, and fraudulent – knowing that everyone must see this is a fake Mother’s Day bouquet — a bouquet my mother will never receive.

And then I see her. A woman – maybe 20 years older than me – heading down the street. When she reaches me I stop her, and in my halting cow-German, I tell her why I need her to take this bouquet. Why I need her to accept it for my own mother.

In the U.S. this woman would think I was crazy, possibly even dangerous, but my German is so bad that I sound like a child. And she looks at me as if I’m a child — and with huge kindness, accepts my bouquet.

So now I know there are many ways to connect to my mother — no matter where she is.

And one  way I do it is  Mother’s Day shows. So if you’re in New England, bring your own mother, your daughter, your sister, grandmother, aunt, your inner-mom and celebrate Mother’s Day with me in two live concerts at Tupelo Music Hall and Center for Arts in Natick (TCAN).

I’ll bring the Snow-caps.

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