My two days at the Edinburgh International Harp Festival 2014

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—by Allison Stevick 

This year was my first time at this harp festival, and indeed my first time at any harp festival! I am so glad I was able to attend, even for the short time I had there.

My festival experience started Saturday morning with the “Dare to be a Teacher” course, presented by Isobel Mieras and Wendy Stewart. It was sponsored by the Clarsach Society in response to a need for more people to become teachers. Apparently in the UK, the harp teachers are as scarce in rural areas as they are where I’m from in the Midwestern US! I am very thankful that this course and the teaching seminars to go with it were offered. I came away encouraged. I’m not a teacher right now, but I do have people who see me play and then ask (sometimes practically beg) me to teach them. I never felt comfortable really doing that, knowing that I don’t have a music degree, let alone a harp performance degree, so I felt eminently unqualified. However, Wendy and Isobel encouraged us saying, basically, “First, do no harm. From there, ensure correct posture and then HAVE FUN!” It was great to hear their different philosophies on music and teaching, and to hear the questions, comments, and answers from the class. I’m very glad I decided to take this course.

I don’t have my harp with me in Scotland, and I had limited time at the festival, so I didn’t take any of the longer courses. (Maybe next time!) I did, however, take advantage of a couple “Come and Try” workshops: Percussion with Jane Bentley and Wire Harp with Bill Taylor.

My percussion workshop was very small–just two pupils! That actually turned out to be wonderful, because we had plenty of time to try out all the cool instruments that Jane brought. We all thought that having a workshop that is so different from the main theme of the conference is a really good thing. My classmate said that doing percussion in the middle of so much harping was a good break for her. I signed up for the class because I have a background in African percussion, and I was interested in some of the new-to-me instruments that Jane mentioned in the workshop description. We also talked about how playing percussion well forces a person to listen to others in a way that soloists don’t often have to do. Other than that, we just had fun making music together! When it was over, it was hard to leave and head off to dinner. 🙂

The Wire Harp workshop was great. I chose this one because I knew it was about my only chance to really get to try these harps without having to buy one first. I spent a lot of time before and after the workshop at the Ardival Harps stall in the vendor hall, chatting with Bill and trying out the harps. I have kind of fallen in love with wire harp now…

Which brings me to the concerts I attended: The Chieftain’s Hall; and Maeve Gilchrist and Nic Gariess/Andrew Lawrence-King and Karen Modigh

Both concerts were awesome!
The Chieftain’s Hall (Saturday night) featured ancient music that would have been played in the halls of the Lairds and Chieftains of Scotland. Wire harps, bray harp, pipes, whistles, voice–amazing. The group did a wonderful job, and the information about each piece and time period was really interesting. I was very happy to see this concert!
Maeve Gilchrist and Nic Gariess were wonderful, as well. They really blend the harp and rhythm together very skillfully and it was pure joy watching them perform. Maeve has an amazing voice, and hearing her sing a couple songs brought a tear to my eye. After their set, Andrew Lawrence-King played a triple harp, while Karen Modigh danced the traditional choreographed dances of the time of Louis XIV. They did their entire set with no amplification or electronics of any kind, and yet the sound carried quite well. Very interesting from a historical perspective.

After the concert Sunday, I headed over to the late night session. What a fun, relaxed atmosphere it was. I didn’t have my harp, but I did take my low whistles to try and play along with some tunes. This was the first time I’d ever attended a session of any kind, so I wasn’t particularly confident in my playing (it would have been easier for me to jump in with harp, though, instead of the newer-to-me whistles) but it was really fun just to be there.

Throughout my 2 days at the festival, I met so many friendly people. Even though I didn’t know anyone going in, I felt very welcomed, and was never without someone to talk to if I just looked around. I do hope to get back again sometime, and look forward to many more harp festival experiences in the future.

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