Nearly every harpist knows the name “Sylvia Woods,” either from playing her arrangements or ordering harp gear from the Sylvia Woods Harp Center. We featured Sylvia on the cover of Harp Column back in 1998, and more recently she wrote a fascinating Sounding Board article about her move from Southern California to Hawaii. We caught up with Sylvia at the Somerset Folk Harp Festival last week where she received its Lifetime Achievement Award.
Congratulations on winning the Lifetime Achievement Award here at Somerset. What was your reaction to hearing the news?
I was so excited! It was really cool because I’ve never gotten a lifetime achievement award. [Laughs] I really appreciated the thought, and I feel very honored.
Over the years you’ve contributed so much to the harp community. What contribution are you most proud of?
I think my Teach Yourself How to Play the Harp book because it has gotten so many people started. That and the fact that I was at the right place at the right time and was able to help create the whole industry—getting harp makers going and getting music available for people—because those were the two biggest stumbling blocks for people. There were no instruments and no music specifically for the lever harp. So that’s what I’m most proud of.
What do you enjoy about harp gatherings like Somerset?
“First of all, I think Somerset is one of the best. If people are going to go to one, I always tell them to go to Somerset because I think it’s so well-run, and they have the best workshops, and they have the best presenters, and concerts. Also, I like that everyone brings their harps, and so there are so many harps, as opposed to the pedal harp conventions because they can’t all truck their harps there. So the pedal harp conventions are much more lecture oriented, whereas this is hands-on for any level with anything you want to find. I really like that about this festival. And what I like about [harp gathers]in general is that you get to meet all these new people. It’s fun for me because I know a lot of their names from their orders, and they email me all the time to ask me questions, so to be able to see the people is fun. Plus I get to see all my old friends.
Despite receiving this lifetime achievement award, we know you are far from done. So what’s new and what’s on the horizon for you?
It’s great, now that I’m in Hawaii. I’m definitely not retired, but my life has slowed down enough that I can actually get back into arranging, which is what I really love to do and people love it. People are always emailing me with what they want, and I love that because it helps me figure out which ones to do next. So I’ve gotten out seven arrangements in the last two months: “Everything” and “It’s a Beautiful Day” by Michael Buble “Marry Me” by Train, “Lava” from the Disney Pixar short before Inside Out, “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, and “Stay With Me,” by Sam Smith.
Whoa! You’re on fire!
Yeah, it’s been really good. So that’s what I hope to continue to do is get a couple out a month or something. I love it when I get suggestions—I’ve even got a couple this weekend, so I wrote them down on my list. The list is very long, and I always tell people, “Just because it’s on the list doesn’t mean I’m going to do it,” but that’s the way I figure it out. For instance the piece that I got the most requests for was “Hallelujah,” so that’s one that just came out, and the only reason I did it was because 10 people asked for it, so I figured I had better do it.
Can you give us an inkling as to what your next arrangement will be?
Well, the other highest-rated request is “Imagine,” and I’ve been trying to get permission for “Imagine” for years, and I was finally able to get it. It’s challenging because the accompaniment pattern is very chromatic. So I’m trying various ways of getting around that, but that should be out by the end of the year.