Q&A with Princeton Harp Festival organizer Diana Dunnavant


Be inspired, freshen your perspective and shatter your limits.

This tagline has really stuck with me in the weeks since learning about the upcoming Princeton harp festival.  I was so excited when I first visited the website and read all about the amazing artists, and presenters attending… and then I learned that one of my oldest, and dearest friends was organizing the festival I knew that I had to know as much about how this festival came to be as possible!

Have you heard about the Princeton Harp Festival??

No? Yes? Either way, here are the details:

Diana Dunnavant, who is the Manager of Marketing and Controls for the VA Harp Center, is one of the kindest, most hard-working people that I know, and there is not enough time in the day for me to express the impact that she has had on my life.  When I found out that this festival was her baby I knew that it would be a truly a spectacular event!  Diana puts 100% of herself into everything that she does, and I admire her so much for that!!  Anyone who attends this festival is truly in for a treat!

Get your backstage pass ready…

There is usually a lot of attention paid to the featured artists, and exhibitors at a conference with little light given to the work done behind the scenes.  Diana was kind enough to answer a few questions for me about the festival, and I am so happy to share my excitement with all of you about this wonderful festival that will help you “be inspired, freshen your perspective, and shatter your limits.”

Diana is so well spoken… I will let her begin:
As the millennial generation is growing up and entering the professional work force, our influence is astounding. We are breaking the stereotypes, pushing the boundaries and taking HUGE risks… This is a conference for all of those who want to see and try new things. We want to be inspired to be OUR best, not THE best. OUR best becomes THE best when we are authentic to our individual artistry. Millennials recognize that everyone has more value as our true self than we do as a clone.”

Inspiration for the festival:

This is actually not the first Princeton Harp Festival!  The first was held in 2011 and had the goal of bringing leading European harpists over to perform for an American audience with featured harpists Janet Harbison and Catrin Finch.  This year the focus has shifted to the new generation but still retains it’s inspirational roots:
The Princeton Harp Festival was truly inspired by the vision of Camac Harps, with whom the Virginia Harp Center has a strong partnership and long lasting friendship. In my opinion, Camac is the most innovative harp manufacturer in the world. Following in the legacy of Joel Garnier, the founder of Camac Harps, Jakez François (the current President of Camac Harps), and his team at Camac are constantly evolving and trying to improve this amazingly complex, beautiful instrument that we all play. They are so creative and never say, “It can’t be done.”. I love that. It inspires us all within our own personal artistry to never say, “I can’t do that.” Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

In March 2014, I had a conversation with Eric Piron, the Commercial Director of Camac Harps, and together, we dreamed up the idea for a festival that would celebrate and inspire students and professionals alike who are hungry for something new. Something innovative. The haDiana Dunnavant quote1rp is being used in consistently wider reaching venues and changing musical genres. Why not create a conference that could inspire and push artists to truly understand their own creative potential.  We also wanted to bridge the gap between pedal harpists and lever harpists. First and foremost, we are all harpists and there is amazing music to be heard and played on both instruments. From there, Camac searched for new artists who are consistently experimenting with the instrument and excelling at what they do best.”

Rockstar featured artists: Sylvain Blassel, François Pernel, and Addi & Jacq!

Have you ever googled these 4 amazing artists??  Seriously… (check out the linked videos!!) Sylvian Blassel‘s transcriptions will blow your mind… François Pernel is doing things with lever harps that I never even imagined possible (can anyone say “Rite of Spring”!?)… and if you haven’t yet heard of Addi & Jacq I know you will be enthralled with their sound, and amazing collaboration (I listened to their cd, “Less Likely Places” for about 3 weeks straight after buying it!).

As with all great events, there are a multitude of people taking part in the organizing process.  It is here that Diana defers to Camac Harps’ President Jakez François, who choose two of the three featured artists:

Francois Pernel

François Pernel

“François Pernel is playing the harp in such an innovative way, that you can hardly believe that what you hear comes from a lever harp. He is truly a musician and composer who has found in the lever harp the perfect instrument to express his talent and creativity.

Sylvain Blassel

Sylvain Blassel

Sylvain Blassel is an absolute virtuoso. No piece seems too challenging for him. If you thought the harp had limitations, you can forget this widespread prejudice. Most of his repertoire is composed of pieces that you have never heard on the harp before, because a normal harpist would even not consider playing them. His recording of the full Goldberg variations is a milestone in the art of harp transcription. I have no doubt Sylvain will come to Princeton with a new selection of amazing works.”

For the third featured artist we return to Diana:

Addi & Jacq

Addi & Jacq

“Virginia Harp Center selected Addi + Jacq right after they won NPR’s Battle of the Boroughs in NYC. We really wanted to incorporate spectacular talent that is closer to home and they were the perfect fit. We found them via SoundCloud and just loved what they were doing, for voice and harp. Jacqui Kerrod (Jacq the harpist) spoke with me a little be about how Addi + Jacq came to be and their collaborative effort was so cool. I loved learning more about how they bounce ideas off of one another to create this cool fusion sound. I actually loved it so much that we created a whole class about creativity and collaboration.”

Not only will these artists be attending the festival, they will also each be giving performances and classes that participants of the festival can attend and take part in!

Each of these artists is so different, and I think that is what excited me most about the festival!  I was curious how each artist would be presented in a concert setting
“Each concert will have its own unique characteristics. François opens the festival and I think that his concert will be pretty mind-blowing. It is a traditional setting but anything but traditional music. I expect his concert to last Va Harp Center Cookieabout an hour with no intermission and a dessert reception will immediately follow.
Addi + Jacq are paired with a “Meet the Locals” opener. We are inviting local harpists to perform for the first half of the program and then Addi + Jacq will close the concert. Sylvain’s recital gives everyone an opportunity to go to downtown Princeton. His concert is at the Unitarian Universalist Church, which is very beautiful and serene. Again, I think that it will be about an hour with no intermission.” 

Sylvain will also be giving a master class, and for anyone who would like to take part Diana suggests:
“Anyone who is interested in playing in Sylvain’s masterclass should sign up early! Space is very limited. Each participant will have 20 minutes and they should prepare a solo of their choice. There is a spot on the online and paper registration form to sign up for the masterclass.” 

Guest artists that will help you get your professional life in order:

Do you struggle with anxiety when you are asked to perform?  So many people struggle with this issue (I know I did for a very long time!) and usually the only way to solve this issue is to practice performing as often as possible… Not so anymore… check out Noa Kageyama’s blog The Bulletproof Musician to learn tips and tricks for overcoming your anxiety!
“I was thrilled when Noa Kageyama agreed to join the faculty at PHF! If you haven’t followed him yet, his blog at BulletProof Musician, is amazing. He is always trying to take a new approach and new perspective on age old issues that plague all of us. He is wicked smart and very humble. I can’t wait!”

Helen Leitner is the artists relations manager for Camac harps and will be offering individual marketing consultations for participants:
“Your marketing strategy needs to be very specific nowadays, depending your unique strengths and goals. To supplement the vast about of details we can’t cover in the class(es), Helen is offering consultations for interested participants. This will give her an opportunity to give individualized attention and provide participants with a clear, cohesive marketing strategy to use going forward.”
This is an amazing opportunity for any harpist looking to step up their professional life!  Having an opportunity to work with people who live and work in the world of marketing doesn’t come around every day, and I encourage anyone planning to attend the conference to set up one of these individual marketing consultations!!!

Classes that inspire:

All of the classes that will be offered are listed on the online schedule.  These classes all look so amazingly interesting, and when I asked Diana about which classes she was most looking forward to attending she said simply:
“I wish that I could take all of the classes, but I am particularly excited to see Sylvain’s class on ornamentation (who doesn’t need help with that!), Noa’s class on Innovation and Tradition, and Addi + Jacq’s class on Composing through Collaboration. That being said, Francois’ class, New Discoveries for Lever Harp, is going to be killer.”
Do you play on a camac harp?  Don’t miss technician Liza Jensen’s classes on harp maintenance!  All of us feel the calling to teach at one time or another; learn more about teaching to the individual student in Megan Landfair’s Pedagogy class!  I attended a marketing class given by Diana Dunnavant in Atlanta this past fall, and let me say… she knows her stuff.  This time around she will be joined by Helen Leitner and she described her collaborative class by saying: “Our strength comes from offering an American and European perspective. It is similar to what I did at (the) Atlanta Harp Festival, but much more geared to younger, more tech savvy audiences.”

Princeton Harp Festival costs:

For me, cost is always a major factor in wether I can attend a conference or not.  The VA Harp Center kept this in mind and intentionally scheduled this conference to take place in Princeton, NJ as it is conveniently located between New York City, and Philadelphia! Not only that… they are offering early bird rates for anyone who registers before September 30, 2015, and your fees include breakfast/lunch on Saturday, and breakfast on Sunday!!  AND if you own a Camac harp and bring your instrument to the festival… boom!… Free regulation from Liza Jensen!

Conference Rates:                        Before 9/30/15                   After 9/30/15
Full Conference (Fri/Sat/Sun)         $250                                   $300
Saturday Only                                  $175                                   $225
Full Conference Guest Pass           $175                                   $225

Additional Concert Tickets (Can be bought in advance or at the concert venue): $20

I cannot express how excited I am about this conference!!!  I am so ready to attend the Princeton Harp Festival: a NEW kind of festival experience featuring cutting edge artists who are pushing the boundaries of the instrument. Be inspired, freshen your perspective and shatter your limits.

Check out the Princeton Harp Festival website to learn all about this exciting upcoming conference and stay tuned for more articles by the Harp Column as the event nears!

For those of you interested, here are a few pictures of Diana and I growing up together 🙂

Diana Dunnavant and Kristina Finch - Junior Prom

Diana Dunnavant and Kristina Finch – Junior Prom

Kristina Finch and Diana Dunnavant (1995)

Kristina Finch and Diana Dunnavant (1995)

Kristina Finch and Diana Dunnavant - high school football game

Kristina Finch and Diana Dunnavant – high school football game (yes… I was marching band drum major)

Diana Dunnavant and Kristina Finch - Interlochen summer 2003

Diana Dunnavant and Kristina Finch – Interlochen Arts Camp summer 2003

Diana Dunnavant and Kristina Finch - Duo recital summer 2005

Diana Dunnavant and Kristina Finch – Duo recital summer 2005

And finally… I just think this is so cool!!

Letter from Diana Dunnavant while attending the Salzedo Harp Colony in Camden Maine to Kristina Finch, attending the Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan

Letter from Diana Dunnavant while attending the Salzedo Harp Colony in Camden Maine to Kristina Finch, attending the Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan – summer 2001


About Author

Miami based Dr. of harp, gown-addict, lover of bulldogs, and fitness enthusiast.

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