Somerset Folk Harp Festival, June 18–21, 2013


Somerset Folk Harp Festival, Parsippany, N.J., June 18–21, 2013

If you are a lever harper and you have never been to Parsippany, N.J., in July, I’m telling you that right now—right this very moment—you should begin saving your pennies for the 2014 Somerset Folk Harp Festival. It’s exhilarating. It’s exhausting. You and your harp (and your harp cart, and your music stand, and your music bag…) will schlep together from one side of the Hilton Parsippany to the other, and you will love every minute of it. I know this because, when I traveled there for a long weekend last month…

It was all about me and my harp. Let me repeat: it was all about me. I set my schedule; I chose my workshops and concerts; I did exactly what I wanted to do for four days with no distractions or interruptions. What’s not to love about that?

I talked with, laughed with, and learned from the brilliant harpists whose arrangements I work to play and whose tunes fill my Pandora stations. (I even had a dinner date with a wonderful, famous harpist whose arrangement of Carolan’s Concerto is always on my set list!) Kim Robertson, Grainne Hambly, Janet Witman, Maeve Gilchrist, Cormac de Barra, and 32 other presenters—all there to help me focus and improve.

My technique and repertoire expanded exponentially. Slow airs? There’s a workshop for that. Building left-hand skills? Yup. Learning to accompany vocalists? Setting yourself up professionally? Slip jigs? Harp therapy? Harp maintenance? Wire strung harp? Learning to play the tin whistle, for goodness sake! It seems impossible that I accomplished so much in four days. Whew!

I broke out of my Celtic rut and learned about Tyrolean Harp, Venezuelan and Paraguayan Harp, Spanish harp, blues harp, jazz harp, classical harp, Jewish harp, Christian harp. Where else could I do that?

I wandered for hours in the vendors’ mall, playing the same three songs on every make of lever harp and talking to the craftsmen and women about their beautiful instruments. I looked at books and sheet music and harp carts and music stands and CDs and jewelry and more. I wandered and drooled…and spent!

I was so proud to be a part of a festival that initiated a Youth Harp Program, bringing teens to Somerset to receive both group and individual instruction as well as performance experience. We also raised money and collected music and strings to help a growing youth harp program in South America.

I turned my back to the stage and participated in a “blind harp tasting.” Where else could I hear 10–15 different harps, rating their differences and really focusing on the sound I was looking for?

Concerts—I attended so many! Evening concerts. Afternoon concerts. Carolan marathons. Impromptu get-togethers. A Fiesta! A concert by attendees, for attendees. So much talent at every turn.

A banquet. An indoor pool and an outdoor pool. Early morning yoga, or t’ai chi, or water exercises. A few moments of delicious silence in a top-notch, on-site steak house. And a friendly chat at the bar with.

The warmest, friendliest people I have ever met. The festival staff, my fellow harpists—everyone just so happy to meet me, learn with me, and play together.

Somerset was just four big, blissful days of non-stop harping with old and new friends. I loved every minute of the long weekend and, now that I’ve recovered, I am waiting not-so-patiently for July to come around again. It was intense, it was wonderful, and it was every lever harpist’s dream escape. Why not meet me there next year? •

—Pam Stohrer



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