Posts Tagged ‘jazz harp’


I  played piano for years like a good technician—proficient sure—but lacking soul and texture.  Notes made it onto the keyboard but I couldn’t do anything without printed music to map the way.  Harp has been something of an improvement because, since I don’t have the skill to shift my eyes from strings to page and back at anything other than glacial pace, I’ve had to memorize.  Who’d a thought…  It would be nice to believe that I’m at least doing some of that brain training for an aging mind stuff.  However, this month my new (most excellent) harp teacher says it’s time to detach from the printed page.  I’ve got a dandy book by Susan Raimond called Making Music for Folk Harp that comes with a CD option for play along.  In the first few pages she shows you a number of standard left hand patterns and then follows that with super simple melodies to work with.  The only downside to super simple is that I’ve already played a number of the pieces with complete sheet music so it’s a little odd to try and un-remember what I know.  The CD ensures that you get it sound wise and provides something to play with so you don’t go nuts running melodies through your head because you can’t (would rather be caught dead than) sing aloud.  Even though it’s wierd to be playing from beginner books again  it’s clearly a necessity because without all those (comforting) extra notes I’m forced to come up with something, anything, to fill in the empty spaces.  (And yes I know that it’s the space between the notes that makes music etc etc.)  What’s craziest of all is that there’s no one listening to me– no cackling audience shaming me into submission– nothing that should be as inhibiting as it feels.


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Photograph by Jesse Chehak


 The first time I heard Joanna Newsom was a real double take moment.  As in WTF?  That lasted about 3 minutes ( which would be the length of a more conventional song but hers go on and on giving you plenty of time to change your first impression).  Before the full 12 minutes had passed I was enchanted.  Completely seduced  by a singer-songwriter who doesn’t sound anything like what you expect to hear from a harpist.  Unless you’ve also been listening to Deborah Henson-ConantPark Stickney,  Edmar Castenada, and any number of other innovators who defy stereotype and happen to send me soaring.   Of course I don’t know where we all got the idea that harpists only belong in churches, weddings and orchestras but it sticks.  All you have to do is hear someone’s story about the bride who only wants a fancy gold harp (or a pretty female harpist with wavy butt length hair) to get a feel for the look and matching sound.  In a NYTimes article called The Changling, Jody Rosen (music critic for Slate) writes that Joanna Newsom has  “virilized the harp, bringing a funky pulse to a dowdy drawing-room instrument” which seems like a bit of a stretch.  However I’ve totally caved to the Joanna Newsom neo Pre-Raphaelite  thing and can’t get her songs out of my head.  And that’s what it’s all about right?

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