Category Archives: Harp Music

“Unplugged at the Wedding”

A few weeks ago I played for an outdoor wedding in St. Augustine. One of the staples of wedding ceremonies now is the officiant with a wireless, the assumption being that no one would be able to hear him without it. This wedding was an exception.

Think of Eric Clapton’s “Unplugged” album.In this case, the minister, a preacher in his 80s, was unplugged!

Would we hear anything he said? Would we just be watching his lips move?

Guess again —

Everyone had to pay attention and everyone listened. Everyone could hear him and he wasn’t shouting. We were listening and I was in the very back of the pavilion. Even more interesting was the fact that we could actually hear the exchange of vows between the couple. Normally my experience at weddings with a wired clergyman or notary goes somewhat as follows:

“Now Bob, repeat after me…”
Maybe a mumble.
“Now Suzy, repeat after me…”
Another mumble.

Instead here we heard everything. I believe was because our ears were already tuned in and balanced for natural speech volume.

And I think there’s more to this than simply determining how weddings should be conducted. Consider your experience at church on Sunday. The minister or priest has a wireless; the reader and lead singer have microphones. There’s no need to pay more than half of your attention because the sound is blasted from multiple speakers.

Further, everyone knows that the people with the microphones are the ones count – the ones who really have something to contribute. Consequently, you might conclude that your spoken or sung responses are not very important. You’re just there to be talked at. At best, you can join in on the choruses like a Pete Seeger concert.

Now I’m not saying that anyone consciously thinks this or that this was a planned outcome. And yes, I know that there are large gatherings where amplification is a gift. At the same time, it might be worth considering the extent to which that which is meant to make things easier to hear in fact makes it harder to listen.

What if we pulled the plug on the unnecessary ecclesiastical wireless?  What if singers learned to project properly?  What if we built spaces designed for active listening?  What if we valued paying attention, even if it took a little work?

Musical Delights Enjoyed and Anticipated

The last two days have been lovely – an evening event at Tolomato Cemetery in St. Augustine allowed me to wander through the 18th century on my harp.  “Permanent residents” of the historic cemetery include Irish priests and workers, English and Scottish, Menorcans and Spanish.  So there was room for Carolan, Handel, Robert Burns, The Grenedier and the Lady, Green Bushes, Avon Water, the Arran Boat Song, and She Moved Through the Fair, to name a few.  Also my advantageous position near a citronella torch kept most gnats at bay.

This morning I taught a workshop on Singing the Psalms at the new Villa Flora-Brown Hall Renewal Center, run by my dear Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Augustine.  We had about 14 in attendance.  After the brief history of the psalms and chant, they put their feet on the floor, took a deep breath and began to sing.  From a single-note recto tono, they worked their way up to a nice chant on Tone 8g (antiphon stayed on straight tone) in two choirs.   What a delight!

After enjoying some musket fire at the Battle of Bloody Mose, I have started the final preparations for my Colloquium trek.  And so looking forward to it!

Music Wednesday – Song of Solomon

The late Jewish organist, composer and music theoretician Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura of Paris, France devoted much of her life to attempting to interpret the musical symbols that are part of the Hebrew scriptures.  Whether or not, you agree with her theories, this is a lovely interpretation of a portion of the Song of Songs.  Enjoyable without knowing anything more.  If you’re interested in her research, you can visit The Music of the Bible Revealed.  However, I always start with listening myself.


On Memory and Music in “Early Music America”

The Fall issue of Early Music America has a wonderful essay by Thomas Forrest Kelly from Harvard on "Our Memory of Music."  Worth searching out if you don't subscribe.  Here's the tantalizing opening from St. Basil the Great:

"Of the arts necessary to life which furnish a concrete result, there is carpentry, which produces the chair; architecture, the house; shipbuilding, the ship, tailoring, the garment; forging, the blade.  Of useless arts there is harp playing, dancing, flute playing, of which, when the operation ceases, the result disappears with it."

Rather discouraging words to a harpist, but one must remember that the early Church Fathers weren't exactly wild about instrumental music because of its pagan associations.  And in the age of "mechanical reproduction," as Walter Benjamin called it, we can make our music endure.

Or so we think.  How much of our performance is really "of the moment"?  How much is or isn't captured on a video or a CD?  Where's the real art? 

Good things to think about – check the essay.  Or join Early Music America and learn new things on a regular basis.

Back from a Remarkable Week at the Barn

Barn-Exterior-650 I just spent a fantastic week in Maine at the Celebration Barn.  Two great teachers working together, Deborah Henson-Conant and Karen Montanaro.  Nine other great musicians, all there to take their work to the next level.  And we all got there, whether or not we wanted to!  There was lots of hard work, amazing discoveries, angst, and laughter.  It was about movement, music, connecting, hearing, and really being there.  Many of us went there looking for one thing – and learned that what we were really searching for was something entirely different.

We were together long enough to take ourselves apart and reassemble.  Long enough to try on new ways of seeing and hearing our music – and new ways of working beyond technique, beyond "getting it right."

Whatever it is that you do, I only hope that you can have such a wonderful experience.  Because my musical world has been fundamentally transformed.

Musical Overdrive

Hedgehog1 I've been busy pulling together music for Cantorae St. Augustine, as well as putting together on short notice a February 11th benefit harp program at the Cathedral-Basilica for Good Samaritan Health Centers.  Not complaining because all of this is what I'm meant to do.

But I miss nattering away on the blogs, finding entertaining tidbits for my readers, hearing about new music and liturgical travails.  However, I can see the light at the end of at least one of the tunnels.

And someday soon, it's bound to warm up around here!