A weekend in Wales (after the rugby…)

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A weekend in Wales (after the rugby…)

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

I have to honestly admit that I don’t attend anywhere near enough concerts. Apart from the fact that I barely have enough time to get my own harp out of its dust cover, because our lives often drain us of energy (and of course, money), going to a concert on a Thursday evening when you could just as easily run on home to put on your pjs seems like such an unappealing option. However, the events I always make the most effort to attend are harp festivals, because as well as catching up with wonderful colleagues and friends, and meeting new ones, there are often a lot of events in one place that I can cram into that busy weekend.

Last weekend, despite my annoying cold, I made my way to Cardiff for the Camac Harp Weekend. I had glanced at the incredibly full programme of events and wished I could attend the entire thing! As it was, my teaching commitments kept me in London until mid-afternoon on the Saturday, and I arrived in Cardiff just in time for the evening concert- The Three Strands. Shelley Fairplay’s passion for performing and the harp and its capabilities was at the heart of this concert. Armed with several of Camac’s wonderful harps, Shelley took the audience on a journey of her life in music, sharing many stories from her childhood, personal life and career. Though a tad on the long side, the concert itself had such a wonderful variety of music that the audience were completely drawn in by Shelley’s warmth and clear love of what she was talking about. I particularly enjoyed her haunting composition, ‘Strand of Sorrow’, which reverberated through the echoey Atrium of Cardiff Met and took me to another world.

In addition to the wonderful electric and acoustic harps Shelley used, she also used a looper pedal quite extensively, which allows the performer to record one part of a song then play on top of it. Having not ever fallen in love with Pachelbel’s Canon, I can’t say that I truly enjoyed the 12 harp rendition she created, though it was a perfect display of what could be done with the looper pedal. However, I loved the way Shelley built a storm in her version of the Storm from Beethoven’s Sixth, and shared contemporary techniques with the audience in an exciting and accessible way.

During the day, several members of the public had opted to be a Harpist for a Day, a wonderful experience that gives complete novices a glimpse into the possibilities of the harp. These harpists, donning their beautiful and unique Harpist for a Day t-shirts, also performed in the concert with Shelley and her harp ensemble, ‘Dynamic Harps’. Their performance of Califypso was not only fun for them, but also involved the audience and hopefully helped more people discover the beauty of the harp. I loved the whole atmosphere of the concert, which was full of life and completely void of any stuffy barriers.

As I was meeting family on Sunday morning, I missed a lot of other events which I had hoped to attend. However, I was lucky enough to participate in Deborah Henson-Conant’s ‘Arrange Yourself’ class, conducted via video link with her in the US. There may have been a few technical hitches and I sometimes missed the kind of collaborative and chatty nature of normal workshops because we did have to remain quiet in order for the whole process to work. But it really was an incredible experience being able to discover some of Deborah’s passions and her own way of composing, performing and practising. I have never arranged music and I really wanted to find out some tips and see how others approached it. Though I’d figured some of it out myself, seeing the exact formula written out and putting it into practise with a room full of harpists of different standards was just the kick-start I needed.

It was also lovely to say hi to DHC individually at the end, as well as hearing her answers to the questions the class asked. l particularly enjoyed her answer to the question, “when are you going to compose more music?!” Like many artists I’ve met, particularly in the last 5 years, our perfectionism can be the fault that destroys our progress in music. I know that it affected my enjoyment of performing for a year or so, and getting over that hurdle was a difficult process for me. Having learned about the way that DHC often creates her music, I could certainly appreciate why it could be difficult for her to accept the product of one freeze frame of her creativity and put it out there with her name on it. Like some painters say, it’s sometimes difficult to know when to say, “stop; it’s ready.” However, all the participants have been given licence to “bug her” once a week to get her music out of her head and into our homes, so here’s hoping we’ll have some more of DHC’s beautiful compositions to play soon.

Telynau Vining who organised the weekend must surely be proud of the incredible success of the weekend, with so many participants (at least 78 when I checked on Saturday!) and hopefully a whole flock of new harpists, or at the very least, harp enthusiasts. The incredible display of Camac harps, diminished slightly by sales at the end of the weekend, looked beautiful in the Atrium, and every participant I met seemed to have had an incredible time.

To the harpists I saw, I’m glad to have seen you and I hope you don’t have my cold. To the harpists I missed, catch you at the next one!

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