The harpist's winter dilemma

Winter brings special challenges to harpists. I have to seriously consider the harp's safety, more than any other season. Like warming up the truck for at least a half an hour before packing up the harp in its special, insulated case and racing outside with it and getting it in the truck without falling on the ice or tipping it over or letting cold air in the case to crack the finish or the wood or break strings. For starters.

This means I have to dress for the occasion. And it ain't always pretty. Nor do snowmobile boots lend themselves to delicate foot pedal work on the harp. Sure, I could bring more fashionable shoes to change into. But with harp, cart, music bag, bench, music stand and more needed at every event, that would be just one more thing to haul around.

This year I've found an answer to performance days
when the outdoor temperature reading is this...or lower
(as it has been many times already this winter).

For once, fashion and Amy are toe to toe, so to speak.


Behold: the tall, high-heeled fashion boot. Which means that though I may arrive rosy-cheeked and runny-nosed and teary-eyed and shivering from racing through the winter night, I can wear dresses while performing in the winter and be totally safe and on trend with my footwear. With one less thing to haul. Just one of the little things that make life as a harpist easier, warmer and happier!


Images from the Wine Cafe

When I played at the Wine Cafe on December 18th, a friend grabbed my camera and took these awesome shots. They capture the atmosphere, the mood, the spirit and the swankiness of the Cafe perfectly.

Amy and the bartender.

The crowd (a.k.a. the view from here).

It was a cold night.
I played fast to keep warm.

Though it was cold, I'm glad I brought The Big Girl
(the Lyon & Healy) for her rich sound.

Artsy shot through the strings.

There were special appearances by Rick Kramlinger on "O Holy Night," by Sara and Ann of Prima Vox on "The Old Yeare Now Away Has Fled" and the entire crowd on "Silent Night" at the end (thanks for singing everyone!). Can't wait to play at the Wine Cafe again...maybe even with the Celtic Band next time! Stay tuned...

photos by Ann Rosenquist Fee


Christmas recovery

It was a busy, beautiful, rewarding season of playing and performing. In the two months that I've been home from that life-changing second trip to Paris, I've put on two major concerts, played for a lot of events and managed to get a lot of personal work done. And oh, do I have plans for the new year.

But more on that later. Because this weekend after Christmas was for catching up at home.

Like baking bread and drinking tea.

Relaxing on the couch.

And doing laundry
(SamTheCat knows enough to sleep on the clean
BLACK socks rather than on the whites...good kitty).


Christmas Day 2009

The snowstorm that began December 23 continued through Christmas Day. My 4-wheel drive got a workout this week, but most importantly, it got me out to Mom and Dad's to celebrate Christmas. We had coffee, opened presents and watched the snow fall on and off for the rest of the day.

Brother Jeff and Sophie the puppy taking in the storm


 Icy light

Snow-kissed forest

Gardens resting under the snow until spring

Very peaceful, very merry.


Christmas Eve 2009

The traditional oyster stew dinner with my family.

Christmas Eve candlelight service
this year during "Silent Night!")

Coming home at midnight to a silent town
lit by snow, streetlights and holiday glow.

Merry Christmas.


The birthday party

After the Fire & Ice concert, the Voxes and a long tableful of good friends met at Richard's Restaurant and Pub for some unwinding...and to celebrate my birthday. My wonderful Mom bought us all champagne.

And this entertaining guy serenaded me.
It was truly...special.

And then there was cake.
"Tres Leche" cake topped with fresh berries.
I ate two pieces.

And Sara and Ann gave me a beautiful gift:
they printed my "Fire & Ice" song.
I'm rarely speechless (ahem). But this time I was.

And my bio on the back brought me to tears.
"She divides her time between North Mankato and Paris..."

The incredible gifts of making music, performing a successful concert, being surrounded by loving and generous friends and family...could there have been a happier birthday? I don't think so.

Prima Vox Fire & Ice: After

And it was done. We sang my "Fire & Ice" composition as our last piece on the program. There were at least 10 seconds of silence before anyone applauded. And then they applauded and applauded. We'd created such light and such warmth in that space, and from the tears streaming down audience members' faces during the standing ovation, we knew we'd touched them.

We escaped to our dressing room downstairs, crying ourselves. We collapsed together in a hug, the three Voxes and Ursula, not saying anything, just holding each other and listening to the applause still thundering upstairs.

After we blew our noses and repaired our mascara, we ventured upstairs again and were surrounded by the hugs and congratulations of our audience.

Ursula and The Voxes, post-concert.

The winter night had definitely been set aglow.

Prima Vox Fire & Ice: during

We Voxes hid out downstairs and listened to the crowd arriving at the church. At 7:10, we got the news: the church was standing room only and it looked like everyone had arrived.

So we tiptoed up the stairs, crept over the icy sidewalk outside and entered the church from the back just in time to hear Reverend Ursula, again our mistress of ceremonies, welcoming everyone with this reading, written about the walk to midnight Mass in a French country place almost 100 years ago…

We started off, a number of us, together in a stream of light. Our lanterns cast great shadows on the white road, crisp with frost. As our little group advanced it saw others on their way, people from the farm and people from the mill, who joined us, and once on the Place de l’Eglise we found ourselves with all the parishioners in a body. No one spoke — the icy north wind cut short our breath; but the voice of the chimes filled the silence. We entered, accompanied by a gust of wind that swept into the porch at the same time we did; and the splendours of the altar, studded with lights, green with pine and laurel branches, dazzled us from the threshold.

We began to sing from the back of the church, processed and so the concert started.

Here we are, singing "Stella Splendens": me, Sara and Ann.
And Ursula, watching from the background.

Sara sang "Edi Beo Thu Hevene Quene"
while I accompanied her on my harp.

It was magical. Icy outside, warm inside. Captivated audience, beautiful little church, candles blazing. Chants and carols and songs and harps. It couldn't have been more perfect.

Prima Vox Fire & Ice: before

We've tried just showing up a half hour before showtime, warming up and then singing. And while the results have never been disastrous, they've felt disconnected.

So the Voxes Three got together at 10:00 a.m. on the day of the Fire & Ice concert to begin the process of establishing their special Vox-mind-connection...

and to get manicures.

Even me, at the encouragement of Ann and Sara.
I can't remember the last time I had paint on my short little harpist nails.
It was kind of distracting when I played the first time.
But then I tend to be easily distracted by shiny things...

The day of the concert was filled with other important tasks, too. Of course, we warmed up, went through our music, got things organized and went over every detail we could think of.

We got the sanctuary of the Church of the Holy Communion set up
with three music stands, two harps, music, lights and candles.

The view from where we sang.

Then we started calling in the reinforcements:
ticket taking...

rides and reservations...

ushering and general Vox attending-to.

Thanks Vox crew!
We couldn't have gotten this all together without your help!


Prima Vox lights the winter night afire tomorrow night, December 19th

Read all about it!

We had our dress rehearsal last night at the Church of the Holy Communion. I've said it before, but can't resist saying it again: the sound in there is absolutely PERFECT for our voices. It's intimate, round, warm and so beautiful. We sang through each piece, savoring the overtones and the delicious blend of our voices, so unique and just so...right.

Ursula Christ will be our mistress of ceremonies, and she read our chosen readings with passion. She'll set the scene between songs with elegance and power.

Come prepared.


Well-loved carols

 This is the book I take out every year at Christmas time:

I've had it as long as I've had the harp. It's missing its cover. It's beat up. It's been marked up and scribbled on and carried around to events and dropped in the snow and played from nearly to the point of falling apart. Every year I think I'll treat myself to a new copy of the book...but then I look through it and realize it's just too full of memories to replace.

Jingle Belle did some damage to the binding when she was a kitten.
She couldn't resist that tempting red spiral.

These are notes for performing "The Coventry Carol"
at a madrigal dinner in college. Zoey and Kristin sang it beautifully.

Christmas Eve 2001, I don't remember where.

I wonder what I meant by that little row of dots
above the Am7 chord there...hilarious.

I colored these holly leaves green
during a break in the action when playing
at a day care center's Christmas party.

The book gives an easy version and a more advanced version of each carol. The first Christmas I had the harp, I could play a grand total of two easy-version carols: "The First Noel" and "What Child Is This?" These days, I just use the melody and guitar chords for reference for my own arrangements as they come to me.

I realized a couple of years ago that because the book is set up A-Z, I've played every single holiday gig in Christmas carol alphabetical order. Hee hee. The book will be my friend until I'm done playing for Centenary United Methodist Church's Christmas Eve services. Then it will go lovingly back on the shelf until next year (binding hidden because Jingle Belle is still really just a kitten at heart...)


The perfect holiday gig

I played for the annual holiday open house at First National Bank in Waseca in early December. It was the perfect holiday gig.

There was a buzzing crowd of revelers, a warm fireplace to play in front of, lots of treats and very attentive hosts making sure my cup of hot cider was always full. It even managed to snow a little bit that day to make the year's Christmas carol playing debut perfect.

The season officially began for me that day.

(photo by Bernie Gaytko, President of First National Bank)


Prima Vox and dreams come true

Lately, many people have been wondering how the Celtic music I am generally known for performing informs my performances of medieval music and chant with Prima Vox.

My secret was out when we formed Prima Vox — I've actually been an early music geek since high school. While my friends were listening to Van Halen and U2, I was secretly wearing out my recordings of madrigals, recorder consorts, Renaissance Christmas music and medieval masses.

When the harp came into my life, I happily put away the classical music I'd grown up playing on the piano. With the harp came the sound, the aesthetic, the mood, the music I'd been listening to and loving for years. Estampies, cantigas, ballads, carols were the first music I learned to play on the harp.

So early music, not Celtic music, has informed all of my musical pursuits for a long time. Celtic music included, because it is eerily similar to the early music I love — they have the same modal scales and haunting melodies that "get" me every time I hear and play them.

When I was in college, my favorite classes were Early English Literature, where I learned to pronounce Middle English (thanks, Dr. Harry Solo), and Music History, which opened a world of resources for finding the music I loved. I remember the day in the music library when I discovered a recording of Middle English lyrics set to music. I raced back to my Norton Anthology of English Literature Volume 1 and found those lyrics. I was in Heaven. I made photocopies of those pages of lyrics, memorized them and kept them with my music, hoping I would perform them myself...someday, somewhere.

For Prima Vox's Fire & Ice concert,
I've pulled out those old, yellowed photocopies
and brushed up on my arrangement of "Gabriel Fram Hevene King."

Finally, my early dream has come true. December 19th, 2009, will be that someday. The somewhere will be Church of the Holy Communion in St. Peter. Thank you, Prima Vox.


Music among the dishes

Prima Vox rehearsed in my kitchen today. Why?
• It's warmer in there in front of the roaring space heater.
• It's closer to the hot water for tea.
• It sounds good in there with notes bouncing off the Jadeite.
• We have plenty of counter space to spread out our music.

I think it's the first time I've ever
played my harp in the kitchen.
Maybe I should do it more often.

Note the pile of dishes in the sink. I scraped out a couple of minutes to cook the other night AND do dishes. It's been a hectic couple of weeks with rehearsals and playing for holiday parties and going to holiday parties and more rehearsals.

'Tis the season. And I love it.


To Drive the Cold Winter Away Concert 2009

The words I love to hear: "It was the best concert EVER!" And my friend Judy wasn't the only one to say it this year. Everyone loved the French music program, the tales of my Paris adventures, the arrangements for the band, the atmosphere, the presentation.

I loved it, too.

Half the time I felt like I was in two places at once: in Paris dreaming and composing, and in Mankato singing my experience. The concert was a dream time of getting to relive so many Parisian memories through music. And the audience was so responsive and so appreciative.

The band played beautifully.
All my creative arrangements and markings
came together perfectly that night.

And as Prima Vox, Sara and Ann and I
sang down the Angel Gabriel.
We also performed my new piece I composed in Paris,
"Fire & Ice."

I ended the concert in tears. The emotion of performing that song, the success of the concert, the bliss I saw on audience members' faces, the memories of Paris...it was all too much to hold in.

I stood afterward in my fabulous green taffeta dress,
accepting applause, smiling through tears,
blowing kisses to my audience.
The cold winter was definitely driven away.

photos by my good friend Tim Madsen


The knitter who also happens to play the harp

That's how the wonderful women at The Tangled Skein yarn shop in St. Peter know me. Usually I just come to the store and buy yarn, get approval to never knit a lace pattern again after 15 failed attempts, and have my latest project emergency...untangled.

But every December for the past 4 years, I've not only brought my knitting but I've packed up the harp and played for their Christmas open house.

The harp is right at home there...
considering there's ALMOST this much yarn
lying around at my house.

Sock knitter extraordinaire Nadine Haglin took this photo of me.
Yes, that's a sweater I knit.
Mountain mohair is very, very, very warm.

For the first time EVER, I left The Tangled Skein with no new yarn, no new project, no new pattern. And I even have $60 left on the gift certificate my brother gave me for my birthday/Christmas last year. I think so much of my creative energy is going into Prima Vox's "Fire & Ice" concert on December 19th that I can't even imagine wrapping my brain around knits and purls and decreases and heel turning.

But there's a whole winter ahead of me. I'm sure that come January, the wool and the needles and the couch and I will be one again.