Before tonight, I've never thought much about how much time I spend in empty churches. Getting the harp in early so I don't have to maneuver through milling service-goers or wedding guests. Setting up before there are crowds to witness the quite ungraceful process. Tuning in the quiet. Getting ready to create music in the space.
Today was no different.
I was ready for the 2:00 Service of Remembrance
at Centenary United Methodist Church
well before the congregation arrived.
Reveling in the peace and the beauty of that place.
The service was beautiful.
After playing, I lit a candle for a friend
who lost her grandmother last week.
It's hard to lose a grandma in December.
Then I drove to the Church of the Holy Communion
in St. Peter. What a perfect Christmas Eve scene.
Inside was warm and cozy and so beautiful.
The quiet before the service was magical.
And the service itself was gorgeous:
poinsettias, candlelight, harp, organ,
so many friendly voices joining together.
And the merriment continued afterward
with sherry toasts...
...and delicious treats.
(That's my infamous goat cheese, sundried tomato,
basil pesto torte. Half a pound of butter per recipe. Amen.)
Brides and grooms were gathering to plan their wedding receptions at a new local hotel, and I was invited to provide harp music during the event. Outside was dangerously cold and icy, but inside the atmosphere was warm and romantic — don't you love the elegantly draped ceiling and the pops of color in the flowers and chair ties?
Pretty soon, I’ll be filing away my Christmas music and gearing up for wedding season. I’ll be presenting at a couple of bridal shows in January and am looking forward to meeting this year’s wedding couples.
I love playing for weddings.
It's an honor be a part of such a special celebration. Photo: Bobby McFall
I love meeting with the couples and talking about their dreams for their weddings, sharing with them what I know about choosing the right wedding music. I love finding out what makes couples unique and enhancing that through the music. Two couples can choose the exact same line-up of music (it's happened!), but the weddings will FEEL completely different because of their style, their personalities, their individuality, the way they love each other.
Many times, couples will ask what music they "have to" have at their weddings. Unless they're having a religious ceremony in a house of worship with strict rules about music selections played during ceremonies, I tell them that this is their chance to develop the soundtrack of the day they're married. They can walk down the aisle to Bach or the Beatles — it’s all about whatever makes them happy! There are, of course, the most-requested wedding songs, like “Bridal March” by Wagner and “Canon in D” by Pachelbel, which I can play with my eyes closed. Then there are the unique requests from couples (“O Canada” anyone?). There are the sentimental couples (requesting “You Are My Sunshine” in honor of their grandparents). And there are the top-40 lovers (I’ve even played a piece by Sting for a processional).
I’ll admit I’ve had my doubts about some of the selections (did I mention “O Canada?”), but every time the music became perfect for the one-of-a-kind ceremony that unfolded.
Playing at weddings has made me a better harpist in general. I've developed a sense of timing and first-hand knowledge of the power of music on the emotions — skills you can really only learn by doing. And have I been "doing" weddings! I've played at hundreds during the course of my career. The harp is perfect at so many styles of weddings…
Traditional church ceremonies
Informal receptions in rustic barns
made elegant for the occasion
Cocktail hours in gorgeous settings
Weddings at the shore
Summer outdoor weddings in the park
If you’re getting married, or know someone who is, I’d love to talk about playing for the wedding! Want to hear me playing samples of wedding music on my harp? You can visit the “Weddings” link at my website, www.amykortuem.com and scroll to the bottom of the page to click on the titles of the songs you want to hear.
Snowy drives. Wind chills below zero. Car starter working overtime. This combo can only mean one thing:
It's Harp Season!
I have been traversing the region in my trusty 1996 Ford Explorer (good old girl), hauling one harp or another to Christmas parties, church services, Prima Vox appearances, concerts, all varieties of good things that happen this time of year.
This season contains the best and the worst of harp playing. The worst? Icy weather than can severely damage the harp. Even icier steps and sidewalks that can severely injure the tender backsides of harpists (yes, I fell down, ow, limp, owie, sympathy welcome).
The best parts?
Getting to play some of my favorite music of all time.
Getting to be a part of beautiful celebrations.
(I still haven't decorated my Christmas tree at home,
so I'm living a decorated holiday vicariously.)
Getting to see people happy because I'm playing for them.
When I composed my piece Fire & Ice in Paris last year, I wrote it for three voices: Me, Ann and Sara (a.k.a. Prima Vox). Performing it with them, and with the harp, has always been so gorgeous, so fulfilling.
But in the back of my mind, I've always wondered what it would sound like with more voices on the "Ann" and "Sara" lines. Like, with a whole choir of women singing with me. A girl can dream big, right?
That dream came true last Sunday. Dr. David Dickau, conductor of Minnesota State University, Mankato, concert and chamber choirs, invited me to perform at their holiday concert. He'd asked me to accompany the choir on a couple of pieces (I broke out the metronome to rehearse those...tick, tock, tick, tock...) and also to play a solo set. One of the pieces I proposed to him was my Fire & Ice...with all the women's voices singing with me.
He agreed. (He's a composer, too, and understands these things, I'm sure.) The rehearsal was a total overwhelm of sound and clash and release and just complete soul fire for me. And the concert...well, you can see and hear for yourself right here.
Ann (of Prima Vox fame) was at the concert and agreed to be my videographer. God bless her for capturing everything I'd wanted to see: my hands on the harp, the candles lit in that icy cold, blue-lit church, the girls surrounding the sanctuary and singing, the audience listening with eyes closed, Dr. Dickau's smile at the end. (I cut out the part of the video where I come back to my seat after my composed bow and put my head on my Aunt Sheila's shoulder and cry.)
My friend stayed with me on Friday night because of the snowstorm. She patiently put up with my harp practicing (listening to the accompaniment parts to choral pieces is not the most pleasant experience). And when I walked to the kitchen to get more tea, she said, "Wow, you're fancy tonight."
I was confused, because she's seen my new lounging-around outfit before.
It's grey velour and very warm. And very sparkly.
It was on sale, too.
Then she pointed to my feet.
Oh. Yeah. The shoes.
I got them to go with the dress I'll be wearing when I accompany the MSU choirs on Sunday. I always practice the harp wearing shoes with a heel because it makes working the pedals easier. Since I don't wear pink fluffy slippers when I'm performing, I don't practice the harp wearing those. And since these shoes are new, I wanted to get a feel for how they would move on the pedals. It all makes sense, right?
Until I forget and walk around the house in front of other people. Always, always entertaining at Amy's house. In one way or another.