7/30/2012

Harp regulation

I told my friends I couldn't meet them a few Tuesday nights ago because the harp needed a regulation and my wonderful harp regulator, Dan McGinley, was coming from Chicago on a harp-fixing road tour and could make a stop in North Mankato that night.

"Okay," my friends said. Big pause. Then: "Ummm...what's a harp regulation?" Good question. There's a lot of mystery surrounding harps, harpists, harp music, harp care.

Some of it's pretty straightforward.
1. Harps are big and delicate and heavy. They make gorgeous music. They're beautiful. They're expensive. It takes a lot of practice to play one.
2. Harpists are delicate, too. Sometimes their backs and arms hurt. A lot. But they have strong hands. And nerves. And big biceps.
3. Harp music looks just like keyboard music. But you can't expect a harp to sound like a piano. Or a pipe organ. Or a string quartet, for that matter...

But harp care...well, that's the most mysterious part. I can tune mine and change strings no problem. I can perform minor repairs like putting the base frame bolt back in the bottom of the harp with a major amount of hysteria. (Read all about it here.) But when it comes to checking the pedals and the rods and the tuning pins and the bridge pins and the pedal discs...yeah, that's beyond me.

And that's pretty much why I'll cancel everything when Dan comes through town. We'll spend several hours together, me asking a thousand questions and him answering every single one of them. He's really the only person who's interested in some of the most deeply important things in my life. Like why the 3rd octave A has a kind of...whooshing...sound to it. Why the F pedal feels...sticky...sometimes. Why that...sound...comes from the back of the harp when I play in flats. You know. Not everybody is interested in that stuff.

So here goes, a documentation of what a harp regulation entails. With highly technical commentary. For those of you who are just DYING to know...

The ONLY time you should ever see a harp in this position. Ever. 

"Oh no," Harry is thinking. "You're not gonna freak out like you did 
when you had to put the harp in this position and fix it yourself, are you?"

There's some disturbing sounding scraping involved around the pedals.
But it's ok. Dan knows what he's doing.

There are brand new felts added (the red things) 
so the pedals don't make banging noises when they're moved.

Then there are new pedal cushiony thingeys added to...cushion the pedals.

Jingle Belle checks to make sure there are no snacks in Dan's tool bag.
Nope, no snacks.

Then comes time for the "real" regulating. 
(The only person who can lift the harp like that and not get screamed at? Dan.)

There's a lot of playing a string, tweaking, playing a string, tweaking.
Tweeeeeeeeeaking. Tweak. Tweak. Tweak.

This snazzy regulator machine thingy lights up and makes some noises 
and tells Dan what's going on with the harp.

Sam doesn't listen to Jingle Belle about there being no snacks in Dan's tool bag.

Dan checks every string in every position - sharp, natural, flat. Over and over.

Tiny little screwdriver at the ready.

Yep, that one sounds a little buzzy.

Harry takes a nap on some of Dan's harp strings 
(he's used to that kind of thing cluttering up his resting spots).

Sam takes a nap on me while I sit next to the harp. 
He listens patiently while Dan and I say intelligent things to each other like 
"Hmmm..." "Ewwww..." "Ugh..." "Wow..." and "Nice" while Dan works the strings.

And it's done. The harp sounds crisp and clear. The whooshy A string is solid. The F pedal is smooth. The mystery sound from the back of the harp is banished. I play "Greensleeves" (the first song I ever learned on a harp, so my ear is tuned into how things should sound) and all is well.

Dan packed up all his equipment and headed out, planning to drive all the way to Fargo that night. I straightened up the living room, let Jingle Belle play with an old harp string Dan left for her and then sat down for a little private concert. Just me and the cats and a perfectly in tune harp. I almost hate to take it out again after that. But it's what this harp is for - making beautiful music for people all over the place. And when Dan comes through again, I'll clear my calendar.


7/25/2012

And another family wedding!

My dad comes from a family of 8 siblings. Each sibling has at least 3 children (except our family, which is just me and my brother). Which means I have a lot of cousins. And now the youngest cousins are growing up and getting married. Which feels so strange. I remember when these kids were born. I babysat them and changed their diapers and when they got older we read "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" series together and I basically corrupted them by teaching them naughty songs and swear words in German.

But they all turned out ok, despite my best efforts. How do I know? Because when it's time to get married, they want the best thing ever: harp music at their weddings. (Read about the ones so far here, here and here...)

A few weeks ago, it was my cousin Sarah's wedding. It was a hot July day, and the ceremony was in a big, beautiful (air conditioned...whew) Catholic church. 

Harry was confused by the Catholic service music I was rehearsing.
Harry's only heard Catholic service music a few times in his life.
But he doesn't want you to hold that against me.
Plus, he wanted to make sure he got his cat chow before I loaded up the harp 
and headed 45 miles south to the wedding.

Here's what I love about family weddings: 
Cousins and uncles waiting outside the church to help you load the harp.
The nice cousin on the left also made sure I remembered to go potty before the service started
and to change out of my flip-flops (summer harp loading shoes) into my "real shoes."
Good boy. He knows me so well.

It was such a beautiful wedding. Sarah walked down the aisle to "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring"
just like her mother did, and just like her sister did last year.
(Speaking of shoes, see how the bridesmaids' shoes matched their bouquets?)

(And the bride's, too!)

I'm really glad I wasn't the one playing during the unity candle, because afterward Sarah and her new husband did that thing that always makes me bawl: giving roses to the parents and grandparents.
Blaaaah! Nobody wants to see a bawling harpist. I just sat in the corner of my pew and sniffed.

I collected myself by the time the reception was in full swing, though.
They were serving chablis in a box at the open bar.
Mom and I decided we love chablis in a box.

Aunts Janet and Joyce love chablis in a box, too.

Cousin Caren? She loves chablis in a box as well.

Aunt Kathy and her sons Andy and Ben weren't so much fans of the chablis in a box,
but they made certain I always had a full glass in front of me.

My Dad (left), Uncle Marvin (center) and Uncle Joel (right) drank punch like good designated drivers.

Chablis in a box makes you dance to thinks like "Devil Went Down to Georgia." But by the time they start playing "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy," you just kinda know it's time to go. Because sometimes there are real cowboys at cousins' weddings, and cowboys usually think it's fun to pick you up and dance with you over their shoulder. (Note: it's usually not fun. Experience talking.)

Plus, by that time you've already danced so much that it hurts to even wear your flip flops.
So you end up putting your "real shoes" and your flip-flops in your music bag
and taking the harp home in your bare feet.  

Wedding harpist tip: It hasn't been a good wedding gig 
if you're not unloading the harp in your bare feet.

7/22/2012

A harpist at the Faribault County Fair

It's county fair time again. Time for blue ribbons, gigantic farm machinery displays, agricultural exhibits, livestock judging. And harpists. Because everybody thinks "harpists" when they think "county fair" - right?

 Especially big guys like this longhorn steer. 
He had the best seat in the house - just 15 feet from the stage. 
Longhorn steers looooove harp music.

Harp music makes them soooooooooo sleepy. 
"I think I'll just lay my...horns...down and take a nap," this guy is thinking.

The Faribault County Fair has been working hard for several years to secure grant funding for a "Festival of the Arts Day" - and the Celtic Band and I we so honored to have been chosen as featured performers. We were scheduled to play right after the Good Time Band from Albert Lea (they were singing "The Wabash Cannonball" when we got there and, of course, I'm still singing it in my head...) After us, there were going to be dancers and then The Singing Slovenes from Duluth. Quite a varied line-up.

Harpist Amy Kortuem and her Celtic Band had a great crowd.
They clapped especially loudly when the longhorn steer punctuated my emotional Irish love songs
and the band's rollicking jigs with well-timed bellows.

"She stepped away from me and she moved through the fair..." I sang.
"Mrrrrrooooooooooooooaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh!" said the longhorn steer.

Then the sweet and talented Megan Maloney did some Irish step dancing, to eveyone's delight.

Harpist fashion tip - these shoes, while really cute, are the wrong shoes to wear to the fair.
You could turn your ankle on the uneven ground and nearly spill your cheese curds.
And that would be a tragedy beyond measure.

We played my "Five-Dollar Goat and Chickens in the Yard" jig/slip jig set to end the show. The farmers in the crowd loved the story behind the jigs, but cautioned me that goats usually eat everything EXCEPT what you want them to eat.

Sir Loin (seriously, that was his name, according to the sign on his pen) was still looking
dreamy and relaxed when I packed up the harp and left.
Maybe my next composition should be "The Longhorn Lullaby?"
Stay tuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuned...

7/11/2012

Outdoor summer wedding

I got an email in late June from a bride in a panic - her wedding music plans "didn't work out" (I didn't ask for details) and would I be available to play on July 7th? In just over two weeks? I'm usually booked out for summer and fall Saturdays pretty far in advance. But oh, this was a lucky bride. By some miracle, for her, I'd had a wedding cancellation (again, I didn't ask for details) for July 7. I loved being able to swoop in and save the day, musically. Yep, Super Harpist.

The wedding was at her parents' home out in the country. Surrounded on all sides by cornfields so far past the "knee high by the 4th of July" stage that it felt like there were giant green walls surrounding the wedding. Beautiful in the way that only tall, tall corn on a Minnesota July day can be. I arrived early and set up under the shade of a tiny little grove next to the house.

Someone had built an arbor, just for the wedding.

The flower garden was my backdrop.

This adorable little girl asked 100 questions about the harp, about my dress, 
about my music stand, about my music, about music notes, about my shoes, about my corsage,
about my chair, about my music bag, about the clothespins holding my music...

I finally distracted her with some bubbles I'd gotten at the wedding the night before. (Wedding harpist tip: always carry mini bubbles in your purse to occupy curious little ones so you can get on with the prelude.) Don't you want a polka-dotted dress with a pink ribbon sash?

I played pretty Renaissance songs, some simple Baroque pieces and then started Canon in D for the family, the bridesmaid, the two dapper groomsmen looking oh-so-manly in their hot pink ties, the adorable little flower girls.

The wedding was short and sweet. Oh, so sweet.

7/07/2012

Harp sleepover

Something doesn't look right. Something's...missing. 
The space there in the corner by the music shelf is so empty...

The Lyon & Healy concert harp is missing. I know. It's been extremely hot here in southern Minnesota. I needed to take the harp to a wedding rehearsal last night to practice with the soloist, and the wedding was today. I couldn't imagine taking the big, delicate harp out Thursday night, taking it home, taking it out Friday night, taking it home again. In and out and in and out of air conditioning and intense heat isn't good for harps (or harpists). 

So I did it something I rarely ever, ever do. I took the harp to the rehearsal...and left it at the church. Yep. I left my baby in the care of somebody else.

But she was safe and sound in the music room at Christ the King Church. 
(A big, bad cut-out of Goliath kept watch over her.)

It was odd, only carrying my purse and my music bag to the wedding today.
(Harry is realizing he can't "escape" onto the porch if I'm not moving the harp, bench, music stand...)

I was so glad to travel light, though. It was almost 100 degrees when I left home. I would have been a not very attractive, pretty sweaty harpist when I arrived. I just hopped into the truck, blasted the air conditioning, got to the church and breezed through the automatic doors in one trip...not four.

Set up, tuned and was ready to play without even a "glow" appearing on my forehead.

Coming home, however, was a different story. The 10 minutes it took to get everything into the house left me stunned from the heat. I took off my dress and threw it right into the washing machine. Took a nice cool bath. Drank ice water. Then I unpacked the harp.

There we go. All's right with the world. Very glad to have the harp home from her sleepover!

7/04/2012

America

These are the "America" Lilies in my garden.

They bloom every 4th of July.

"And the rockets' red glare..."

"...bursting in air..."

Happy America Day.

7/02/2012

Blarney Woollen Mills made a delivery mistake!

The purple sweater and a few other wonderful items I bought at Blarney Woollen Mills in Blarney, Ireland, finally arrived. They offered free shipping to the U.S. if you spent a certain amount (great reason to add that complicated cable knit wrap-like-vest-thingey, which Mom called a "boob warmer", to my order at the last minute). So I actually saved money, really, if you think about it long enough. And it certainly saved room in my suitcase.

I unpacked the sweater and the few other things and the "boob warmer" and held them to the light, admiring the knit patterns. Held them to my face to breathe in the woolly Irish smell of the yarn. Then I turned around when I heard some rustling and thumping and saw this in the box:

Wait a minute, I didn't buy a CAT in Blarney!

Oh no! What am I going to do? Should I send him back???