Holiday Concert Retrospective

As I've been preparing for the holiday concert on Saturday night, I've been going through the photo, video and recording archives from holiday concerts past. A 10th anniversary is a big deal, I've come to realize even more. That a fairly small community has embraced a strange and unique instrument like a harp, and a musician who's absolutely determined to do things herself, and her own way - it's a wonderful thing. I'm overwhelmed by the support and what it has meant to my artistic life.

Here are some of the images I found:

Holiday concert 2006. 
St. Peter and Paul's Catholic Church, Mankato.
I'd gone to Ireland for the first time that May, so the concert had me delving into 
Irish and Celtic Christmas carols and holiday music. Megan danced up there on that platform
 to "Christmas Day I'da Morning" and to the "Mistletoe Waltz" by Kathleen Loughnane.
I met Kathleen on my grant trip to Ireland in 2010, and she was thrilled that I'd been playing her song.
(Though that white jacket I wore made me kinda look like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man...)

Holiday Concert 2008.
First Presbyterian Church, Mankato.
After holding concerts in the big and gorgeous Good Counsel Chapel and large spaces 
like St. Peter and Paul's church, I was looking for a more intimate environment.
I found it in First Presbyterian Church. The wooden interior, the rounded sanctuary, the domed ceiling
- they all brought the audience and the sound closer to me. 
That year, we performed Christmas lullabies - including one I composed, 
which you'll hear on Saturday night.

Holiday Concert 2009.
I'd just come back from Paris. I was reeling from all the art and inspiration and beauty and richness of the experience. I'd composed "Fire & Ice" while I was in Paris for harp and women's voices 
- my voice, Sara Buechmann's voice and Ann Fee's voice, to be specific.
This concert was the world premiere of that piece.
Since then, it's been performed by other choirs, which thrills me beyond thrilled.

Holiday Concert 2011.
It was a performance of the music from my very first recording, The Light and the Lady.
Revisiting that music was a beautiful experience, and the concert was as well.

Now, on to this year. My 10th anniversary concert. My band is ready, the special musical guests are prepped, the prizes are waiting for their recipients. The harps are sitting in the corner of the living room right now, under the lit evergreen garland, soaking in the quiet and the the unusual warmth of this day, sure to ring out in their beautiful way on Saturday night.

I hope to see you all there!

Now to figure out what I'm going to wear, once and for all...


My TV debut - behind the scenes

My friend Kelly works at KEYC-TV in Mankato (yes, again, it's not what you know...). She called me last Wednesday and said she had good news. My news release sparked the interest of the midday anchor AND the Regional Spotlight anchor. Would I have time Friday to come in and promote my 10th Annual Holiday Concert live during the midday news and then pre-tape for the Regional Spotlight segment to run on Monday, November 19?

"Um, yes. Yes, I would," I told her calmly. Then I jumped up and down for a while in the living room. I woke up a sleeping Jingle Belle. She growled at me all squinty-eyed. Whatever, kitty. I'm sure she's just jealous.

I took the afternoon off work Friday, changed into something black and TV-worthy and hauled the Celtic harp to the studio. Setup began immediately.

That's Gordy, the wonderful cameraman adjusting the microphone.

A very, very, very big microphone...


Ahem. Anyway, there were sound checks, more sound checks, lighting adjustments, lapel microphone wrangling, positioning and then...

Breaking news. 

The president was taking over MY news slot to talk about the economic cliff. Seriously, you vote for a guy and this is how he thanks you? 

 We waited. And waited. 

 Kelly and I took self-portraits.

Marveled at the camera equipment.

And then the news was over. So we taped a segment to air Monday, November 12.

Me with the beautiful Lisa Cownie, midday anchor.

We did two takes because I said something really stupid and giggled, and then she stumbled over the name of my concert: "Harpist Amy Kortuem's 10th Annual To Drive the Cold Winter Away Holiday Concert." Yeah. Not that it's really long and confusing or anything...

And here is the result:

Then after a quick change in setup (and a quick wardrobe change because we had to make it look like I'd come in on two separate days, though I'm kind of spilling that secret right now, aren't I...)

Jan Ellanson and I taped an edition of Regional Spotlight.

Closely monitored.

And playing out the show with "Deck the Halls."

You can see the results of this taping here (pre-show...just for you):

What a great experience, and I'm so grateful for the support and the exposure KEYC-TV gave me. I'm hoping it will bring the news of my concert to many, many people! Thanks, Kelly, Lisa Cownie, Jan Ellanson, Gordy the Cameraman and crew, and everyone at KEYC!


Amy Kortuem's Celtic Band: history

 The view from behind my harp.
This scene makes me so very happy.
Harps tuned, chairs ready for the band, candles lit.

The band and I have been rehearsing and rehearsing for the holiday concert coming up on November 24th. I love it when they come over. Somehow, the house knows it will soon be filled with music - it always feels warmer, the lights are brighter, the air is charged right before they arrive.

And then they show up with their instruments, all smiles.
Here, Martha (center) is showing us her binary counting skills...

Martha has been my partner in musical crime the longest, since 2003, when she played on my "The Harp Her Soul Required album". I remember being a little concerned about whether she, as a classically trained orchestral musician (her instrument is oboe), would feel comfortable playing Irish music. But when I put the music in front of her, all worries roared out the door. The woman can sight read like no one I've ever met and she added such finesse and feeling to the airs, jigs and songs. And she was all in for the adventure of performing for the first holiday concert later that year. Over the years, we've played in costume, in dusty old barns, at elementary schools, in high winds and heat, and she has been a joyful and generous presence at my side through it all.

Sam The Drummer (right) - called such because I have a cat named Sam, and it can lead to awkward moments if I mention in public that "Sam was crying outside my bedroom door all night" without distinguishing between Sam The Drummer and Sam The Cat - is the quiet, steady undercurrent of the entire band. He's been with me since that first holiday concert in 2003. A friend of a friend of a friend gave me his name, and when I called him I barely got out "I'm giving this concert and am wondering if you'd like to play percussion..." when he broke in with "I'll do it." And he has, ever since, keeping me on track and on the beat. He doesn't say much, but when he does, I listen and always follow his wise advice. And it's good he doesn't say much, because there are some pretty wild Behind the Scenes with Harpist Amy Kortuem stories he could tell...

And Marti (left). Sweet, gentle, deep thinking and positive Marti. She joined the band in 2006 for a St. Patrick's Day concert and has stuck with me since. She just recently shared how difficult it was for her to follow my rather "intuitive" (ahem) arrangements of music at first - the arrows, the stars, the who's playing which repeat, the A sections, the B sections, sometimes even the C sections, the difference between my interpretation of a descant and a harmony and a drone. But she got it, and she got it beautifully. Marti has brought her love for Irish music to the band and has shared her favorite pieces, all of which have become band favorites (have you heard her play "The Irish Washerwoman"? yeah, like that). 

I lucked out finding these incredible musicians. I lucked out even more that they've become good friends. We've grown together, experienced loss together, supported each other and celebrated milestones - like Sam The Drummer's wedding to the beautiful Jess, like the arrival of grandchildren for Martha and Marti, like my grants and travels.

I can't wait for you to hear what we've been practicing up. Please, please join us on November 24th!


To Drive the Cold Winter Away - a 10 year celebration

I really, really hope you can join me!

10 years ago, I had this crazy idea. 

It was August 2003. I'd just given a CD release concert for my album "The Harp Her Soul Required." I'd never given a concert before. 800 people came. And many of them said, "Do this again at Christmas - please!"

 So I did. 
 November 2003. Standing ovation.

I gathered up my favorite holiday music, researched some new pieces, arranged them all in Amy ways, invited my good friend Martha Lindberg and my new friend Sam Lawrence to perform with me, and set the date: the Saturday after Thanksgiving to create a warm welcome to the season. To avoid the Christmas music deluge that begins December 1. To set a feeling of calm, beauty and thoughtfulness in peoples' minds early, in hopes that it would linger and sustain them throughout the rest of the holidays.

I called it "To Drive the Cold Winter Away" after a traditional old song of that title. The lyrics are wonderful and hilarious and they talk about creating warmth for and with each other, being neighborly, being forgiving, making merry. That song became the centerpiece for each concert. 

And the theme inspired me to create warmth in other ways. Every year I've held free will offerings and given a portion of the proceeds to VINE Faith in Action. It's an organization close to my heart. Pam Determan, the organization's founder, was my religion teacher in junior high. And VINE helps people like my beloved neighbor Ethel remain independent in their homes. 

Now, 10 years later, I'm looking back on all those concerts. All that music, all that art, all that warmth. An addition to the band: Marti Ryan. Such good memories. And from the comments and emails and letters and calls I receive from people who have attended, I know that using my talents in this way is making a real difference to people.

And this is the year I'm celebrating it all. With favorite music from each year, special guests performing with me, accompaniment from my fearless (and patient and good-humored and adventurous) band, my original music. And some brand new music I'm putting the finishing touches on. A world premiere, for my 10th year.

There will be drawings for prizes, too. It'll be fun! Check out all the details on my website (click here.)

Stay tuned for more updates, more memories. And please mark your calendars. I so hope you can celebrate with me.

And I want to hear YOUR memories, too! Leave them in a comment to this post along with your email address, and I'll send you a never-before released MP3 of a song I've recorded. And I might even share your memory during the concert...