A minor miracle

I trust this requires no explanation:

Never could get the hang of this piece on the piano.

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More than six strings

Legendary HipHarpist Deborah Henson-Conant, a favorite in these parts, is now learning guitar, sort of:

Steve Vai, a Berklee alumnus, came up with this course, offered online by his alma mater, and it’s a natural for DHC, who has long been coaxing amazing noises out of her harp. Besides which, she’s actually going to be in Vai’s touring band starting this fall, so what better time to brush up on some of Vai’s limpid licks?

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Congratulations, you made it this far

Birthday Rose maybeThere’s a long-standing tradition where Deborah Henson-Conant comes from, and it goes like this:

On your birthday, someone gives you a rose and your job is to head out for a long walk and take this rose with you. It’s generally better if you’re in a city with a lot of people around, because your job is to find the person who belongs to that rose. And when you find them, you explain this is your Birthday Rose — and if they’ll take it, then you get to make a wish and they get to make a wish, and both those wishes will come true.

Just don’t try to find exactly where she’s coming from.

(You’ve perhaps seen this flower before.)

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And twilight gleams again

One of the more memorable bits on the Woodstock soundtrack album (three LPs!) was on side 6, where Jimi Hendrix ripped through the National Anthem with such verve and/or ferocity that when he finally segued into “Purple Haze,” it was almost a relief.

Now imagine that on harp:

Long-time readers will already know of my regard for the Hip Harpist.

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Hang a right at Normandy

Joan Baez’ hilarious “Time Rag”, from 1977, contains this bit of fantasy:

I scribbled it down on the wall calendar
And wondered about my interviewer
Maybe he’d be just a real nice guy
Bright and sympathetic with a roving eye
We’d forget all about the assignment due
Formalities, photos, and the interview
We’d hop on into his big rent-a-car
Go for a lovely drive, not far … maybe France

Oh, yeah. Right across the Gulf Stream. Fortunately, we have good tires.

And yet the idea still has resonance:

I said, “I’m taking you out to dinner.”

“Great!” he said. “Where?”

“My favorite restaurant,” I said.

“GREAT!!!” he said. “Where?”

“It’s in France,” I said.

He was silent for a moment. “Oh … I guess we won’t be driving.”

“Actually,” I said, “we will.”

Admittedly, I’m still lame enough to think proposing on the Jumbotron is cool, but what the hell: why not drive to France? (They flew to Paris, rented a car, and drove six hours to a little Breton village called Dinan.)

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Small is the new big

So says HipHarpist Deborah Henson-Conant, and she should know:

The harp I have today has shrunk from an ornate 75lb, 6-foot tall musical edifice into an 11-pound carbon fibre powerhouse I can strap on with a simple harness.

Not quite a pocket-sized baby grand, but close enough, right? And she’s confident that this will push the instrument in a whole new direction:

My vision of the instrument had been so strong from the beginning that now that I finally have it, it seems self-evident to me. It’s taken other people to point out that I’m in the midst of an historical moment with this instrument. It’s like living through the ’40s when Les Paul made the first electric guitar — only this is the first commercially produced carbon fibre electric harp.

Not that she’s comparing herself to Les Paul or anything. And there were electric guitars before Paul; it’s just that they were basically acoustic guitars with pickups, which presented problems with feedback and couldn’t do anything resembling sustain. Alan Stivell made a Paul-esque solid-body electric harp some twenty years ago, but it didn’t really fit into his traditional Celtic/Breton repertoire. French harpmaker Camac took up the cause, and they’re offering a signature Deborah Henson-Conant model. Think of it as the harp equivalent of the Gibson Les Paul.

(If you wonder how I happened upon this lady and her music, read this.)

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You can’t do that

As a rule, you probably should not say this to someone who is actually doing it:

One night a guitarist friend from college stayed over. In the morning I found him sitting at my harp, pushing the pedals in a way that was distinctly non-harpistic. “Hey, check this out,” he said, “you said you couldn’t play a chromatic line here — but look, if you move these three pedals on this side and two on the other, you can do it.”

“But you can’t move three pedals on one side and two on the other,” I said. “It’s not possible on the harp.”

He looked at me for few seconds. “But I just did.”

This is the point where, if you’re wise, the light bulb — a traditional incandescent, none of this modern-day sacred-to-Gaia toxic-waste stuff — appears above your head with full illumination.

And eventually you discover that things like this are not only possible but actually come naturally to you:

Then again, you already know what I think about this particular artist.

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