New Year’s Musings

2010 was another eventful year!

Things started with a bang, when I performed with the orchestra for the Opening Ceremony of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Though orchestral musicians are supposed to keep their eyes trained on the conductor, we did manage to enjoy parts of the spectacular entertainment – in fact, we might have had the best seats in the house! I particularly enjoyed the incredible feats of the snowboarders who opened the show (I believe there were ultimately several, as many of them sustained injuries doing the stunt)!; Sarah McLachlan’s “Ordinary Miracle” (who knew that she plays in bare feet under the ball-gown?); the incredible aerial dancing, choreographed to the Joni Mitchell song (I think viewers who only saw this act on television could not fully appreciate how stunning and emotional it was to see it in person – what a shame, as this was truly a highlight for me); and of course the Eastern Canadian segment, with all the fiddling and dancing. Perhaps the ultimate highlight for me, however, was finally getting to realize a childhood dream and meet Loreena McKennitt. I even took the opportunity to have my photo taken standing beside her Lyon and Healy Troubador – along with Donovan, one of the composers for the Ceremony, who it turns out is also a big fan of McKennitt! I confess I originally accepted the job feeling quite cynical about the Olympics taking place in Vancouver, and I didn’t expect to enjoy it any more than any other gig. But being present at the Opening Ceremonies converted me to a full-fledged Vancouver Olympics fan. I enjoyed everything after that – even the craziness downtown. So that’s a tribute to the success of the Ceremony – that it could cause someone who felt the way I did about the Olympics in Vancouver (bah humbug, to mis-apply Scrooge’s phrase) to completely change their mind (no ghostly hauntings necessary).

St Patrick’s Day was low key and really fun this year, some friends and I performed as “Ceart” at The Monmartre Cafe on Main Street. As always, I enjoy playing at sessions, house concerts or parties, and take every opportunity to play trad tunes! Sessions at The Trap and The Railway Club are not as convenient for me as the good old Wolf and Hound, but I make it out when I can.

Adjudicating for the Edmonton Kiwanis Festival was an adventure for me the first weekend in April. It was wonderful to meet local harpist Keri Zwicker, and to hear the students she and Nora Bumanis have coached so well. Many of us met again for a workshop, where I shared a few of my favourite jigs and reels, and some of the “goodies” I’ve learned on my travels!

Of course there were the usual gigs, weddings, and background entertainment jobs through the year. It’s reassuring to see that the economy seems to be turning around again. One hotel gig featured a conversation with an older gentleman who was seated near my amplifier. I took it as a compliment that he found my harp “rather loud”, as that is not a complaint harpists receive very often when playing in a large echoey public space! Of course I seem to be a magnet for neighbours who don’t enjoy living next to musicians! My current apartment, thank goodness, has a singer upstairs – though they ARE cat people (wheras we have two little “holy terriers”!)

In June I was invited to Fort Worden, where Feis Siatail meets to celebrate Scottish Gaelic culture. The harp class, though small, was enthusiastic. They tell me they will always remember the answer to “what is a strathspey” versus “a strathspray”! I made some wonderful new friends in Fort Worden, in particular the lovely and fabulously talented Andrea Beaton. Now if only I could convince Matt Haverly and his family to move to Vancouver!

A close encounter with some urban wildlife, in the form of a highly crazed raccoon, was the least enjoyable part of my summer. My poor dogs were badly bitten and so was my partner Brian! The dogs were treated for rabies, but though we went to the top of the chain for medical care in BC, no such vaccine was made available to my human companion. Makes you wonder who should be trusted: the veterinarians who advise and charge you to vaccinate your pets against rabies, or the people doctors who refuse to provide the same service to human beings?

In August, I was off to Wells BC for a wonderful week. My students began the week as harp novices, but left with a solid foundation of skill. I had some very talented newbies in this class, and I’m so pleased to hear they are continuing their harp journeys in their own provinces! It was, as always, wonderful to see Sharlene Wallace (my former harp teacher and a dear mentor) and the incomparable Kim Robertson – one of my all-time favourite harp performers and a great inspiration.

I’ve done some harp swapping this year, making the difficult decision to let go of my Dusty Strings 36 S in maple after many, many years of companionship. That harp travelled with me through Scotland, Toronto, Cape Breton, and Ireland so we learned a lot of great tunes together! I enjoyed a brief affair with a DS Bubinga 34 harp (now owned by my student Rosanna), but am now becoming more seriously aquainted with a DS Koa 34. I will say that the new 34s are so much lighter and more portable, and this Koa has a huge vibrant sound! My Camac electroharp continues to look for a perfect new “forever” home. A Daphne 40 by Salvi is considering becoming part of my tribe in place of the Camac, and now that some truly ancient strings have been changed, I think we may get along!

I did a lot of teaching through Prussin Music, the highlight of which was the group classes: Harp Performance Ensemble, The Harp Practice Ensemble, and an introductory level class for beginner harp players. During my wonderful, 3 week trip to Cape Breton in October, these classes were ably led by my friend and colleague Rebecca Blair.

Attending Celtic Colours in Cape Breton – what a dream come true! Though I saw hundreds of concerts at Celtic Connections in Scotland while I was a student there, until 2010 I never managed to be in Cape Breton in October for our own Canadian version of this event. From the opening night, where the piano playing of Jerry Holland rocked my world – to the last concert, where Catriona McKay and Chris Stout showcased their amazing collaborative work (which I feel would be best described as “Celtic Chamber music”), I was in heaven all week long! Catching up with Andrea Beaton and getting to spend time with Cape Breton harpist and artist Jenny Tingley (and her lovely family!) was another special highlight of the trip. Ahh, Nova Scotia. Some day I will live there!

Elizabeth Volpe, the Principal Harpist of the VSO, sustained an injury which meant the VSO was short a harpist for a few concerts. I know Elizabeth won’t mind me saying that, though I was concerned for her, I was excited to be involved in some challenging and wonderful orchestral repertoire! Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Elgar’s Symphony No. 1 in A-flat Major, Op. 55, some rare art-songs by Strauss, and Camille Saint-SaĆ«ns – Symphony No.1 in E-flat major were all part of my musical soundscape this year. A gala performance with Vancouver Opera (playing second harp to the outstanding Heidi Krutzen), and a Christmas concert as first harp with the Vancouver Island Symphony rounded out my pedal harp engagements this year.

With the World Harp Congress coming to Vancouver in 2011, we local harpists almost feel as though the Olympics are coming to town all over again! This will be another special opportunity to share with the rest of the world, some of what we value and treasure about our Canadian culture and heritage. My friend Seumas and I are planning to perform as much repertoire from Cape Breton as we possibly can – though the harp is not featured in that musical culture, it should be!

Here’s to the journey in 2011!