SHSA National Trophy

Summer Harp Adventures

“Everything good, everything magical happens between the months of June and August.” – Jenny Han

1: The Ohio Scottish Games & the 2019 Scottish Harp Society of America US National Scottish Harp Championship TM

SHSA National Trophy

The Summer Solstice found me loading my bags, my harp, and a music stand (which rattled loudly in the back seat the whole trip, AND I almost never ended up needing), into the car and setting off on that quintessential summer activity, the Road Trip. My final destination was the Ohio Scottish Arts School, but before I could lose myself in a week of harp circles, sessions, and learning new tunes, I was planning on attending the SHSA US National Scottish Harp Championship TM at the Ohio Scottish Games harp competition.

Jenn McKinlay says, “Road trips require a couple of things: a well-balanced diet of caffeine, salt and sugar and an excellent selection of tunes—oh, and directions.” The first three are no problem when you’re passing a travel plaza every thirty miles on the Pennsylvania and Ohio Turnpikes. I didn’t have tunes, but I did have podcasts, and Waze to tell me where to go, so I thought I was as ready as I could be.

Attendees of OSAS have the option of adding an additional night’s stay in order to be on hand for the nearby Ohio Scottish Games, so when I arrived at Oberlin to register and drop off my things, the campus was fairly quiet, most OSAS students not scheduled to arrive until the next day. My dorm, however, was filled with the sounds of harpers practicing in their rooms. Up and down the hall I heard bits and pieces of familiar tunes, and many beautiful arrangements! It was clear the harp would be well-represented at the Games. I spent the evening exploring downtown Oberlin and having a late dinner.

Oberlin dorm room

my tiny cozy room at Oberlin

I was up early the next morning, as was everyone on my hall (I think we beat the pipers!) and arrived early at the Lorain County Fairgrounds. Back when I first started competing, I didn’t always have the option of attending the pre-competition workshops and harp circles, and I missed out on so much! Starting off the day, judge-in-training Rachel Clemente gave a very fun worshop on writing tunes, and later on competition judges Sue Richards and Jen Narkevicius led a mini-session focusing on tunes with similar opening melodic patterns. It was very interesting (and challenging), and a great warm-up for the competition. In addition to the workshops, the harp building had a beautiful backdrop of a romantic Scottish scene where you could be photographed with your harp (I hope we’ll see that again at future competitions), and a table where you could buy the music and CDs of participating harpers (the competition was organized by Linda Phillips and Tiffany Shaeffer – they did an outstanding job!). Outside the harp building, of course, was a Scottish Games in full swing: pipers, drummers, lots of sheep, shopping, games, and some very fun fair food (I especially recommend the Philly Cheesesteak Egg Rolls). But when I’m competing, I tend to stick close to the harp building (and my harp!) and spend my time practicing a little, talking a little, and checking Facebook (a lot). 

So delicious. So bad for you.

Not my actual Philly Cheesesteak Egg Rolls, because I inhaled them. Try them here:

Do you like competing? I don’t. You might wonder why someone who doesn’t enjoy competing chooses to go to competitions. There are so many harpers who don’t put themselves through the competition process, so why should I? There are so many reasons! For me, at least, competition is a great teacher in itself. It shows me my strengths and weaknesses. It gets me up to play when I’d rather sit and look Facebook (maybe I need to get off Facebook…) It encourages me to seek out new tunes and new ways to arrange them. The score sheets from your judges are like a masterclass in themselves. Compete enough, and study your score sheets, and you will start to see patterns emerge (both good and bad.) Competition teaches you grace under pressure, and compassion for your fellow competitors. Because the SHSA rules judge harpers by a standard instead of against each other, competitors are supportive and friendly to each other; everyone knows what you’re going through!

Perhaps my favorite part of competing is to learn new tunes and hear familiar tunes in new arrangements. The competitors at this year’s Ohio Games were a very strong group of harpers, and I heard lots of new tunes that were very skillfully arranged. Two that really stood out were an arrangement of ‘Gruaimean an t-Seann Duin’ arranged/performed by Grace English (she was kind enough to give me a copy), and an harp and vocal arrangement/performance of ‘Farewell to Tarwathie’ by Tiffany Schaefer, which was one of the nicest examples of text painting on the harp that I had ever heard. I always leave a SHSA competition with new ideas for tunes and for arranging.

Of course, the best part of the competition is when it is all over! And, luckily for me, it was the very first part of my trip, leaving me nothing to worry about except enjoying my time at OSAS. More on that in the next blog post. Thank you for reading!