Summer Harp Adventures

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

  2: The Ohio Scottish Arts School

The mysteriously mobile OSAS mascots

When I was lucky enough to receive the SHSA Travel Scholarship at the 2018 National Championships™ in Edinboro, PA, I knew exactly where I wanted to go: the Ohio Scottish Arts School in Oberlin, Ohio. It seemed that every competition I went to, all the best harpers talked about tunes they had learned and teachers they had studied with at OSAS, and I couldn’t wait to be a part of it.

After check-in and a meeting of all attendees on the lawn for basic rules and instructions the night before, the week began in ernest with a large harp circle Sunday morning. After introductions all around, we broke off into our groups to start learning tunes. The Master group got off to a great start with instructor Sue Richards, who taught us several very fun tunes (all new to me) including what was a general favorite, ‘Dancing the Baby’ (if you don’t know it, it’s adorable, look it up!) and a very tricky strathspey, ‘Lord Moneymusk’ (I’m still working on it). We also had a chance to learn Steve Shack’s lovely tune “Starlight” from Steve himself, which was a great experience.

Monday the Master’s group had instructor Rachel Hair, and she gave us some wonderful advice about arranging, and taught us the beautiful ‘Looking At A Rainbow Through A Dirty Window’ by Calum Stewart, as well as several others. One of my favorite moments of the week was when, talking about arranging, Rachel said that we should, ‘take the listener on a journey’. This comment has really stuck with me, and I think will make a difference in how I arrange my tunes going forward.

Of course, we didn’t spend all day in classes. There was free time to practice, or walk downtown (where I found a gift shop with rescue kittens in the back!), lectures in the afternoon, and sessions in the evening. By our free day on Tuesday, however, everyone was ready for a break! We took the day off from classes and everyone had the opportunity to sign up for a half-hour private lessons with one of the instructors. I signed up with Rachel Hair, so I could ask a few more questions about arranging and get her advice on how to speed up my reels without falling apart. In addition to helping me out with those problems, she recommended a very fun metronome app to change up my practice routine, called “Drum Beats+”. It’s not free, but it’s worth the money; I’ve had a great time with it!

Oberlin chalk art

Beautiful chalk art outside of Bibbins Hall, part of the Oberlin College Conservatory Complex

Wednesday, we were back in our groups, and the Master’s had the chance to work with Rachel Clemente. Rachel, a recent had just graduate of the Scottish Conservatoire, brought us tunes straight from the Edinburgh Festival, including a very cool jig by Mike Vass, ‘Cavers of Kirkudbright’, and one of her own jigs, ‘Countryside Quiet’, which has been in my head ever since (it’s on her album, ‘A Quiet Uniqueness’, and it’s just gorgeous). That evening was my favorite lecture of the week: Chad McAnally (also in the Master’s class) brought his exquisite wire strung harp down to the lobby to talk about the history of the wire strung harp, and to play for us. It was lovely to hear it so close up.

Thursday was a big day! We had Class in the morning with Jen Narkevicius, which I was especially looking forward to as she had promised to talk about arranging Scottish airs. After spending some time teaching us ‘Ailein Duinn’, the class spent some time coming up with their own arrangements, and then shared what we had come up with. It was really instructive to hear what everyone had done with such a limited amount of time. In addition to talking about airs, we learned the original traditional tune to ‘Crodh Chailein’ (‘My Heart’s in the Highlands’) which I like much better than the more well-known tune.

That afternoon we had a chance to read through several harp ensemble pieces with Sue Richards, including a traditional Scottish spinning song arr. by Nancy Hurrell, several Manx songs arranged by Rachel Hair (all available on her website!) and some arrangements by Sue herself, including a very sweet Flemish tune called ‘Paspie Menuet’. This was the one occasion that I used my music stand the whole week (and I was happy to have it!) This got us well warmed up for the talent show that evening, where we finished with a massed groups of harps, pipes, and other instruments playing a beautiful piobaireachd, “Queen Elizabeth the Second’s Salute”. That many musicians playing such a stately tune was memorable indeed… an experience you couldn’t have anywhere else!

So many harps!

Friday was our last day, and we met again in the large harp circle to share some tunes and say our goodbyes. What makes OSAS truly special are the amazing people; the staff, the teachers, and the friends you meet in your classes. It was a wonderful experience and I will definitely be back next year!