“Everything good, everything magical happens between the months of June and August.” – Jenny Han
4: The Somerset Folk Harp Festival
In the upcoming issue of the Kilt & Harp, I’ll be sharing what I learned taking lessons from the amazing Corinna Hewat (and a few tips I picked up from other teachers this summer, too); for this last post about my harp adventures, I want to describe the absolute Harp Nirvana that is the Somerset Folk Harp Festival.
Have you been? This was my first year going and I can’t believe I waited so long to make the trip! No matter what kind of harp you have, how many strings you’ve got to work with, or what kind of music you like to play, there is something for every harpist and harper at the Folk Harp Festival.
First things first: book your room early. I didn’t, and ended up at the overflow hotel down the street. It was a very nice hotel, and staff was very friendly, but hauling a harp out to your car multiple times a day in the July heat is definitely an experience you want to avoid! Although the Festival has a convenient ‘harp park’ in the exhibit hall (such a relief), I could have done without the daily workout to and from the parking lot. A harp cart is a very desirable accessory for the weekend, or a set of ‘harp wheels’ from Music Makers.
After an opening reception Thursday night, the Festival began in earnest on Friday with a full schedule of workshops. There were four blocks per day (one on Sunday) and over a dozen classes available to choose from during each block (fewer during the second block, at lunchtime). I soon discovered that one visit to the Festival would not be enough to attend all of the workshops I wanted to see; there were too many amazing options! The program guide was color-coded so you could locate the presenters you were most interested in, which is incredibly helpful, and there is something for everyone; every block has classes for beginners and workshops covering a broad variety of topics, including technique, practice methods, technology, repertoire, rhythm, and even harp building!
There were concerts every evening, and sessions too (Scottish the first night, Irish the next). These evening activities make booking into the event hotel a must. Sadly I missed the Scottish session because I was just too tired after dinner to get my harp back into the car and drive over from the overflow hotel (I was practicing, too…). In case hauling a harp left attendees sore and achy, Shyamali Hauth lead Sunrise Yoga every morning to stretch and relax those muscles.
Because of my private lesson schedule, I wasn’t able to attend workshops in every block, but I did manage to get to ‘Sounding Scottish’ with Jen Narkevicius, and ‘Singing Robert Burns’ and ‘Scottish Pipe Ornamentations’ with Corinna Hewat (which I will talk about more in my Kilt and Harp article). Other workshops I would have loved to attend include Martha Gallagher’s ’Storyharping’, ‘English Medieval Harp’ by Sarah Deere-Jones, Erik Ask-Upmark’s ‘Swedish Repertoire’, and Maeve Gilchrist’s ‘Dexterity and Speed’. To be honest, however, looking over the workshop offerings there isn’t one didn’t look interesting. It would take several visits to the Festival to see everything I’d like to see!
Speaking of seeing ‘everything’, come prepared to spend some serious time in the Exhibit Hall! Serious money too, because if you play the harp, there is sure to be something on display you cannot live without. From the above mentioned harp wheels (harpkit.com), to plush cushions to sit on while you play and the perfect flowy jacket for your next gig (robinlennon.com), harp jewelry (harpjewelry.com), or one of Laurie Riley’s Smart Stands for smaller harps (laurierileymusic.com), you’ll find everything you’ve ever wanted (or never knew you needed) and the only problem would be how to fit all of your new harp accessories into your luggage for the trip home! That’s even before you buy all of the harp music you’ve been dying to try from one of several harp music vendors.
Of course, if you are thinking of purchasing a new harp (the Ultimate Purchase), Somerset is the place to be. I think I played every harp in the hall! There are very few places I can think of where you have so many models to choose from. You can order a harp, of course, but there is nothing like playing different harps of the same model to really get a feeling for how different each one can be. There were so many beautiful instruments, but my top three would have to be the Camac Ulysse (I can’t believe it is partially carbon fiber!), the Sligo Luchair, and the Thormahlen Ceili. The 40th Anniversary Dusty Strings FH36S is, naturally, a showstopper complete with beautiful cherry blossom abalone inlay, but no Dusty could ever take the place of my beloved FH36B (not to mention, the 40th Anniversary model, with all of its beautiful details and features, is a bit out of my price range).
I had so many fascinating and enriching experiences this summer, and Somerset was definitely one of the best. I’ll be back next year, and I hope I’ll see you there! Thanks for reading about my summer harp adventures; I hope they were entertaining and informative. My thanks again to the Scottish Harp Society of America for the scholarship that made these travels possible. If anyone has a question, or a comment for me, you’re welcome to find me on Facebook (under my maiden name, Alexandra Molnar-Suhajda), or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope your harp adventures will be as fun and rewarding as mine have been!