The Harp Gathering draws musicians from across the continentWritten by Jay Hathaway | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Harpists from across the United States and Canada will gather in Archbold this month to celebrate their instruments and the music they create.
The Harp Gathering, now in its sixth year, will take place May 16-19 at the Sauder Heritage Inn. The event will feature workshops, concerts, jam sessions and instrument vendors and builders.
Performers and presenters are Denise and Michael Grupp-Verbon (Toledo), Maeve Gilchrist (Somerville, Mass.), Timothy Harper (Bridgetown, Nova Scotia), Kim Robertson (Milwaukee), Frank Voltz (Winston-Salem, N.C.) and Sharlene Wallace (Toronto).
Richard Ash of Folkcraft Instruments in Woodburn, Ind., and Beth Stockdell of Fayetteville, Ark., are giving additional workshops.
The event was founded by the Grupp-Verbons, who have hosted it every year since. They are both professional musicians — Denise plays the harp and Michael, the guitar — and perform together as a duo called TAPESTRY. Denise said that though the festivities officially begin May 17, early arrivals will find a special treat the evening of May 16.
“There will be a bonus workshop Thursday night, and harpists will greet people by playing music in the lobby,” she said.
Registrants will choose from a total of 19 different workshops offered and may attend up to six. There will be three harp concerts — the evenings of May 17 and 18 and late morning on May 19. A vendor hall will be set up featuring luthiers and instrument dealers. As part of a “harp ensemble experience,” harpists can purchase newly published music pieces, which they will rehearse over the weekend, then perform Sunday morning. Denise arranged the pieces, along with fellow harpist and performer Frank Voltz.
“Harpists often tend to play alone a lot, because the harp is a bit challenging to move,” Denise said. “This is a chance to play in a group with others. Usually that performing ensemble ends up with at least two dozen harps all playing together, so that’s very cool.”
“Think of a flute choir or a brass-only orchestra, but it is only harps — the sound is glorious,” Voltz said. “I think we have 40 harpists participating this year. Denise has arranged ‘Chopsticks’ and I have arranged excerpts from the ‘1812 Overture.’ We’re [also] working on canons, but you’ll just have to wait and see how that turns out.”
Stockdell is another harpist who will present workshops during the event. She will demonstrate how new technology can enhance the harpist’s musical experience.
“Last year, I attended a harp workshop in Colorado,” she said. “At the conference, there were several people who had iPads. I approached Denise and pitched the idea of doing a workshop on using the iPad, forScore (a sheet music app) and other things about going digital as a musician. I think that in addition to my scheduled time to do my presentation, I’ll have lots of people approaching me with questions. I get that from all my local harp buddies and I’m happy to help.”
Voltz, who has attended the event every year since its inception, said that the camaraderie among harpists is always the highlight of his weekend.
“Since I have the privilege of being invited back every year, I’d say my favorite part of the weekend is seeing and enjoying familiar faces of harpists that I’ve met over the years,” he said. “It is so fun to get reacquainted and find out how each person’s harp journey is going and where it has taken them since the last time I saw them. And of course, I love making new harp friends and meeting new harpists.”
The festival has featured a harp giveaway, known as the “Harp Hunt and Gather(ing),” every year since the festival began, This year, an HG-30 harp by Lewis Creek Instruments of Howell, Mich., will be the grand prize.
The public is welcome to attend any of the three concerts, for an admission fee of $15. For those shopping for harps, music and accessories, a vendor hall pass may also be purchased for $15.
A harpist’s life
Denise has been playing the harp since she was 11. She grew up in central Illinois, and her father was a professor at Illinois State University. The grade school she attended was an extension of the university, and was the place where she first became acquainted with her instrument.
“Somehow, I don’t know why, [the school] had acquired a small harp,” she said. “I had taken piano lessons for about three years, and I went home and told my mother I wanted to play the harp.”
The harp stuck with her for life, and she has been playing with her husband in TAPESTRY for the past 13 years. Michael was a percussionist with U.S. Army Band for several years before he began playing the acoustic guitar. The duo plays for various concerts and festivals, churches, other harp festivals, corporate functions, parties and weddings. They have released three CDs.
Michael composes the duo’s pieces, maintains the website and produces media for The Harp Gathering. Denise gives private harp lessons, and teaches at Owens Community College, playing a large role in the college’s new Music Business Technology degree.
“Everything we do is related to music,” she said.
Voltz has been friends with the Grupp-Verbons for years, and has become an accomplished harpist as well. However, unlike Denise, his introduction to the harp came later in life.
“I was an adult beginner,” he said. “I began playing the harp at age 37. I sold my grand piano to purchase my first harp, so it was a no-turning-back proposition. I studied classical harp technique with a harpist with the National Symphony Orchestra, and then augmented my technique by studying pop with a harpist in New York City, and by studying jazz with a world-famous harpist in Salem, Mass. I was a concert pianist for 15 years before I began playing the harp but my harp career has broadened my musical horizons in so many ways. I play with symphonies and play solo concerts, domestically and internationally. Harpists are a small, close community and I enjoy meeting professional harpists and aspiring harpists along the way.”
Stockdell had a similar experience discovering the instrument as an adult.
“I was going through a difficult time in my life and needed music,” she said. “I hadn’t played an instrument since middle school, so I was basically starting from scratch and wasn’t sure where I was headed. Then the harp just really called to me. Eventually I found my way and I started playing the harp 10 years ago at age 35. Two and a half years ago I was able to go full time as a harpist, which honestly, is beyond my wildest dreams.”
Stockdell said she keeps busy playing for weddings, parties and other events. She incorporates the harp into volunteer work for her local hospice, and contributes to a harp publication, the Folk Harp Journal.
Though fans of modern musical styles may view the harp as an instrument of limited use, Denise asserted that it should not be underestimated.
“You might be surprised. Some music you might hear has harp in it, but you might not realize it. Harp is often used for adding layer and color, and it is used quite a lot in therapy in hospitals and hospices.”
She added that harpists often play several instruments, and are versatile musicians.
“Harpists don’t just like harps. We’re musicians, so we like everything.”
For more information about The Harp Gathering, visit www.harpgathering.com, or call (419) 478-4177.