Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Thank You

A Year End Thank You

from Winter Harp Director

Lori Pappajohn

As I write this, the snow that fills my garden is turning twilight blue and the pale winter sun is setting into the western sea. The darkest night, the solstice, is behind us and now the days are getting longer. Each day there is more light, more light, more light. The year’s timekeeper has finally turned her face towards far-off spring. Last week, walking over the snow-covered land, I found pussy willows -- the early promise that yes, warmth will return.

I want to take this opportunity to wish you all the very best for the coming year. And to thank you for being part of Winter Harp.

Each year one or two concerts stand out in my memory. And this year it was the Vancouver concert at St. Andrews Wesley Church. This magnificent structure was built in the style of a medieval cathedral with stained glass windows, soaring stone arches and room for close to 1,000 people. The night was cold, the old church drafty -- and it was as if the audience and Winter Harp were huddling together for warmth.

Inside that beautiful space, Winter Harp told the stories of Christmas and winter -- we wove the magic, the music drifting high into the dark arches of the ceiling. And then it was over. The stage lights were turned off, and the large, heavy wooden doors opened so the audience could leave. And as the doors swung open, it was as if something mystical had occurred -- the wintery scenes we had created inside with stories and songs were happening outside. Snowflakes filled the air, somersaulting down the sky. It was as if we were walking into Narnia -- a breathtakingly beautiful world of snow.

There were magical moments at the other concerts, too -- far too many to recount. But in short, the magic occurs because you, the audience, come to see us. You may not know it, but you bring the magic in with you -- with your memories, your joyous faces, your tears, your sighs and your applause. What you give us, we give back to you.

We can’t thank you enough. 2008 has been a tumultuous year for many of us -- a year of ups and downs. But through it we persist, strengthened by your presence around us at these concerts. It is the time of year to be thankful for all we have -- and to search our hearts for how we may help those less fortunate now and throughout the year. And it is a time of rejoicing -- through stories and songs we danced through the darkest nights of the year. And now, the light is returning.

To all of you a very Merry Christmas and the very best in all you do in the coming year.
See you in 2009.

Lori Pappajohn
Winter Harp Director

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Wrap

The last few concerts in this year's series really emphasized the winter in Winter Harp, both on stage and off. The West Coast was hit by a powerful storm that dumped a couple of feet of snow in some parts. Things quickly returned to normal, however, and everything went off without a hitch.

Scott illustrates the proper technique (borrowed from subway pushers in Tokyo) of loading two harps and assorted gear into a mini-van.

Conditions are always challenging in Vancouver, because of the size and age of the venue, it does suffer from cross currents and drafts. Besides making the candles flicker dramatically and thus necessitating a change-out at intermission, it makes tuning continuously (sometimes even between numbers) a necessity.

During sound check, we also are always looking for sight lines. Here is typically what I would be seeing: Janelle and Lauri through a forest of harp strings.

It is always such a pleasure to perform in Vancouver at St. Andrew's Wesley Church, as the setting is so beautiful with the stained glass, and massive stone arches. It always makes us feel as if were are in Medieval Europe. And the snow falling outside after the concert, as people left, made it especially magical this year.

Our final concert of the tour was in Maple Ridge at The ACT with its beautiful setting.

Winter Harp co-founder and former narrator Alan Woodland was at the Maple Ridge concert. He joined Lori Pappajohn on stage for a brief, but wonderful reunion as they did the free CD draw. Alan is a well-known figure in Maple Ridge, not only for perfoming with Winter Harp, but also for his popular column in the Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows Times newspaper. The audience loved seeing Alan back on stage -- even if only for a brief moment.

During intermission, we all usually have to go back on stage to tune and I have noticed that the bass psaltery always draws a great deal of attention. It is a very unique instrument due both to its Gothic appearance as well as to it's ethereal sound.


After all is said and done, this year was unique in many respects. Beside the many sublime moments that I am grateful to have shared with my fellow musicians on stage, there were other really quite special memories off the stage. Though I am sure I will miss out something important, here is my list of memorable experiences in no particular order:

-Getting to meet Queen Isabella:
Queen Isabella is a Cairn Terrier who spent the first few years of her life in a puppy mill and was horribly abused and likely kept in unspeakably nasty conditions. Somewhere along the way she lost her entire left ear. Fortunately, our friend Maureen is a very active member of the Cairn Terrier rescue network, and after the puppy mill was shut down, they sent her Queen Isabella to nurse back to health. The curious name stems from the fact that the dogs were apprehended on October 12th, Columbus day, so the dogs were named after key historical figures of the Spanish court in the 15th century. As well as Christopher Columbus, there is King Ferdinand, Bartolomé de las Casas , Américo Vespucio , and Columbus' three ships, Pinta, Nina, and Santa Maria.
The amazing thing about Queen Isabella is that despite having had a very hard life to date, she has an amazing personality and is really very trusting of people, despite how people have treated her. It could be argued that this sort of altruism is simply a sign of lack of intelligence, but that is not the case. Queen Isabella is a very smart dog, and it quickly becomes apparent that she simply enjoys every second of her new life. She is curious about everything, as soon as I took my nykleharpa out of its case she examined every square inch of it very carefully. As soon as I started to play she sat quietly and listened. Then she jumped up on the couch next to me to get a better view. She obviously loves music.
She is being very well treated and will soon make a complete recovery. I have no doubt that she will soon be adopted by very lucky new owners. When confronted by such optimistic joy after having gone through so much horror, it really underlines the shallowness of much of what preoccupies most of our days. Other dogs might have been scared of humans, or been aggressive or emotionally disturbed. Here is a being who has embraced life and decided to make the best of it no matter what.

- Getting to meet James Ham and having a brief talk about the future of musical instruments.

After our Victoria concert at the Alix Goolden Hall, we were thrilled to meet James Ham who brought along a violin made by Douglas Martin and built out of balsa wood, carbon fibre, and steel. It is really quite remarkable what is possible if we ignore our preconceptions of what a violin should look like, or what it should be made of, or even how it should be played. Mark Ferris, our violinist, took the instrument out for a test drive and was blown away. Here is a short sequence of what it sounds like.

I think as more and more luthiers realize the potential of 21st century materials, we will start seeing traditional instruments of such an amazing quality that they will rival the best that has ever existed. In the past these would only have been available to the best performers in the world. Imagine a world where every violin, even student models, is as good as a Stradivarius, and the best are even better.

-Dinner with Janelle's parents' and the members of Winter Harp.

The prairies are a remarkable place, and even though I have cycled through some parts of it in Summer, the great expanse of the land is something which really has to be felt to be appreciated. Having lived my entire life surrounded by mountains and the sea, it feels a bit uncomfortable at first being in a place where there are no boundaries or natural landmarks. This effect is amplified in Winter because even the palette of colours is reduced to just muted shades of light grey, light blue and a million shades of white. In Vancouver, going towards the mountains is North, South is Richmond and flat, West is the ocean, and East is the Fraser Valley. It's impossible to get lost. Outside of Winnipeg, there are no obvious references. One could drive for hours on highways that look exactly the same through out the province and be heading 180 degrees in the wrong direction. On a uniformly overcast day, even the sun doesn't give any hints of the cardinal points. Amidst this almost surrealistic landscape, Janelle's parent's home is an oasis of culture, warmth, colour and mirth. Rachelle and Brian Nadeau treated us like royalty, and we are forever grateful for a wonderful evening.

String players are naturally very cool dudes. But being chauffeured around in a limo in -25C temperatures in Winnipeg in December makes it über cool.

-All the amazing meals at restaurants on the tour.

Leo's Tapa's and Grill in Gibsons is typical Greek fare, exactly what you would expect in BC where we are spoiled for almost everything. What is unique about Leo's is that the waiters, and I really hope they are also the owners, have a great quirky, almost edgy, sense of humor.

Special mention goes to the restaurant at the Inn at the Forks, The Current. I had the pleasure of having breakfast and a wonderful lunch there. The food is stupendous and meticulously prepared. The staff is very attentive and polite, as well as transparently efficient. Every meal was a treat.

In Courtney, Titas never ceases to please. Great portions, and can Mexican food ever be anything but festive? The tortilla chicken soup especially hit the spot. Just the ticket before playing a concert in winter.

In Victoria, Futaba Japanese Restaurant was exactly what was needed to satisfy our troupe's cravings for all things Japanese and "get us to the church on time" - it is across the street from the Alix Goolden Concert Hall.

The veggie burgers on B.C. Ferries are quite nice. The French Fries are made by White Spot, and are delicious, but Janelle, Lauri and I once spent an afternoon feeding these to the sea gulls by hand who I'm sure thought they were doubly delicious.

-All the great volunteers who help us put on these shows.
There are many ways to patronize the arts, but in the case of Winter Harp, we have a dedicated and loyal core group of volunteers --everyone from ticket sellers to people who light the candles at intermission.
Winter Harp is lucky to have its own professional harp tuner. Dr. Bess Lu has a wicked ear when it comes to tuning. Here she is working on Lori Pappajohn's harp with Lori checking up on her.

-The Amazing Disappearing Harp Dolly.
After we played our last concert in Maple Ridge, we were packing up and Janelle discovered, much to her horror, that her harp dolly was missing. It had been left back stage right next to Scott's almost identical harp dolly. A quick inspection of the stage did not uncover anything. So a search was made in all the offices, cars, and even the front of the house. Still nothing. The entire stage was now packed up and there was absolutely nothing on the floor, yet still no harp dolly. My first thought was that it had been stolen, but that didn't make a great deal of sense either; there were far more valuable things back stage to steal. Everyone was rather annoyed at this disappearance because it would be a huge inconvenience to Janelle plus a lot of money to replace. The theatre staff were equally annoyed at something this strange. As I searched the snow drifts outside for tracks (and finding none) it occurred to me that I was only thinking in two dimensions. Perhaps the missing dolly had not in fact rolled away. Sure enough, I looked up and there it was hanging from the ceiling. The long horizontal bar that raises and lowers the sets had caught the strap on the cart when the curtain was down. At the end of the show, when the bar was raised up to the ceiling, the dolly cart went sailing up in the air with it. There it was, dangling precariously 30 feet above us (click pictures for greater detail).

The only thing more endearing than a happy ending story of a boy reuniting with his lost doggy is a story of a girl reuniting with her lost harp dolly.

The End

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Tour So Far

The Winter Harp tour to date has been very well received, and we have all had a wonderful time playing for so many different audiences.

Playing at the Pantages Theatre in Winnipeg is always a treat, and combined with the warm hospitality and wonderful friendship of Janelle's amazing parents, the trip goes off without a hitch. The flight was wonderful and WestJet was as always reasonable and accommodating to our merry gang of musicians. Transporting gear by air is always a challenge, but the happy team at WestJet made the whole experience very low stress. We were met at the airport by Janelle and her family, and we were all whisked away by stretch limo to the delightful hotel, (Inn at the Forks)which is more of a resort/spa than merely accommodation.

After checking in and depositing our luggage, we were invited to dinner at Janelle's parent's farm, a short drive outside of Winnipeg. Janelle's father Brian gave us a quick tour of the whole operation which was really fascinating and informative. We saw first hand how seeds are cleaned, packaged and warehoused.

The whole operation is really very interesting and I always feel like I would love to come back in the fall during harvest and see the whole thing actively working.

Janelle had a chance to show Lauri one of the machines she drives around during harvest.

The next day we set up the show at the theatre. The Pantages Theatre is a magnificent ornate Edwardian theatre, and the staff and technicians are very professional and first rate. The sound check went well and the concert was well attended.

Afterwards, Janelle's mother Rachelle had arranged for a reception with drinks and cookies, and we all had the opportunity to mingle with the audience and get their feedback.

The second concert on Saturday was very well attended, virtually sold out, and we had another Winter Harp first, a very brave gentleman proposed on stage during intermission, accompanied by the strains of Pachebel's Cannon played by Janelle.

Though it was intermission, enough people caught the proposal that after they hugged, the whole audience broke into spontaneous applause.

The reception the second night was wonderful as well. Here we are in a slightly silly mood showing off our socks!
Back at the hotel, Lori had asked me to stock up on the toiletries in the room. Last time she was here she was so pleased with the quality of the soaps and lotions that she longed to come back just for that reason. As it turns out, the products which the Inn at the Forks uses are made by a local BC company, Deserving Thyme, so you don't have to go to Winnipeg and save up your hotel soaps - the company has a great mail order website.

The next day after the final concert in Winnipeg, we had to get up early to catch the first flight home because we had a concert at the Massey Theatre with the Vancouver Welsh Men's Choir. The choir is a very friendly and jovial crew directed by the very talented Jonathan Quick, and everyone in Winter Harp looks forward to playing together with them every year. After rehearsing and playing the same pieces in concert, it is really quite a treat to play the exact same piece accompanied by a 100 male voices in harmony. On the quieter pieces, the lovely multi part harmony blends beautifully with the harps and ancient instruments. On the more lively melodies, having that much power behind us really blows our hair forward. It is amazing how loud the human voice can get.

The next two concerts at Courtney started our five concert tour of Vancouver Island. The staff at the Sid Williams Theatre always does a bang-up job of set decoration, and this year was no exception. The lighting was magical, and the effects on the back drop behind us as we played were enchanting.

After the sound check, we went out for dinner. We decided on a very nice restaurant called "Fluid Bar and Grill." We told Janelle to save us a table. She took this job very seriously.
The concert went very well, the sound and lights were spot on, and a good time was had by all. Since we were already set up from the day before, the concert the next day was very easy, and we had the luxury of the whole morning and afternoon to do relax and enjoy the sights of Courtney. For dinner that night we went to a very fine Mexican restaurant called Tita's, which served us up a great dinner including a lovely corn tortilla chicken soup, very welcome on this frosty evening, and enormous portions.
We played the second concert and were very pleased to discover that the bar at theatre had created and named a drink after us: hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps, whipped cream and multi-coloured chocolate sprinkles. I think that is a fair representation of the Winter Harp experience if it were distilled into a festive beverage.

The next day we drove to Victoria which was a bit challenging since it started to snow, quite heavily at times, and made driving pretty challenging. At times there were snowflakes the size of baseballs and it was building up quite impressively on the roads. Despite this, we arrived in town in good time and Colin, our manager for Victoria did a bang up job as always of getting everything set up. Also wonderful is the growing trend in Victoria of having audience members dress up in Medieval garb. Needless to say, we encourage this whole-heartedly.

The next day we drove to Nanaimo to do the last of the two Island concerts. The Port Theatre in Nanaimo is such an amazing facility and the staff, as always, are wonderfully professional and helpful. We did our sound check, I did the pre-concert talk which I do every year, though this year Scott helped me out with a short talk about the pedal harp.

Because we do two shows back to back on the same day at the Port Theatre, our meals are brought to us back stage, and this gives us a bit more time to play around on stage. We were in a funny mood that day, and we toyed with the idea of doing a Bizarro-world Winter Harp, where every member would switch around and do another job. Janelle tried out what it would be like to be the percussionist, Lauri checked out the pedal harp, and Mark thought he'd take a stab at narration.

Just as we were leaving the theatre, the first flakes of snow began to fall, and when we woke up the next day we found Nanaimo covered in a fluffy white blanket of Winter Wonderland snow.
It was magical and the perfect end to an enchanting tour.