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

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

some excellent photos and stories! Wow!