A Family Reunion, Harp Style

music miscellany Jul 02, 2018

Have you ever attended a big family reunion, one of those massive ones where each branch of the family tree can be identified by the color of their T-shirt? If so, you know what an adventure it can be. You discover cousins you’ve never met, maybe never even knew of. You share meals and stories, play games, look at photo albums, discover connections. Maybe you simply relax and share the moment. It’s exciting, exhilarating and sometimes exhausting.

When you leave the reunion, you go home with a collection of addresses and phone numbers, along with that special feeling of having reinforced your sense of belonging and forged new connections to your roots.

I attended one such reunion last week, only with name tags instead of T-shirts. I’m referring to the 2018 American Harp Society National Conference, held last week in Redlands, California. As I write this, I’m on the airplane on my way home from the conference, and I am moved to share with you how powerful these past few days were.

If you’ve been to one of these national gatherings, you know exactly what I mean. But if you haven’t, I offer some reflections on my conference experience. It’s not a moment-by-moment recap, but rather a view of the conference from my 30,000 feet cruising altitude. 

As you might imagine, part of the excitement at each of these events is in the new experiences. It’s always fun to go to new places, and to hear new music, new performers and new ideas about playing and teaching. I still get goosebumps recalling the spectacular, one-of-a-kind performances I was privileged to attend.

The breadth of the harp world is simply staggering. It goes way beyond pedals and levers: historical harps, jazz and pop music of every imaginable style, chamber music, concerto performances, music from centuries ago and music written yesterday. And to hear all these voices of the harp shared by harpists who are passionate ambassadors for our instrument is an inspiration and a gift.

The theme of the conference was “Back to Our Future,” a theme which embraced not only the young, up and coming performers, but also was a reminder of the legacy of generations of harpists, their work which has brought us to where we are today. It was an opportunity not just to look back, but to connect the dots between past, present and future, and I found it fascinating.

Finally, it truly is a family reunion. We refresh our acquaintances; I was thrilled to be able to spend some time with one of my harp camp buddies from long ago.

I always make new friends at a conference, and I think it’s easy to do because we are drawn together there by our dedication to the harp. We are connected at almost a genetic level. We don’t see eye to eye on everything, but it’s easier to remember the commonalities than the distinctions.

My favorite conference moment? It’s hard to choose. But with all the breathtaking performances, inspiring workshops and great conversation, I might choose the impromptu dancing (with expert instruction) to the music of Bollywood performed by a fabulously sparkly harp duo. Where else could you have that kind of fun?

If you are a harpist, whatever your age, skill level, ambition, the type of harp you play, the type of music you love, I strongly encourage you to belong to this vibrant organization, the American Harp Society.  While you will have to wait nearly a year until our next national gathering, there is likely a local chapter near you which would love to have you join them. Explore the possibilities at http://www.harpsociety.org.


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