We have been so impressed by HarpFest 2012’s Singaporean home team. The festival has also featured events by some of our favourite guest artists from abroad, including a closing concert that was also Cristina Braga and Ricardo Medeiros’s debut in Asia.
Cristina Braga and Ricardo Medeiros
HarpFest participants had the chance to work with Cristina and Ricardo a day before their concert, with two workshops on Latin American, more specifically, Brazilian improvisation. We were introduced to some of the most important Brazilian rhythms, and very quickly groups of harpists were playing them together, taking it in turns to improvise individually along with them. It was impressive how quickly the sometimes very young harpists got the idea, and to have Ricardo there pinning the ensemble together on the bass also really helped us to experience the music.
Rhythm is one of the most important things in music. You can play a lot of wrong notes but if you’re rhythmic, your audience can still enjoy your music. If you play all the right notes but with no discernable pulse, it’s very difficult for the listener to enjoy it. Cristina and Ricardo highlighted this point by having everyone leave the hall and dance the rhythms in a snaking procession through the theatre foyer – a brilliant idea!
Jakez quickly makes a new effects board out of paper, pen and sticky-backed plastic (not pictured)
Speaking of broken things, Liza Jensen then gave a harp maintenance workshop in the afternoon, covering basic pedal and buzz problems, and harp care.
As you probably know, there are some differences in the technical construction of Camac harps and other makes. If a pedal rod on your non-Camac harp busts, your harp will stop working. You then have to take the entire bottom of the harp off, and put a new rod in. Even if you have a spare rod about your person and know how to do this, you will get covered in oil, and you will want a friend to steady your flat-out harp and help you guide the rod into place. I say this without a trace of Schadenfreude, honest - it can be done, it isn’t a disaster, and it’s no reflection on your harp’s musical qualities. But it is a pain, and it's something we've improved.
Changing a pedal rod
On a Camac harp you cannot get a broken pedal rod, because we don’t use pedal rods. We have developed a system using flexible cables, and it is extremely unlikely indeed that one will break on you. The class also learnt how to regulate Camac cables, a very simple procedure you can do by yourself in about fifteen minutes.
It was also Deborah Henson-Conant who said to me once “knowledge is empowerment”. If you are anxious because you don’t know what you will do if your pedal rod goes, or you can’t mic your harp, you can remove that fear by learning how to do it. If you want to work with sound processing like Arnaud Roy or Elisabeth Valletti, this of course takes time. But basic amplification and between-technicians maintenance is not much more difficult than putting oil in your car, and it can save you just as many problems. We’re doing our best to extend your access to information about these issues – if you have any ideas for things it would good to know about that we haven’t already covered, please let us know at [email protected].
If you aren’t yet familiar with the work of Cristina Braga and Ricardo Medeiros, then I would actually – it’s not often I recommend this – stop reading Harpblog and rush to check out Cristina’s site (there are also some great videos on MTV). It is difficult to describe their music – much better to go and hear it – but it is like blue harp singer-songwriting, rooted in Brazilian music, and imaginative and dramatic part-writing, creating original, passionate and touching songs. I am always in the mood to listen to them, and how I wished there had been a second half to the concert so we could have heard more! This concert featured a lot of new songs, from their next album Feito um Peixe, “Like A Fish”, which will be released next year.
And speaking of fish – after HarpFest had drawn to a close, we got taken out for a magnificent Singaporean seafood meal. It has inspired us to create a new Harpblog category: food.
Many, many thanks to Katryna and her organizing committee for an exceptional three days of concerts, workshops and a very special, world-first harp musical. We have had a wonderful time, and been inspired by the immaculate professional standards seen even in the youngest festival participants, the spirit of friendship and teamwork, and the musical and pedagogical creativity. The offers are already coming in to put Pluck! on tour, or devise a sequel. Bravo for a wonderful decade of work in Singapore. Here’s to the years to come!