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If you can make it to Parsippany, NJ at the end of July, we highly recommend checking out the 2014 Somerset Folk Harp Festival. (It's named that because it used to be held in Somerset.) It is a four-day conference, running from Thursday, July 31st through Sunday, August 3rd, and we’re pretty sure it's currently the largest gathering of folk harp presenters, performers and exhibitors on the east coast (and possibly even in the whole U.S.).
There are jam sessions, fantastic nightly concerts and over 100 workshops on Celtic harp, jazz, therapy, arranging, business... you name it! You can pick a theme and stick with it for all four days, or you can bounce around and try a little of everything. There's something for every interest and every level of harpist.
So what if you're not a harp player yet but you're curious? If you’re anywhere within driving distance, buying a $15 visitor pass is a great way to get your feet wet and find out what some of the possibilities are. You can attend a 45-minute workshop called "I always wanted to play the harp," which is geared towards absolute and total beginners (or pre-beginners?). You'll get your hands on a harp, learn a few things, and have a chance to ask questions without any fear of embarrassment. This workshop is happening on Friday and Saturday at 10am.
Your visitor pass also gets you into the exhibit hall, which is jam-packed full of harps, music, accessories and related paraphernalia. It is an unparalleled opportunity to investigate a wide variety of different harps in one room!
Wandering through the forest of harps in the exhibit hall is an amazing experience, but if you find yourself a little overwhelmed, try attending a harp tasting. At one of these events, you sit with your back to the stage while a couple of players go down a line of "mystery" harps and play the same pieces on each harp. You have an evaluation form you can use to take notes about what you like and don't like, and at the end, the maker and model of each harp is revealed. It's a really great way to find out what's important to you in the sound of a harp, without bringing appearance or brand name into the picture. People often find themselves delightfully surprised! The harp tasting for small harps (fewer than 30 strings) is on Friday at noon, and the tasting for larger harps (30 strings) is on Saturday at noon. Harp tastings are open to visitors as well.
We don’t have our harp list completely worked out yet, but we plan to take an orphan FH36S (we’ll post pictures when we have them), and we will definitely have a Boulevard (our new concert-tension gut-strung harp) to try out.
Hope to see you there!