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Harpmaker Jay Witcher gets our 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award

July 19, 2018: From our program testimonial
(see the video on the left)
When the Eagle landed on July 20, 1969 and Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, it was the "giant leap for mankind" that indirectly launched the Revival of the folk harp in America.  50 years ago. Aerospace engineer Jay Witcher had designed the Eagle's control console and soon he'd be laid off, along with  40,000 other engineers.  He was also a keyboard player and had a little shop where he built harpsichords. A client from Baldwin piano advised him to make small harps. Nobody was doing that. Jays says, "I listened to him!"  

He was also going to the many Renaissance fairs that started on the West Coast.  Jay asked Renfaire musicians what they might want: something small, something portable, something a minstrel would play, "like  the pictures of the harps in the fairytale books."  Research followed. He began building small lap harps, easily sellable at the fairs.  He studied the Trinity College harp and "being an engineer, you know, I do mathematical analysis, and do the theoretical end of it, and draw graphs and all this kind of thing, and I change the geometry a little bit.  I didn't change the looks at all; change the curve of this part, and got something usable." That acoustical analysis created a neo-Irish harp with consistently even sound.

It was revolutionary and evolutionary.  Coupled with his own design sense and craftsmanship he built small harps that ended up in the hands of harp-playing pioneers like Grainne Yeats, Maire niChathasaigh, Sylvia Woods, Ann Heymann, and Patrick Ball, to name just a few. It's a Witcher harp that Sylvia is playing on her best-selling and iconic Teach Yourself Harp book.  Sylvia says Jay was the "main reason I started selling harps." She got one of his harps in 1976 and toured with it and Robin Williamson & His Merry Band, sparking an interest in the folk harp at every concert.  She says at every concert "someone would come up to me, asking where to buy a harp.  I kept sending them to Jay.  Eventually, he allowed me to be a "traveling harp store."

Maire niChathasaigh was introduced to Jay by Gráinne Yeats at her house in Dalkey,  Dublin at the beginning of the 1980s. She says, "Gráinne lent me the neo-Irish harp Jay had made for her.  I fell in love with its silvery sound and knew I had to order one for myself!" She was not alone.  Enthusiastic musicians, seeing and hearing his harps, created a 'word of mouth' tsunami for Jay's harp-building  workshop and today we recognize that he not only created the standard for performance-quality instruments but enabled the performers that went with it. 

"The West Coast had become the nexus of harp building in the early 70s and 80s," says Ray Mooers of Dusty Strings, with Jay Witcher being the genesis and the biggest influence on a budding harp market. More instruments followed and Jay ended up moving to Maine in 1980 to be close to the hardwood he needed for his instrument-building. At the 1984 International Society of Folk Harpers and Craftsmen conference, Robbie Robinson would note, "We all owe an awful lot to Jay. As a matter of fact, he’s the one who really resurrected the folk harp in this country.”

By his count Jay is "close to 1100 harps and several tons of sawdust later" in a career that has spanned nearly 50 years. For Jay, it's all about the harps, "Figuring how to make things--that's the fun part."
The folk harp world has certainly flowered and matured since those heady early days.

Today's harp makers are standing on Jay Witcher's shoulders. "I don’t know Jay personally and even though we have not crossed paths, I feel a debt of gratitude to him for jump starting the renaissance of the lever harp and I give my sincere congratulations to him for this Lifetime Achievement Award," says Ray Mooers.  Dave Woodworth at Heartland Harps recognizes that "Jay and his harps have always been my North Star, even when moving into newer materials.  I’m profoundly grateful to him for his contributions to the world of harp."

"It would be hard to overstate the impact that Jay Witcher has had on the harp world. He's an extraordinary character with an extraordinary life story," says Maire niChathasaigh. With our Lifetime Achievement Award we recognize that Jay's scientific approach to the making of historic harps became the norm among harp makers and as Jays says, "harps are available to the average man on the street for the first time in history." Thanks to him we have a vibrant harp-building marketplace which enables so many of us to play great sounding, quality instruments that feed our passion.

One of Jay's harps is featured on the cover of our program guide.



Our 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient is laurie riley Laurie Riley

July 24, 2017: From the testimonial in our program guide

Laurie Riley’s primary instrument may be a double-strung harp, but she has achieved a triple crown in the folk harp world by her creative contributions three distinct areas of harp-making and playing: by study of the harper’s direct physical approach to the harp; by initiating efforts to collaborate with a couple of harp-makers to develop a double-string lever harp; and by developing a place for the harp in a therapeutic environment.

I've known Laurie since the early 70s, a time when we both were guitar-playing folksingers who ran coffeehouses, she the Folk Project and me the Mine Street Coffeehouse, here in New Jersey. Little could we have known that 40 years later we'd be connected to this vibrant harp community. Indeed my own path to the harp stems directly from seeing my old friend Laurie playing harp in 1983 at a Folk Project weekend. I'm honored to recognize all the contributions she has made to the harp world.

When Laurie discovered the lever harp in 1981 not only were there very few musicians playing the instrument, but very few harp-makers making folk harps.  Laurie said, “I decided to play the harp because I knew it would be a challenge.”  She added, with evident enjoyment “The lever harp was rare back then; people used to ask, ‘What is that instrument?’”  Six years later, in 1987, in tandem with Laurie’s background in the study of anatomy and movement Laurie saw there was room for improvement in the way harpers hold themselves when playing the lever harp and began studying how to avoid pain and injury from playing the instrument they loved!  She began to teach classes and this work had such dramatic positive effects that it became a major teaching focus for her, including her creation of a certification program for Music Ergonomists© called Transformational Ergonomics for Musicians©.

By 1990 Laurie’s ever-inventive mind began to tackle the issue of how to get the sound she wanted out of a harp.  She tried the Welsh triple harp, but that didn’t provide the sound she was looking for. Then she and Liz Cifani (who sometimes played two harps at once at the Chicago Lyric Opera) met and together they came up with the idea that maybe a harp with two rows of strings and levers on each side would achieve the sound they wanted to hear.  They approached two harp-makers, Triplett and Stoney End (harpmakers who are in our Exhibit Hall this year), to convince them to make a prototype and the contemporary double-strung harp was born. Ever since, the double-strung harp has been Laurie’s primary instrument.  Of course, Laurie is recognized as being a leading player!

Laurie’s third contribution to the folk harp world, began a year later.  She became "curious about the effects of music in medical settings" when her father was in intensive care in 1991 and not expected to survive. Laurie says, "A harp in a hospital was unheard of at the time, and the nurses were skeptical at first, but his vital signs consistently improved when I played." She says that soon they were saying, “Please don’t stop!” Then doctor whispered to Laurie, “Did you know Pythagoras said music heals?”  That got her attention!  Her father recovered, and so did a number of other patients for whom she was asked to play at the time.

We all know how one thing can lead to another and for Laurie that was co-creating a therapeutic music certification program which would address both music skills and the essential medical knowledge needed for working in a hospital or hospice. The Music for Healing and Transition Program was conceived in 1992 and became official in 1993. In 2002, she created the Clinical Musicians’ Home Study Certification Course, now known as Harp for Healing. Laurie was also a charter member of the National Standards Board for Therapeutic Music.  Although not active in these programs currently, she offers CEU workshops for graduates of therapeutic music programs.

Laurie believes that the success of therapeutic music is largely due not only to its profound beneficial effects on patients, but to the fact that "those harpers and other musicians who wish to make a difference in the world, without having to be concert performers, can do so in a very meaningful way."  Laurie has spent her professional musical life making a big difference in so many ways.  Please join us at the festival at Thursday night's concert to honor Laurie and hear her perform and be recognized with our Lifetime Achievement Award.

Kathy DeAngelo
Festival Director

Maybe YOU could win a Somerset scholarship!

February 2017: There are two different upcoming harp competitions, both happening on May 6, in which Somerset full festival scholarships are prizes for the winners.

Irish Music: For the 9th consecutive year, Somerset will be awarding 4 scholarships in the harp competitions at the Mid-Atlantic Fleadh Cheoil, at the Hilton Parsippany, Parsippany NJ. The deadline to enter the competition without penalty is April 3.

Scottish/Welsh Music: 2 scholarships in the Youth division and one in the adult level, are among the prizes at the Scottish & Welsh Harp Day in Fredericksburg, VA. For details: Harp Day website .

Since both these competitions are after our early-bird deadline, refunds will be made to any scholarship winner who is already signed up as an early-bird.

2016 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient went to...

william jackson William Jackson

April 6, 2016: This year's Somerset Lifetime Achievement Award will go to Scottish harper, composer and multi-instrumentalist, William Jackson. William Jackson has been at the forefront of traditional Scottish music for more than 40 years. He was a founding member in 1976 of the influential folk group, Ossian, whose recordings remain a highwater mark for Scottish music. Ossian's music influenced a generation of musicians, and was inducted into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame in November 2015. Acclaimed for his musicality on the Celtic harp, he is also a composer whose work is inspired by the history and landscape of Scotland. Billy pioneered an ambitious new form of “folk orchestra” in 1985 with his Wellpark Suite, followed by 4 other major works. He says, "I just write what I hear." William will be honored in the Thursday night concert following his performance with Grainne Hambly. Festival attendees are invited to join us for a reception following the concert.

8th Year for Festival Scholarships at Fleadh Cheoil

April 14, 2016: The Somerset Folk Harp Festival announces that it will award festival scholarships to the winning participants in the harp competition at the Mid-Atlantic Region Fleadh Cheoil, being in held in Parsippany NJ, June 24-26. The competition is adjudicated by Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann. “This is the 8th consecutive year that the festival is awarding scholarships,” says festival director Kathy DeAngelo. “This year the festival will be presenting three of Ireland’s most notable harpers, direct from Ireland, and having aspiring young harpers get a chance to rub shoulders with these players is an incredible opportunity.” Irish artists presenting and performing at the festival are Gráinne Hambly, Janet Harbison and Kathleen Loughnane. In addition, the festival is offering the 4th year of its specialty Youth Harp Program. First place fleadh winners in the 12-15 and 15-18 age groups will be eligible to participate in this program or attend any of its 100+ workshops over the course of its four days. The senior-level harp winner will also be awarded a full-festival admission. The winner of the under 12 competition will be awarded a Saturday festival admission. The prizes also include admission for the accompanying parent/guardian. The Somerset Folk Harp Festival takes place July 21-24 at the Hilton Parsippany, Parsippany NJ. (pictured are 2015 scholarship winners Emily Safko and Caroline Bouvier)

Sylvia Woods receives Lifetime Achievement Award

Photo (left to right): Ray Mooers, Sylvia Woods, Kathy DeAngelo

From the testimonial in our program guide: In early 1985 we were searching for a harp method to include with a new harp we were developing, and as the first step-by-step instruction book written exclusively for folk harp, Sylvia’s eternally-popular book, Teach Yourself to Play the Folk Harp, was the obvious choice. That’s how we came to know Sylvia. With more than 50,000 copies in print since its 1978 release, most of you probably already have this book, whose far-reaching effects were graphically illustrated at the Folk Harp Society conference in 1998 in Galveston, Texas. Sylvia was pulled up in front of a 300-person audience to receive a surprise award for the 20th anniversary of her book. The presenter asked the audience to stand up if this book had been an important part of their harp-learning experience, and almost as one, about 90% of the people in the room rose, clapping and cheering.

Besides this notable achievement, Sylvia’s illustrious career is studded with many other shining accomplishments. In 1980, she became the second American ever to win the senior All-Ireland harp championship. She played on numerous movie soundtracks, including Dead Poets Society, and wrote and recorded the gorgeous Harp of Brandiswhiere suite, which won several awards and helped to catapult the folk harp into the public eye. And, of course, she founded and still runs the iconic Sylvia Woods Harp Center, boundless source of all things harp.

As with many things of this nature, the whole of Sylvia’s influence on the folk harp world is greater than the sum of her individual accomplishments. She fell in love with the folk harp at a time when there wasn’t much to be found in the U.S. in the way of instruments, music or recordings, and she took up the banner with tireless enthusiasm and dedication. In 1976 she toured for 3 years with Robin Williamson and His Merry Band, and then began teaching harp, then writing, and then selling harps, and in the process of doing what she loved, she turned countless others on to the harp and helped nourish their interest. She is fun, unflappable, down-to-earth, and one of the hardest-working business persons that we have ever met. As a teacher, performer, composer, arranger, retailer and promoter of folk harps and harp music, Sylvia has inspired, encouraged, advised, guided and, yes, enabled more harpists and builders than we can ever know.

In fact, if it weren’t for Sylvia Woods, Dusty Strings harps may never have gotten very far. In 1985, we’d been building hammered dulcimers for a few years, and more and more people (no doubt inspired by Sylvia) were asking us if we could make harps as well. So we did some research, built a couple of prototypes, and took our first 25-string harp down to California to show it off to Sylvia to hopefully hear how great it was. When she asked why it only went down to a D, Ray replied, “Well, we play a lot of tunes in the key of D on the hammered dulcimer.” Sylvia laughed and with the directness and tact that are a large part of why she is so trusted an advisor, proceeded to give him our first two useful pieces of harp advice: 1) Harpists like having a low C string, and 2) Using wound strings in the bass makes them feel less like rubber bands. She sent Ray packing--back to the workshop for some more design refinements.

Since those early days, Sylvia has been a steadfast friend, mentor and sounding board, encouraging and inspiring us in our harp-building endeavors and tirelessly critiquing our instruction manuals so everything is accessible to the non-technical among those in the harp community. Over the years, her advice and support have been invaluable. By the end of 1999, Sylvia was so well established as a leader in the harp community that she was honored by the Harp Column Magazine as being among the “Most Influential Harp Forces of the Twentieth Century”. High praise indeed. Many, many people have benefited from Sylvia’s contributions to the folk harp world. Indeed, the mission statement of The International Society of Folk Harpers and Craftsmen, of which Sylvia was the first president, neatly sums up her life’s artistic goals to “educate, cultivate, promote, foster, sponsor, and develop among members and the general public an appreciation of the folk harp as a musical instrument and living cultural tradition; to develop and improve the quality of the instrument itself and of its related components by educating harp makers and encouraging communication between them; to encourage the composition and performance of music for the folk harp; and through education to improve the quality of performance of harpers.”

Sylvia has done and continues to do all these things and more and so we thank her with all our hearts and congratulate her on receiving this Lifetime Achievement Award.

–Sue and Ray Mooers, Dusty Strings

2015 Somerset Scholarships Awarded at Mid-Atlantic Fleadh Cheoil

fleadh winnersMay 9, 2015 PARSIPPANY NJ:
For the seventh consecutive year, the Somerset Folk Harp Festival has awarded festival scholarships to first-place winners at the harp competition at the Mid-Atlantic Fleadh Cheoil under the auspices of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann. The competition was at the Hilton Parsippany, the same location for the harp festival. The adjudicator for the harp competition was Ireland's esteemed Maire ni Chathasaigh, who offered encouragement and helpful advice to the participants at the end of each competition category. Festival director Kathy DeAngelo was there to award the prizes. Two competitors, Emily Safko and Kellianne Kornick, have received these scholarships for 3 consecutive years. Emily won the 12-15 age group (her previous 2 wins were in the under 12 group) and Kellianne the 15-18 group. The under 12 winner was Caroline Bouvier and the senior-level winner was Nuala Kelly. The first and second place winners at the Mid-Atlantic Fleadh are entitled to compete at the All-Ireland competition held in August in Sligo, Ireland. Ms. Safko also placed first in harp-slow airs. She won the All-Ireland in that category in 2013 in the under 12 group. Photo from left to right: Emily Safko, Caroline Bouvier and Kathy DeAngelo.

Sylvia Woods to receive festival's 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award

sylvia woodsMarch 4, 2015: You most likely have her best-selling "Teach Yourself Harp" book on your music shelf. Probably a couple of her records or CDs too. We're so lucky that Sylvia got that Celtic harp in Ireland in the early 70s, started playing with Robin Williamson and his Merry Band and then toured all over the world. Finding that it would be tough to have more harp players without there being more harps available for them to play, Sylvia was instrumental (pun intended) in promoting the nascent harpbuilding industry. Did you know that she was the first president of the International Society of Folk Harpers & Craftsmen? Wanting to build up the harp world led Sylvia to write and publish myriad number of harp music books. She created an entire catalog business and the Sylvia Woods Harp Center, brick-and-mortar and then on-line. We owe her a debt of gratitude in paving the way for the harp marketplace that has developed. Most harpers today can probably do a Kevin Bacon-like 6 degrees of separation for harp which would all link back to Sylvia Woods.You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in our harp community who has not been influenced by her, directly or indirectly.
The award will be presented at the festival's Thursday concert, in which Sylvia will also perform. A dessert reception in Sylvia's honor follows the concert. All festival goers are invited.

2015 Scholarship Opportunity

February 11, 2015: For the seventh consecutiive year, the Somerset Folk Harp Festival will be awarding scholarships to its festival to the winning participants in the harp competition at the Mid-Atlantic Region Fleadh Cheoil, being in held in Parsippany NJ, on May 9. The competition is adjudicated by Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann Mid-Atlantic chapter, which is part of the international organization based in Ireland. "My goal is provide another incentive for aspiring harp players to focus on traditional Irish music and do the competition," says festival director Kathy DeAngelo. "Both Somerset and the Fleadh Cheoil are incredible learning opportunities," says DeAngelo. Since 2009 the festival has been awarding full festival scholarships to the first place winners in harp at the Mid-Atlantic Fleadh Cheoil, the Irish music competition organized by Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann. Making all the good stuff at the festival available to young people is part of the festival's mission, and why the Youth Harp Program at Somerset was created (now in its third year).

Sam Milligan receives Lifetime Achievement Award

July 31, 2014: The Somerset Folk Festival awarded Sam Milligan its third Lifetime Achievement Award at its opening concert on July 31, recognizing Sam for his efforts to expand the harp world with his pioneering harp books, his role as the first editor of the American Harp Journal and his substantial contributions to the Historical Harp Society. Our tribute to Samuel Milligan was written by Nancy Hurrell, who met Sam 35 years ago and was inspired by him, follows:

There are exceptional persons in the harp world who make extraordinary contributions, gifts that just keep on giving. That’s the case with Sam Milligan. His bio might read, ‘harpist’, ‘arranger’ and ‘writer’, but the real experience beyond these terms is so much more. As harpist, this talented player performed in orchestras on Broadway and Radio City Music Hall, but his very first instrument was the Clark Irish harp, for which he began to arrange music, one of the first persons in America to publish music for the lever harp. Sam’s books for Lyon & Healy’s new Troubadour harp in the ‘60s became all-time classics. “Fun from the First” and “Medieval to Modern” are still the standards, decades later, for new harp students. As a writer, he not only contributed articles to journals, he blazed the trail for us as the founding editor of the American Harp Journal, America’s very first harp magazine. With an interest in the Celtic harp in those early days, he wrote a ground-breaking journal article in 1967, “The Oracular Nature of the Early Celtic Harp”.

Sam says he was born in a manger in Missouri, a barn really, during the depression, but a few weeks later he was taken to Texas where he grew up. His parents were both singers, and his Irish father proudly presented him with, what else, but an Irish harp! The harp would be his ticket to college, with scholarships to Del Mar and later the University of North Texas. He was so precocious that the year after he graduated, he was offered the position to teach harp at the university! While teaching, he took a graduate course in Renaissance music, and thus, experienced his ‘conversion’ to early music. Soon after, Sam decided to try his luck in New York City and while playing harp gigs, he landed a job with Lyon & Healy Harps in their NY showroom. At the time, Samuel Pratt was developing the new Troubadour lever harp and wanted to publish music for it, since most of the harp music was written for pedal harp. So Sam was asked to put together some of his arrangements, and the “Medieval to Modern” books were born. Meant for beginners, the music in Sam’s books was nonetheless sophisticated and interesting, from folk songs and medieval hymns to Bach. So good, in fact, they are in the repertoires of most harp players today. Over the years, Sam has continued to arrange marvelous solos and ensemble pieces regularly performed by groups around the country. 

I met Sam in Texas, some thirty-five years ago. I needed a harp technician to regulate my pedal harp and my teacher recommended Sam, but he was hard to get hold of because he was performing nightly at the Bronco Bowling Alley! When he did come, he happened to bring along a small medieval harp he had made, and I was fascinated by this small historical replica. Sam is the type of person who happily swims along in many streams at the same time, equally at home as harpist for a local Brooklyn opera company, in demand for over forty years as harp technician to NYC professionals, and a passionate promoter of early music from Baroque Spanish to the ancient Greek lyre. Many harp players were first introduced to medieval and Renaissance music in Sam’s books, long before the Historical Harp Society was formed. Sharing his love of all sorts of harp music makes him the perfect official liaison between the American Harp Society and the Historical Harp Society, a popular member of the boards of both groups. He is loved by everyone around him, probably because his mantra is “cheerfulness”. He admits to a fondness for Democritus, the “laughing philosopher.”

Just mention his name to someone who knows him, and they will smile. He is the kindest, most generous of persons, volunteering time and wisdom to organizations as well as offering funds for the HHS to provide an historical harp for college students. When you meet him, you might not even realize he is such a legend in so many aspects of the harp. Summing it up, Sam says that “Nobody promised me happiness, which is in any case a matter of the moment.  But I have managed to achieve contentment, which should be enough for any man.” How fitting we recognize this gentle giant in the harp world with a lifetime achievement award.  -Nancy Hurrell

Scholarship Winners Announced

kellianne kornickApril 26, 2014: The Mid-Atlantic Fleadh Cheoil was the place to be in Irish music on Saturday with the halls at the Hilton Parsippany ringing with fiddles, flutes, concertinas and lots of other instruments, including harp! Maureen Buscareno from the Somerset Folk Harp Festival was there to award scholarships to the first place winners in the solo harp competitions. In the 4 age-group categories, the winners are: Under 12: Sophie Lusty; 12-15: Emily Safko; 15-18: Kellianne Kornick; and Over 18: Mary Kate Lee. Sophie, Emily and Kellianne have won the scholarships in previous years.
Pictured at right is Maureen Buscareno and Kellianne Kornick with her award certificate. Below is Emily Safko.

emily safko

February 19, 2014: For the sixth consecutiive year, the Somerset Folk Harp Festival will be awarding scholarships to its festival to the winning participants in the harp competition at the Mid-Atlantic Region Fleadh Cheoil, being in held in Parsippany NJ, on April 26. The competition is adjudicated by Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann Mid-Atlantic chapter, which is part of the international organization based in Ireland. "My goal is provide another incentive for aspiring harp players to focus on traditional Irish music and do the competition," says festival director Kathy DeAngelo. The competition itself determines who can participate in the All-Ireland Fleadh, which will be held this year in Sligo later in the summer. "Both Somerset and the Fleadh Cheoil are incredible learning opportunities," says DeAngelo.

Parsippany's first place fleadh winners in the 12-15, 15-18, and over 18 age groups will be awarded full-festival scholarships. The "under 12" competition winner will be awarded a Saturday festival admission. An accompanying parent/guardian admission is also included in the prize for the juveniles. Festival scholarships enable the recipient to have their choice of four days of 125 workshops, attendance at concerts and other special events and Exhibit Hall. Two of the winners last year participated in the festival's first-ever Youth Harp Program. The Somerset Folk Harp Festival takes place July 31 to August 3 at the Hilton Parsippany, Parsippany NJ.
Emily Safko (pictured at right) received a festival scholarship at the 2013 Mid-Atlantic Fleadh Cheoil, and besides coming to Somerset, she went on to compete in Ireland later in the summer and earned first place in the under 12 slow airs competition.

NEWS IN 2014
Back Again: Somerset Welcomes the Historical Harp Society Conference

February 13: Kathy DeAngelo, director of the Somerset Folk Harp Festival, and Anne Humphrey, president of the Historical Harp Society, announce today that the HHS annual conference will be hosted at the Somerset Folk Harp Festival on Thursday, July 31, in Parsippany, NJ.

“Our conference will be one day this year,” says Humphrey, “and we’re hoping our members will stay the weekend to take advantage of the terrific historical harp program that Somerset has already programmed.” HHS members Nancy Hurrell and Sam Milligan are featured presenters at Somerset in addition to 8 others who will give workshops on a variety of historical harp topics.

Sam Milligan will be featured at Somerset on Thursday, presenting a musical lecture on “The Lyre in Ancient Greek Music.” At Somerset's Thursday night concert, Sam Milligan will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the festival, followed by a reception in his honor.

“We’re grateful that Somerset is having us back,” says Humphrey. Somerset hosted the HHS conference for the first time in 2011. Somerset is also hosting, for the first time, the Liturgical Harp Conference on Thursday.

“Logistically, it just makes so much sense,” says festival director Kathy DeAngelo, “to have one extended harp weekend so people can consolidate travel expenses and get the most bang for the buck.” The HHS will manage their own conference registrations, however, so those who want to attend both events will have to register for each one. The Liturgical Harp Conference though is a discounted add-on option on the Somerset registration.

Click here to see the historical harp focus area page for Somerset. Those who are interested in presenting at the Historical Harp Society Conference should contact Anne Humphrey .

Somerset presenter and HHS member Nancy Hurrell was gleeful when she heard the news. "Having the HHS Conference at Somerset is too good to pass up," she said. "It's not often the two festivals come together so conveniently."

lchlogoA match made in heaven: Liturgical Harp Conference Coming to Somerset!

December 12, 2013: The Somerset Folk Harp Festival announces today that it will be hosting the Liturgical Harp Conference this summer at its 2014 harp conference in Parsippany NJ. Atlanta harpist Rhett Barnwell and Seraphim Music, who have been involved with the nationally-recognized Liturgical Harp Conference since 1997, are collaborating with Somerset on programming and logistics to offer conference-goers of all musical tastes an unparalleled summer harp destination.

“I’m very excited to partner with Rhett Barnwell,” said festival director, Kathy DeAngelo, “We started talking about this last year and it’s been fun to kick around all the ideas for the presenters and workshops.”

The Liturgical Harp Conference will be held on the Thursday of the mega-harp festival weekend, which will in turn present a full slate of liturgical workshop themes over the following three days. “It’s a match made in heaven,” says Barnwell with a wink. “We want to combine and leverage our respective strengths into one great weekend.”

Conference attendees can choose to come for just the Liturgical Harp Conference on Thursday or make it part of the full Somerset festival package. With its mission to “Narrow Your Focus, Expand Your Horizon,” Somerset will have over 100 workshops from more than 35 presenters showcasing the incredible diversity of the harp world.

Somerset will take place from July 31 through August 3 at the Hilton Parsippany in Parsippany NJ. The workshops and roster of presenters will be launched on January 1, when early-bird registration begins. Watch the website for the program as it develops, including concerts, special events and the growing list of exhibitors and vendors.

NEWS IN 2013
The Impact of our Scholarships

After the 2013 festival, I was so gratified to receive this essay from one of our 2013 scholarship winners, which was passed along to me by Mike Connors, the student's harp teacher at the Penn-Griffin School of the Arts in High Point, North Carolina.

From Miranda Thomas, who traveled to Parsippany from her home in High Point, NC and had an incredible "harp vacation" in NJ!
Attending the Somerset Harp Festival was an unparalleled experience for me. I had never been surrounded by so many harps and harp players at one time! It was so nice to just relax and enjoy the music, knowing that you were in the company of people who shared your love for the folk harp--not strangers who would stare at the large, strangely-shaped instrument you were carrying around. Nothing could have prepared me for everything I would learn, all the talented people I would meet, and all the incredible concerts I would attend. Though it could have easily been overwhelming, the staff, presenters, and other participants were very welcoming. These four days were every harper’s dream—take some workshops, slip into the vendor’s hall whenever possible to try out some exquisite harps, then spend the evenings listening to a variety of breathtaking harp music. This compared to nothing I had ever experienced before! I was exposed to so many new types of music that it definitely expanded my horizon and gave me a different perspective of the harp. I picked a few highlights from each day, describing what it meant to me and what I learned.

Thursday was a great way to start out the festival, and it was only half a day. I thoroughly enjoyed Cormac De Barra’s workshop, Reel Easy Irish Dance Music. It was a good way to start off the weekend, and I brought home some wonderful new Irish tunes. The concert in the evening was excellent. I was exposed to many new types of harp music, such as Tyrolean (Andrea Stoeger), Caribbean Jazz (Patrice Fisher & Arpas), and double-strung (Cynthia Shelhart). I had never seen a double-strung harp played live. I also had the privilege of watching Louise Trotter perform. Not only is she a talented harper, but she is also very witty and fun with a great stage presence, bringing life to the concert. It was a great opportunity for me to witness Louise receive her Lifetime Achievement Award that evening. I had the privilege of taking a workshop from her the next day about Performance technique. To top off a wonderful night of new and diverse harp music, there was a reception afterward with delicious desserts and the opportunity to purchase sheet music and CDs.

On Friday, I attended a short workshop about Jacque Davison’s virtual harpworld. This will be a useful resource for me. I also attended Maeve Gilchrist’s Blazing Levers. I learned so much that I will be able to employ as I receive more harp training. She has such poise and talent, and you can tell she loves the music she plays. The Concert that night was my favorite of the festival. Therese Honey played Medieval Music. I loved the uniqueness of the sounds and melody, and the bass accompaniment that she created complemented the melody beautifully. Martha Gallagher put on an extremely entertaining performance filled with laughter, serious contemplation, and delightful music. I would love to see her do another show like that. Sunita Staneslow played beautifully, letting some notes ring out and giving others the lightest, airiest sounds. I thoroughly enjoyed the sweet lullaby. After my workshop with Maeve, I was incredibly excited for her performance. She did not disappoint! If I had to choose my favorite piece of the night it would be Sunita and Maeve’s duet of The Butterfly. They took a piece I already loved and made it even better and more exciting, something I never would have thought was possible. Watching Maeve perform with Nic Gareiss must have put a smile on everyone’s face. The two obviously are very talented and work incredibly well together. Nic’s dance movements complemented Maeve’s music, and vice versa. This was a unique concert that I will never forget.

Like the two previous days, Saturday was another spectacular day. I loved Grainne Hambly’s morning workshop, especially learning about tricks and patterns for left-hand bass accompaniment. She is a wonderful teacher and an even more talented harper. To top that off, I took William Jackson’s workshop Arranging the Songs of Robert Burns, which was a lovely contrast to Grainne’s fast-paced Irish slides and polkas that I love. In the afternoon, I went to the “listening room” for Spanish Medieval Music. The conference room was packed, but it was well worth it to hear the music. Elizabeth Mondragón, the mezzo-soprano, has a stunning voice that paired beautifully with the Medieval harps. Those were played by Samuel Milligan, who gave a very informative history and background of each piece. Pamela Golkin played the bells, pandereto, and vihuela de rodo, which I had never seen played live before. This was a unique experience that I thoroughly enjoyed. Sunday afternoon’s concert was outstanding. It was a joy to watch the Youth Harp Ensemble perform. They reminded me of the Penn-Griffin Harp Ensemble I play with in North Carolina. I also enjoyed the performances of the talented Kim Robertson, Grainne Hambly and William Jackson.

Being at the Somerset Harp Festival meant that I was able to hear, meet, and learn from some of the most talented and well-known harpers from around the globe. This was an opportunity I never could have imagined for myself, and I owe it all to Ms. DeAngelo, for offering the scholarship, and to Mr. Connors, for selecting me. I am extremely grateful for such an unforgettable and life-enriching experience. I learned so much, and I know I will continue to pull from my experiences at Somerset for years to come.

Archive: 2013 Scholarship Recipients Announced

Create an Irish Dance Tune!

Cormac de Barra's Create an Irish Dance Tune workshop participants on Friday morning did in fact create an Irish dance tune and they named it The Trip to Parsippany. For anyone who wants it, here are audio files of Cormac playing the tune (he recorded this when he got back to Dublin) and the sheet music for all those who don't play by ear!
MP3 audio file
MP4 audio file
WAV file
PDF transcription

Thanks to Dennis Gormley for transcribing the tune!

Louise Trotter recognized for Lifetime Achievement

July 23: 2013: Here's the Thank You card I received from Louise following the festival:
Dear Kathy:
How can I thank you enough for all the courtesies you extended to me this past few months? It was such a delight to get to attend Somerset, and to receive all those accolades was icing on the cake. I hope I can live up to the kind words that you said and printed in the program! It has been my joy through the years to play the harp for others, and later to teach group workshops at conferences & festival. It's so fulfilling when some person who attended would tell me later they received help and encouragement from something they learned. My dad was a lifelong music teacher and would e so proud. You are a wonder at organizing to be able to handle all the hundreds of details involved in producing Somerset. You are a pro in every way.
Love, Louise

July 19: 2013:
If you weren't at the festival on Thursday July 18, you missed a brilliant performance by one of the harp community's most-beloved performers and presenters, Louise Trotter. Louise was awarded our second Lifetime Achievement Award following her performance and we held a reception following the concert in her honor. Here is the testimonial we included in the 2013 program:

You can’t pack much more into one professional lifetime than what Louise Trotter has accomplished in her long and distinguished career as a musician and harpist, teacher and performer. She says that she started playing piano when she was 6 years old and knew right away that she wanted to be a musician because she loved performing right from the start.  Performing has been her life’s passion. Every time you see her perform she brings such energy to the stage and engages her audience on a very personal level. Even if you’d never seen her before, she finishes her performances and you feel you know her. The wit.  The charm.  The precise yet sensitive touch on the harp and the beautiful arrangements that speak to the years of maturity and experience.

We’re lucky that her father really liked the harp and built her one when she was 9, though she says she didn’t particularly have his passion for it at the beginning. Perhaps picking up on his being a life-long musician, she eventually realized that harp was her ticket to a music career. She felt she could do interesting things with it because of its novelty then. Her first professional gig at 18 was an 8-week stint doing a collegiate variety show, traveling across Texas with the troupe by train, doing  2 solos with the stage band in 4 shows a day. By the end of the summer she had earned $150. What a start! After moving to Houston in 1975 with her husband and 3 children, she found she could get paid for playing the harp. She says “You have to perform as much as possible to develop stage presence and confidence.” And for decades she’s done just that and it shows.

By the folk harp revival in the early Eighties and with the creation of the Folk Harp Journal and the International Society of Folk Harpers and Craftsmen (ISFHC), Louise really got into developing her stage act and performances and she began teaching more and more workshops.  She does it all. She has CDs. She has books. From pop standards, hymns and spirituals, jazz classics, and of course, her country & western influences, Louise plays everything with consummate style. Then she puts all of that down on paper and publishes it in terrific arrangements for solos, duets, and  ensembles. The sheer breadth of her recording and publishing career is a testament to her energy and creativity.

Louise Trotter has performed at many Somerset festivals and it’s good to have her back. She is a beloved figure here and her workshops are always popular. She just has a way of connecting with you at whatever level you’re at. Tap into her experience and enjoy her workshops this weekend.

The ISFHC gave her their Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003. We’re overdue  in recognizing her contribution to our harp community. We present Louise with our second Lifetime Achievement Award and recognize her extraordinary career.  Please be sure to chat her up while you’re here this weekend and extend your congratulations too.

Louise's handout

We were short of handouts for Louise Trotter's Thursday class Playing Fancy and there was some confusion at the festival desk on what was in the handout when people tried to pick them up. Our apologies on that. Click here for a PDF of the entire handout.

Arpas En Armonia & Somerset!

UPDATE: July 24, 2013
Our attendees donated 2 full boxes of used sheet music and harp strings at the festival. Besides that, they "passed the hat" at La Fiesta on Saturday night and the band donated all of the hat to Arpas en Armonia, enough to buy 15 levers for harps in Guatemala

June 17, 2013: In 2003, Patrice Fisher and Carlos Valladares began the Arpas En Armonia program at El Sitio Cultural Center in Antigua, Guatemala to develop a music and harp program. Since then they have partnered with a local carpenter who has built over 50 harps for their growing school of enthusiastic young harp students. Using Skype, Patrice has developed a resident local teacher in 22-year old Brendy Boj through Saturday morning lessons and the program reaches into 3 cities as well as El Salvador. Click here to see the video about this program and hear them play.

The project inspires a spirit of international friendship between North America and Central America. Seven harpists and teachers have travelled, at their own expense, to give volunteer harp lessons and concerts with Arpas students. Over the years Patrice and Carlos, in addition to teaching and doing concerts, have collected used harp strings and music and brought them down for use by their Guatemalan students.

We are so lucky in America to be able to come to events like the Somerset Folk Harp Festival and share our love of music and the harp. Many of our attendees come to the festival to revel in the cornucopia of harps and music in the Exhibit Hall. Probably many of you have lots of sheet music and music books at home that you no longer use. Make way for new music on that shelf, and cull through your collection and put it to use! This year Somerset will partner with Arpas En Armonia to collect unused sheet music and music books at the festival, which will be brought to the students in Guatemala to use and enjoy. If anyone has recently replaced levers on the harp, and still has the old ones, they could use those as well!

So besides bringing your harp to Somerset, we ask that you bring a few contributions for our Arpas En Armonia music collection box, which will be displayed at the Registration Desk at the festival.

Let's expand the harp community

Harp Groups and Circles can lead a jam, set up a meeting space
If you're a member of a harp group or harp circle and you want to reach out to potentially new members while you're at Somerset, we're going to make it easier to connect. Contact me to lead a "meet & greet" harp circle one of the evenings after the concert or perhaps during the lunch hour. We have plenty of space available for afernoon or late-night jams and we'll get your group's jam listed in the daily schedule of events. We'd like to have the friendly and experienced players among you coax along the shy and less experienced harpers or newbies wanting to connect up with people from their area. If you have a group that just wants to meet up, ask me to arrange a meeting space for you. I'm happy to do it.

You Gotta Have Harp: Harp Pool Loaner Program Again

Traveling by Plane or Train? 

We have a number of generous vendors who are making a small number of small harps available at no cost for the temporarily harpless. So if you're coming to the festival by plane or train and can't bring your harp with you, we will have a harp pool available. Come to the registration desk and sign out a harp for the day. Our friends at the Virginia Harp Center and Sligo Harps put quite a few harps in the pool last year as well as several on our staff who brought extra harps. How nice!