Somerset Harp Festival Online

Modal Improvisation Magic

This year's All-Day Sunday Special with Deborah Henson-Conant

Modes & Improv: Perfect Together

This workshop is about UNLEASHING the MODAL MAGIC that the harp naturally has by combining those modes with IMPROVISATION. If you’ve never done improv, this is a great place to start. If you’re already improvising, MODAL IMPROV is an exciting way to add new flavors and sounds to the improv you’re already playing.

Combine MODES with IMPROV and you expand your entire musical world. This is a great workshop for harpists interested in therapeutic playing – and for harpists interested in adding a bit of jazzy or Celtic flavor to their repertoire without having to spend months learning new music.

Why learn to play in MODES?

You probably don't realize that so much of music goes beyond the regular major scales. This all-day Sunday event is your chance to take a deep dive into Modes and find out how they can be your gateway to improvising and freeing you from staring at sheet music! Genres from the Blues to Celtic to Pop Tunes to Therapeutic use modes that convey many moods - from a peaceful, responsive piece you can play at a bedside - to raucous, wild and fun. You'll get plenty of hands-on playing and hear the huge difference between style and structure. Learn how modal structures free you to create improvisations and develop your own style.

Long before there were pedals, levers, sharps or flats, there were MODES–and MODES are a powerful, easy–and underused–way to create variety, flavor – and fun – in your playing. Simply by shifting into a different MODE, you can change the entire flavor of the music you’re playing. Some MODES have a Celtic flavor, some are dreamy and some are Jazzy or Bluesy.

Harpists' Superpower? Playing in MODES

Other instrumentalists have to ‘learn the modal scales’ but we don’t have to do that. Our instruments are naturally MODAL instruments. All we have to do is reconceive what note we think of as the ‘root’ of the key we’re in and we open up a new mode on the harp.

“If it’s that easy, why have a full-day workshop in MODES?” Good question! It IS that easy – you could literally play the scale of each of the 7 modes right now. But playing a scale doesn’t expand your self-expression – and expanding self-expression is what my teaching is all about.

Learn to Create Moods with Modes

Knowing how to improvise with MODES lets you create many moods - from a peaceful, responsive improv you can play at a bedside - to raucous, wild and fun – and MODAL IMPROV MAGIC is a totally HANDS-ON class where you’ll play, play, play – and walk away with new skills and creative tools, and an expanded repertoire that you create from tiny, easy-to-learn snippets.

And guess what? You already know two of the modes! Ionian and Aolian – you just call them “Major” and “Minor.” You already know how different Major (Ionian) sounds from Minor (Aolian) – so imagine how much variety you can add to your playing if you added THREE MORE modes as well! And here’s the OTHER best part: you don’t need to touch a lever or pedal to open up the realm of MODES in your harp. Each mode is like looking into the same house from a different window – you’re going to see and hear completely different things, but you don’t need a whole new house in order to do that.

In this workshop you’ll be looking at your harp through the windows of different musical modes, combined with improv, and you’ll find sounds you absolutely loved – sounds that were always there, if only you knew there was another way to look at them.

  • THE DORIAN MODE is the mode used to create songs like Eleanor Rigby, Scarboro Fair and Moondance. It’s also your access to Celtic flavored improvs and to a simple Blues!
  • THE MIXOLYDIAN MODE also gives you a Celtic feel, but with a brighter sound – and when you combine Dorian and Mixolydian together, you can create a lovely little two-song Celtic-flavored suite.
  • THE LYDIAN MODE is mysterious and beckoning. It’s great for dreamy, therapeutic improvisations that have a taste of Debussy.
  • THE PHRYGIAN MODE is dark but with a beautiful ray of light in the middle of it, like a medeival romance with a magic gem at the center.

Modal Improvisation Magic will give you plenty of play-along time with DHC in this workshop.

Modal Improvisation Magic can be your first step to breaking away from the notes on the page. Not only is it a shortcut to accompaniment and solo playing, modes can be a step towards expanding into all forms of improv, from meditation music to jazz.

About Deborah Henson-Conant

Deborah Henson-Conant is a Grammy-Nominated Composer/Performer, creator of her own online school that teaches hundreds of harp players world wide improvisation, arrangement and performance techniques. She the author of the bimonthly column “Harpist Reinvented” for the Harp Column. She’s created and performed her own music and music-theater works in one-woman shows and with symphony orchestras throughout the U.S. She's released more than a dozen recordings including the Grammy-Nominated “Invention & Alchemy” (which we saw as part of an exclusive showing at last year's festival) of her original works with symphony orchestra. Her mentorship program “Harness Your Muse” coaches harpists in creating their own original shows and recordings. DHC has been doing full-day Sunday add-ons for the festival since 2015. We enjoy collaborating with her to extend our attendees experience at the festival.

The Itinerary for Modal Improvisation Magic

Your day with Deborah Henson-Conant will be in-person in Parsippany AND simultaneously "live on Zoom". This workshop will be recorded and available for replay later to just workshop participants.

10-11:30am Session 1: Meditative Modes with breaks.

Noon: Somerset Concert & Lunch Break

12-1:30pm Lunch Break: If you're at home, go to the kitchen and grab your lunch. Talk a walk. Chill out. Don't forget to watch the Somerset Sunday concert.In-person attendees can grab a quick lunch and bring it to the concert or duck into the Exhibit Hall for a quick last-pass through the showroom.

1:30-3pm Session 2: Blues Modes

3:30-5pm Session 3:Jazz Modes

What to Wear: Please dress comfortably and come ready to play.
What to Bring:
Recording device if you want to but no music stand needed! These sessions, however, will be recorded live as they happen and are available at a later date for replay.
How do I Attend? Online-Only Registrants will get access to the DHC page on Somerset Online which will have the Zoom link. In-person attendees just show up to the workshop room listed in your program guide.

Sign Me Up Now! Add Modal Improv Magic to your Somerset registration for just $100. Not coming to the festival? Get this workshop as a Standalone Sunday for $175. Use the pulldown menu in the window to make your selection.

DHC Sunday Modal Improv Magic
Email for your account