Colorado Celtic Harp Society 2017 Harp Retreat
By Rebecca Markel
Thanks to all of the wonderful harpists who organized the retreat: Joanna Cook, Don Hislberg, Robin Freed, and Carolyn Hinds. Without the silent team working behind the scenes we would not have a retreat. Due to these fine people the group grows from year to year. We are proud to have such an outstanding team working on behalf of all Celtic Harpists.
We had a horrific snowstorm so it was difficult for some harpers to attend the retreat. We missed all of you. In spite of the fear that another storm would move in, many harpers came from far away regions to celebrate the music of the Celtic Harp.
As I drove into the Franciscan Retreat Center in Colorado Springs on Friday afternoon, I was looking for the beautiful herd of deer. There were none to be seen. I was afraid the weather had driven them away, but after a great night's sleep, there they were. Amazing!
On arrival the first day, we all played our harps together. Having so many harps singing at the same time was truly magical.
A new member to the CCHS is Don Hilsberg. He has been a music educator for over forty years, and a principal harpist for a long time. He taught us about “heavenly tone.” It is not how loud you play, but with how much expression you play. He gave helpful tips on how to keep annoying callouses from appearing on finger tips. Callouses may not give you the tone you want.
Included in our package were three incredible "all you can eat" meals each day. We were offered free coffee and tea throughout the retreat.
The Friday evening social helped us get acquainted with each other. Harpers from neighboring states and the Western Slope of Colorado were such a delight. We not only talked about matters of the harp, but also matters of the heart. New friendships were woven into the fabric of our lives.
Robin Freed from Montrose, Colorado, persevered to get us off paper music and into the world of playing by ear. She passed out cards with songs, and we each in turn tried to pick out the notes for our song, and by golly she did it. Most were playing by ear at the end of the session including chords in the left hand. Robin shared her life with us and amazed us all with stories of touring the United States with her harp. She has been faithfully playing the Celtic Harp for fourteen years.
Robin gave us a handout on how to play Pachelbel’s Canon, giving us tips on how to improvise and play the Canon by ear. She moved off of Pachelbel’s Canon and played by ear an incredible version of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. I hope she comes back to share more gems with us next year.
We reconvened, playing together until we broke off into groups so that we could play for each other before our evening social.
Don Hilsberg delighted us with a demonstration on tying a knot at the end of a harp string using pipe cleaners. As everyone knows, it is difficult to play the harp with a string missing! Rather than taking your instrument to the store for a replacement, it is more convenient knowing how to string your own harp. An artist in the group drew a 3D design of how to accomplish this on a white board. Don went from person to person to make sure that we could tie a knot. Not only could he help tie harp strings, but he is an artful story teller which made the harp string practice a delight.
Don went on to teach a Master Class. A Master Harpist listens to another harpist play and gives them professional feedback on how to improve their playing. We learned a great deal, and those who participated gleaned great knowledge into their own harp playing. Hopefully, if we are offered the opportunity for another Master Class, more harpers will have the courage, including myself, to take advantage of this opportunity. Don’s care, concern and gentle style definitely took the fear away.
The evening of May 20th and the morning of May 21st harpers performed their pieces for the entire group. We had such fun, and all the music was beautiful. One harper was so brave! She played her first harp solo using both hands. She showed a tremendous amount of courage and grit. The piece she chose was beautiful and a testament to her resolve.
In the closing circle we had two groups that played Einini (Little Bird). Prior to the retreat we were able to pick which version we wanted to play. We practiced separately and shared our music with each other in the closing circle.
After an incredible lunch, we packed up our harps with mixed emotions. We were happy to be going home but sorrowful to leave the music and each other.
We look forward to the excitement of learning something new at our CCHS retreat next year.