Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Harping On!

Harping On!

I guess because I play the harp, it always seems strange when people come up to us at gigs and say that this is the first time they have seen a harp in real life. 

I’m always happy to talk about the harp and often will let them sit down and try it.  There are usually a number of questions they ask and I’m also happy to answer them.  However, I thought it might be good to have a short description of the harps I have, with some answers to the usual questions.  I promise there will be no technical stuff!  Well, not much.

I think I will start with my smallest harp – a Triplett Avalon Lap Harp with 25 nylon strings.   My lap harp has a full set of sharping levers, which are small mechanisms mounted near the top of each string, and are designed to shorten the string length the exact amount necessary to raise the pitch a half step when the handle is lifted. Sharping levers enable easy key changes and playing of accidentals.  Not all harps are fitted with a full set, some only have sharping levers on the 'C' and 'F' strings, but I also use them on the 'A', 'E' and 'B' strings to allow me to quickly tune to flats.  I promised no technical stuff, so I will stop there and just say they are very useful.
The strings on my lap harp are nylon and all the red strings indicate the ‘C’ note and all the blue strings indicate the ‘F' note.  This helps me to know where I am, as there a number of octaves to deal with.  Here is a photo of four of my harps, The lap harp is in the front.

After a number of different celtic lever harps I finally have a beautiful Triplett Signature 36 string harp (Fiona).  Now the larger celtic harps have a mixture of strings.  The low strings can be metal wound on metal, as they go higher they can go through nylon wound on metal, nylon wound on nylon and the rest can be plain nylon.  Again, Fiona has a full set of sharping levers and a beautiful sound.  Not all harps are equal in the sound department and that is the most important consideration when choosing a harp.  I have tried some that were very dull and thumpy (that's techie jargon!).  If someone is looking to buy a harp, I always tell them to try it, don't buy unseen.  Fiona is the first on the left in the above photo, as you can see she has a beautiful carved swan's head with amber eyes. 

Last year, we purchased a Kortier Electro Acoustic 36 string Celtic Lever Harp (named Mac, for my mother who was Scottish).  Again, the same attributes as Fiona but there is a pick-up under each string and so we can plug her in to an amplifier and make her quite loud!!   Handy when you play at a dinner for 500 happy, chatting diners.

Then came my Selena Concert Pedal Harp manufactured in Russia (Anya).  I couldn't believe it when we found this and were able to buy it.  I always wondered what it would be like to play a pedal harp and now I know and I just love it.  Anya is the big one on the right of the photo.  This is the harp I receive most questions about, so I have gathered a little info from the web for you.  I'm sorry to say some of it is a little technical but someone may be interested.  Here is a little taste.

A pedal harp typically has six and a half octaves (46 or 47 strings), weighs about 80 lb (36 kg), is approximately 6 ft (1.8 m) high, has a depth of 4 ft (1.2 m), and is 21.5 in (55 cm) wide at the bass end of the soundboard. The notes range from three octaves below middle C (or the D above that) to three and a half octaves above, usually ending on G. The tension of the strings on the sound board is roughly equal to a ton. The lowest strings are made of copper or steel-wound nylon, the middle-lower strings of gut, and the middle to highest of nylon, or more or all gut.

Pedals of a harp
The pedal harp uses the mechanical action of pedals to change the pitches of the strings. Pedals were first used in 1697.  On the modern harp there are seven pedals. The pedals (in order from left to right) on the left side of the harp are D C B, and E F G A are on the right. Each pedal is attached to a rod or cable within the column of the harp, which then links to a series of moving rods within the neck. When a pedal is moved with the foot, the column rod is moved, which then moves the linkages and turns either or both of two small discs at the top of 
strings. The discs are studded with two pins that press against the string as they turn, shortening the vibrating length of the string. The pedal has three positions. In the top position no pins are in contact with the string and all notes are flat. In the middle position the top disc presses its pins against the string, resulting in a natural. In the bottom position the second, lower disc is turned, shortening the string again to create a sharp.  In each position the pedal can be secured in a notch so that the foot does not have to keep holding it in the correct position, unlike piano pedals.  There is a lot more information on the Pedal Harp on Wikipedia on the internet.

I thoroughly enjoy playing all of my harps and fairly recently became interested in the Clarsach, wire strung harp.  Celtic harp is a general term referring to a triangular harp traditional to Brittany, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.  It is known as a telenn in Breton, cláirseach in Irish, clĂ rsach in Scottish Gaelic and telyn in Welsh.  In Ireland and Scotland it was a wire-strung instrument requiring great skill and long practice to play, and was associated with the Gaelic ruling class.   

Phil was able to find me a Triplett 33 string Excelle II Wire Harp (Nessa) and so I have another learning curve to undertake.  Harps with wire strings should be played with your fingernails to ensure the beautiful bell like sound.  We really enjoy Patrick Ball playing his wire strung harp, check out the sound.  Normally, non-wire strung harps are played with the pad of the finger and require short nails.  It seems to be a very different technique and I have to have short nails, so that I can still play my other harps effectively.  The wire strings are phosphor bronze and are a gold colour.  They are also quite a challenge to tune, especially in the upper register.  The slightest turn of the tuning lever and you can zoom past the perfect pitch for that note and have to start all over again!

So that's all the harps I have currently, but there could always be another one needing a good home!

The other question is about my sheet music "book".  I have taken to using my ipad to store all my sheet music with a great app that allows me to build setlists and annotate on scores.  It is so much easier that carrying around a huge book of music.  Then I found out about a great bluetooth gadget that allows me to turn the pages on my ipad with two foot pedals - right to go forward and left to go back.  I'm still struggling a bit with this, as my brain finds it hard to concentrate on my hands and also turn pages with my feet.  This becomes even more difficult when I'm playing the pedal harp as I already have seven pedals, with the page turner that makes nine.  Feels like I'm tap dancing some days!

I'm sure I have missed something, so if there is anything else you would like to know, please just let me know.



Saturday, 15 February 2014

My Artful Dragon Studio

Hi everyone.  

I have finally decided to begin a blog about my Artful Dragon Studio!!  I know, it's about time! This will allow me to share all the new ideas I have for my art and craft work and hopefully some of you will share yours with me.  

When I first came to Canada I began trying my hand at art, in particular Pointillism and although I enjoyed it, having to work got in the way and the only time I really had was weekends.  I completed a number of pieces of wildlife, the Brockville Museum and Fulford Place and had prints made from them.  Although I don't actively draw at present we still enjoy the originals on our wall.

I now have a jewelry studio called The Artful Dragon - the name came from the first jewelry I made - polymer clay dragons on gemstones.  I have always loved stories about dragons so, to me, it seemed logical.  Of course, I began trying other types of jewelry and it just keeps on expanding.

There is just so much out there that I would like to try and now that I'm retired I can do lots of that.

My Collections (so far):

Wired by Lea

An art form all it’s own – Sterling Silver Wire is coiled, wound and bent in flowing, free form designs to complement the beautiful gemstones, pearls and crystals used in each piece.

The only thing I have found when using wire is that no piece ever comes out the same way as before, each piece is unique.


Art Clay is manufactured in Japan by two companies, who recycle and reclaim metals, including the precious metals gold and silver.

These companies are "green" companies. They collect metals, which have already been used, such as those in computer printed circuit boards, silver from photographic supplies and X- Ray film. A portion of this harvest becomes Art Clay Silver and Art Clay Gold.

The metal clay combines these reclaimed metals with non-toxic, organic binders. When the piece of jewelry is fired in a kiln, the binders burn away, leaving objects made of 0.999 pure silver - aka fine silver.

Every effort has been made to ensure the safety of artists using Art Clay and the result is a product, which can be handled safely. Even the production processes used to create art clay are designed to have minimal effects on the environment.

Art Clay is an environmentally friendly material that does not lose its beauty in the process. 

Mythical Moments Collection

This collection features wearable art inspired by the world of dragons.

Each dragon in this collection is hand sculpted from polymer clay and decorated with gemstones.  No two are ever the same. 

Each piece comes with it’s own name and story, together with a description of the folklore, legend and healing properties of the gemstones used.

The piece on the right is Rylar -The Music Man.  Zoom in to read his story!

To see more of my work please go to Flickr Lea Hamblett

Then, this winter I dragged out my Parchment Craft/Pergamano box that I had stored away back in 2001.  I felt like a change and so began re-learning how to do this.  I really enjoy small detail work and this is really small!  Here is a parchment wine glass shade on a wineglass.  In the wineglass is a battery tea light to illuminate the design.

It's been fun finding new patterns and turning them into cards.  I also made some wine glass parchment shades and baby bootees.  However, I really have to get back to practising my harp playing, which I have been ignoring in favour of crafting.  Hopefully, I will be able to do both.

Keep on creating!!


Monday, 27 January 2014

Our Musical Journey

My husband Phil and I set up home together in Canada 25 years ago.  Little did I know where this move from England would take me!

Before leaving England, I had delved into the art of Ceramics and then my Canadian life gave me the opportunity to become a multi-media artist and a jewelry designer and creator.  It also brought the joy of making music to my soul.  I had no formal musical training and decided to begin by trying to learn the piano and flute, followed very quickly by the discovery of the harp.  

Phil has been playing guitar for many years, first in rock bands in the 60's and then on to classical and acoustic guitar in more recent years.  He has also dabbled in piano and will be doing more of that for our next CD (hopefully soon!).

We were on a visit to Lake Placid in New York and went into a cafe for coffee.  A CD was playing and it fascinated us.  Well, of course, we bought a copy - it was by Loreena McKennitt.  I knew right away that I wanted to learn to play the harp and so with a 29 String Tat Stanley celtic harp, I began my journey (passage).

It has been 14 years now and I have owned many different harps.  Currently, I have five.  They range from a Triplett small lap harp, through Triplett Celtic Lever, Kortier Electric Acoustic, Triplett wire and finally my Russian made Selena concert pedal harp.  

 I began my harp learning journey with a book and VHS video from Sylvia Woods, this was invaluable for me and allowed me to learn at my own pace.  Much later I was able to take a couple of lessons with Sharlene Wallace, a wonderfully talented, Canadian harp player - amazing!!

During my piano, flute and harp early years I met two ladies through my work who encouraged me to join them to form the trio, Avalon (this was a recording made at an outside event at Fulford Place Museum in Brockville).  We played at a number of different events - boy, was that scary for me!  Then Phil joined us with his acoustic guitar playing.  It was such a joy for us to play together with this group and we are still playing with them today.  
My newest harp -
a wire strung by Triplett

A few years ago Phil and I decided to form our own duo - Harpeggia and we have been lucky enough to be invited to play at local events.  I'm always so very nervous, but I'm not doing too badly for an untrained musician!  I hear that the more you play at events the less nervous you are.  Hmmmm, not so far!

Recording Artists!

I retired from my career as an Executive Assistant in 2012 and so 2013 was my first year of being able to do whatever I wanted to, when I wanted to.  Quite the experience! Anyway towards the end of the summer we wanted to record Harpeggia playing to see what we sounded like.  This grew into a monster when we discovered Garageband on my Apple Laptop.  What a great App.  Well, it took some struggling with techie stuff and we had to buy a new gidget to ensure the harp was recorded well, but we finally had enough pieces down to make into a CD.  Phil also added some tracks from our keyboard as well as guitar.  We did all the artwork, photographs and layout ourselves, as well as recording the CD's and packaging them.  The final result was great - we still listen to the CD and can't believe it is ours!  Check out the first track from the CD on youtube

This is the sleeve note from the CD:

Both of us have celtic roots and have been enjoying this music all of our lives.  In fact, it was Celtic music that inspired Lea to learn to play the harp and Phil to rekindle his love for the acoustic guitar.

We are so very proud of this, our very first CD. Parallel Passage is how we see our journey from teenagers to retirees, with a love for music and each other.

A huge thank you to all our family and friends for their encouragement and belief in our dreams.

This CD is dedicated to a feisty, Scottish lady (Lea's Mum) Barbara Stuart Cairns Cummings MacLean Darley, who would have been so proud of us.

The moral of this story is 
that it is never too late to realize your dreams!