Monday, 7 May 2012

Harps, Angels and other Magic Stuff

Fringing on day 7 is frantic and  busy - even with the shower that has occupied much of today. Fringe Sunday was pretty fab (so I hear). Among the star turns was High Jinx. I also had the chance to meet delightful harpist Kathryn Lewis. Here are some very quick interviews to whet your appetites.

1] You want to showcase the versatility of the harp. What can't you play on it? Can you do a dirty blues for example?
We want to challenge people’s perceptions of this tinkling instrument in the corner of a drawing room or just a swirly series of notes from the back of the orchestra so we’re putting on two shows: Secrets of the Harp is more of an illustrated/audio guide where we’ll be displaying different types of harp, showing the audience what the levers and pedals do and playing music associated with the harp throughout history – folk songs, classical pieces, burgled piano repertoire, dance music (traditional folk dancing, not drum n bass). Then we’ve also got a run at the Barrel Room – A History of Popular Music as Told by the Harp and it’s early music, jazz, film music, bit of pop - we hope to surprise and delight. Not all music works brilliantly because the harp isn’t a chromatic instrument, plus our personal passions are baroque, classical, folk and the Great American Songbook but I’m sure a determined harpist could bring blues to life!

2] The harp belongs in heaven. Do you feel like angels when you play?
Perhaps fallen ones.

3] What's it like transporting two harps? Any horror stories you can share? (Getting into the Barrel Room won't be easy).
Liath plays a lever harp which is really transportable – it’s about five feet tall and weighs 30lbs or 13.5kg, she’s 5’10” so she just picks it up and carries it about. I play a modern concert harp which is six feet tall (I am 5’2”), weighs nearly six stone (36kg) with all the mechanism, therefore the weight, at the top of the instrument – it’s sometimes like controlling a wayward windsurf board. They’re also essentially quite vulnerable instruments – Liath’s harp carries 1,000lbs of tension, mine 2,000lbs plus it contains 2,000 moving parts.

We’re pretty old hands at harp wrangling now so not much fazes us but I did come unstuck a couple of years ago when I turned up to play at a wedding to find it was at the top of an English Heritage Tower – nearly 100 stone steps, not a ramp, lift or porter on the premises, only a gaggle of very sweet retired lady volunteers worried I would scratch the walls. Getting it up the stairs was pretty wild but coming down took about 45 minutes! The next day I could barely walk but I had another wedding - just a ceremony, which generally takes about an hour. However, this one was conducted by a 97-year-old Catholic priest who kept taking little naps throughout the service (I don’t think the sound of the harp was helping him to stay awake either) so my hour-long ceremony took three hours! It was a very stiff and sore harpist crawling into bed that night.

4] Has harp music changed much over the last 20 years or so? If so what are cutting-edge harpists up to?
I think that the harp is pretty weighed down by people’s perceptions and the public’s preference for standard repertoire - the classical harp repertoire hasn’t altered very much at all in the past 20 years. The harp is the original folk instrument and folk music continues to grow and develop – Liath’s playing some beautiful new folk writing. The harp has been around for over 5,000 years and the concert harp has barely changed since it was patented in 1810, but we’re all fighting the good fight; trying to get composers excited about the harp, commissioning new works, performing raids on other instruments’ repertoires and continually challenging ourselves and the instrument. It’s great to see Tom Monger enjoying success with Florence and The Machine, I think that’s put the harp in a new context for a lot of people. There’s going to be some great cutting-edge harping at this year’s Fringe.

Secrets of the Harp can be heard at the Methodist Church on 21 July; String and Song is in The Barrel Room on 18, 22, 23 July.

High Jinx have done two shows already but are in the Pauper's Pit on 17, 18 & 24 July. 
Michael Jordan had this to say about the show he does with sister Siobhan:
1] Welcome back – how do you feel about playing Buxton again?
We are both really looking forward to be performing at the Fringe once again. Over the past year we have been working on new routines and scripts. We will be putting a lot of work in to making the show bigger and better than last year.

2] The Pauper’s Pit is quite a small performance space – any tips for other jugglers?
The Pauper's Pit is a very small area especially for jugglers, last years we had planned to juggling knifes of a 8 foot unicycle, but the ceiling was too low, so we lowered the unicycle to 5 foot instead. My tip for any jugglers performing there would to be daring with it. Just don't drop anything on anyone....

3] When you watch other magicians do you find yourself saying – “How did they do that?”
I recently went to see Derren Brown live and found myself scratching my head thinking about how he did it. But where would the fun be if he told us how it was done?

4] Given your personal success can we expect that Siobhan will be sticking any knives or swords into you this year?
Perhaps, we have found that I am a bit too tall and not quite flexible enough to fit in the boxes. Although I will be performing effects that put my self in danger. 

5] Is there any ‘new’ magic that changing technologies allow – or is it a matter of presenting the same tricks in new ways?
Some tricks are usually done using the same method but done and presented in different ways. This year we will doing tricks that are both very old, but also some that use new methods to baffle and amaze.

by Keith Savage - Published 13/07/2010

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