Sarah and the Baroque Flamenco

This is tiny story told through a series of Facebook chats that started with a Christmas present and ended with a radio interview and an empassioned performance. I was especially thrilled to read the conclusion because the piece in that performance is my composition “Baroque Flamenco” — and registration for my “Baroque Flamenco Bootcamp” online course has just opened,  it starts in less than 2 weeks. This is just one story about that piece and the power and passion one young artist has brought to it.

June 2012 (from Sally Close to DHC)

close-sarah-blog-baroqueflamenco-02Dear Deborah,

Sarah Close receives Baroque Flamenco by Deborah Henson-Conant for ChristmasI’m not sure if you remember this picture at Christmas time of my daughter, when she received Baroque Flamenco. It was her favorite gift and she has been playing it everyday since then.

Her harp teacher recommended that she attend the Arizona Harp Experience. When she went, she felt intimidated being 13, and one of the youngest attending from a small town in Idaho.

She sat quietly through all the workshops until the first performance rehearsal, where she told me beforehand, “I don’t think I’m a very good harpist”. Then her love of Baroque Flamenco took over and, as Dr. McLaughlin put it she, “blew the socks off it”.

I know you must be very busy, but I am including a clip of her playing her it while she was there.

As I posted on Facebook, after she was done, Carroll McLaughlin called her a brilliant, rising star of the harp world, and if there were any student, she would accept privately out of the 16 that were there, it would be Sarah.

She then offered her a full scholarship to her harp program at the University of Arizona when it was time for her to go to college. She also said that she believed Sarah would go International, which I’m sure that you understand the meaning of better than we do.

Sarah has never been comfortable with sports, and was born with a speech impediment that was finally diagnosed and corrected a couple of years ago. She has chosen to communicate with her music.

I just wanted to thank you not only for writing this wonderful piece, but for sharing it. It has made a big difference in one young harpist life. Oh and every other harpist that was there listening now wants a copy of it, just so you know….

All the best, Sally Close

[DHC Note ... I was completely unaware of Facebook Chats until about a year ago, when I discovered them, and immediately forgot they existed ... so I didn't actually see the above message until a few months ago when Sally wrote to me again]

April 8th, 2014 – 11:00am (Sally > DHC)



Sarah just did a concerto competition, and her new harp teacher insisted that she play Dittersdorf.*

She played well, but we have found that Baroque Flamenco is the only concerto that can stand up to the likes of the piano and violin concertos that are out there. She placed well when she played it in her last concerto competition.

Thanks so much for writing it, would love to hear any more concertos you would compose (no pressure :-))

All the best, Sally Close

April 10th, 6:54pm (DHC > Sally)

Thanks Sally – Well … I’m actually working to publish the whole 3-movement version this year and we’ll be performing it (with me conducting (!) at the AHS Conference in New Orleans) so I hear ‘ya!

We’re also publishing it for chamber ensemble this year. Great to hear from you!

April 10th, 9pm (Sally > DHC)

Thanks Deborah, so good to hear this! Lucky New Orleans!!!

August 30, 2014 (Sally > DHC)

Dear Deborah,

When Sarah was invited to be close-sarah-blog-baroqueflamenco-04interviewed yesterday by a radio station, they requested sound clips of her harp playing, so we went to great effort to convert clips to MP3 of her playing Samuel Pratt’s “Little Fountain” and Eleanor Fell’s “American in Paris/Rhapsody in Blue” as they seemed to have the best sound quality. I also sent the video clip of her performing Baroque Flamenco at the Sun Valley Pavilion, just so they could see who they would be interviewing. Guess what piece they played? Baroque Flamenco! What Carrol McLaughlin said after she heard her play it was right – it’s a showstopper! Hope this brought a smile to your day as it did ours!


August 31, 2014 (DHC > Sally)

Wow, Sally!!!

close-sarah-blog-baroqueflamenco-06I LOVE this story and I finally got a chance to watch the video.

Sarah is AMAZING. She’s playing it with such clarity, passion and fire!

I reread our thread here and when you said “Baroque Flamenco is the only concerto that can stand up to the likes of the piano and violin concertos that are out there” I wanted to stand up and cheer — because THAT’S why I wrote it! So we harpists would have the chance to reach audiences with the same impact that violinists and pianists (and cellists) (and probably trumpet players) get to!

Two things:

1. Have Sarah look at this performance from New Orleans so she can see the whole concerto (3 movements). We should talk about finding a way for her to perform it in 2015 or 2016 – either with orchestra or chamber ensemble

2. Are you OK with me posting this string of emails – including the photo & a link to the video – as a blog?

all best -

(Ooops … I hit ‘return’ before my name – pesky Facebook chat functionality!) — DHC

Oops .. also forgot the link to the video: Baroque Flamenco is the final movement – So Sarah can see how it fits with the other movements

Sept. 1, 2014 (Sally > DHC)

close-sarah-blog-baroqueflamenco-07Hi Deborah,

Have you ever listened to a piece of music and wished it would never end?

That is how Sonando-en-Espanol made us feel, it is GORGEOUS!!

In a concerto competition it would have no problem holding it’s own against other instruments (even the trumpet).

Sarah says it is her dream concerto and would love to talk about performing it with an orchestra.

She has played for several different orchestras and conductors (20 in the last 3 years), but so enjoyed watching you conducting in the video.

Please feel free to post this string of E-mails at any time, I know that others will feel the same way we do about this piece.
Thank you, thank you for writing it!!

All the best, Sally

DHC’s Postscript:

I love this story.  I love knowing that this piece has become part of the voice of a new artist.  And I love the fire and flare and passion Sarah plays with.

If you play the harp – join my upcoming “Baroque Flamenco Bootcamp.” I want you to have the experience of playing this piece, too -  because it’s an incredible, empowering, and fun experience.  And that’s why I wrote it and why I created this course.

It’s a 21-Day Online course just for harp players (lever or pedal) of any level (from Advanced Beginner to Professional) – and it’s about playing your own passion.  Using “Baroque Flamenco” as the foundation of the course, you learn to create your own version of this piece your own level of ability  … so you can express your own passion.

Thank you Sarah – for YOUR passion — and Sally, for sharing the story with me!

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What Happens when you let go?

What happens when you let go?  Is it exhilaration … or a sense of loss?

As a performer, I feel most alive when I really let go on stage.  I’m more there when I perform than in normal life. But as a composer, letting go is completely different.  It means I’m turning that process of expression over to someone else.

At first I thought I could follow the example of composers before me and simply publish my music in written form.

But when I heard people play the music, I realized the notes on the page were only half the story. 

The other half is showing people HOW to play those notes. Tricks in how to learn them, what the squiggles on the page really mean, how to break the piece apart and put it back together so it becomes truly yours.baroque flamenco cadenza

This is especially true with my piece “Baroque Flamenco,” which began with my obsession to bring the kind of passion, dynamics – and even aggression that I saw in some piano and violin concertos – to the harp.

To see it played, the cadenza looks like a mix of physical abandon and musical passion.  But how do you get that down on paper??


For this fiery cadenza, I wrote pages and pages of non-standard notation, and then painstakingly created a glossary to explain what that notation meant.

But still, when I saw people play it, I knew that it wasn’t getting through.

And that’s when I realized that my pieces aren’t just about the composition – they’re about the performance And teaching performance is a completely different process than writing out a composition.  No matter how perfectly I get it written people won’t really know how to play it until I show them.  Because it’s not about playing what’s written on the page.  It’s about interpreting what’s written on the page. And it’s about each person interpreting it slightly differently because of who they are.

To share THAT I had to create something completely different.

Play with Fire! Baroque Flamenco Bootcamp

That’s when I came up with the idea for “Baroque Flamenco Bootcamp.” It’s a 3-week online experience for harp players that includes training videos, warm-up exercises, playalong audio files, workbooks and downloads — and a chance to ask me direct questions in live online Q&A sessions.

Now that the internet makes live seminars possible, now that I can embed videos and offer downloadable handout and MP3′s I realized that the web makes it possible for me to create something that’s very close to ‘passing it on by word of mouth,’ very close to the experience I, personally, had, of learning music and performance skills from my mother through a combination of watching, doing, playing with her and getting direct one-on-one answers to my questions.

So that’s what I tried to create in the online course.  Before the course even begins, people get access to a set of warmups that let people get familiar with the rhythms and fingerings in the piece, and a set of videos that give people a chance to watch a real-live coaching session.

The other thing essential to me was to make the course accessible to players of all levels: fledgling, intermediate and advanced because that’s how I learned – by having my own version of a piece that I could play at my level – and then being able to build and expand on that piece for the rest of my life.

Here’s what people say about the course:

 ”I love your ideas about imperfect completion … but my sheet music has always been my safety net, and I couldn’t imagine myself to perform anything by memory.  When I worked with Baroque Flamenco and you broke it all down into small pieces, it all felt so simple!” Annette Sollie Hagen (Norway)

“I had a lot of theory with music lessons but never was taught what to do with it. This is the first time I was able to put music theory to practical use.
Gretchen Cover (Florida, USA)

If you play the harp – at any level – join me for the Fall session of “Baroque Flamenco Bootcamp.” It starts Sept. 15th and if you register before Aug. 29th you can get the pre-launch price of $197 for this 10-module, 3-week course.  To register and learn more about the course go to

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