Harp-Strung Blues for Mind Expansion


Every year I perform my Annual “Lose Your Blues” concert at TCAN (The Center for Arts in Natick) – this year it’s on Sat. Jan. 10th.  The impetus is to take the worst weekend in the year – the weekend right after New Years and see just how much fun I can have with it.

I love taking something that’s considered limited, or icky or challenging, and see what it offers.  And I really wanted an opportunity to get together with a great audience during I time when I could easily lapse into depression and turn it into a celebration.

I also know that feel happiest when I’m learning and creating something, and when I have a chance to share it. And my annual “Lose Your Blues” show in the converted Firehouse of TCAN does all that.

Creatively, it gives me a focus for exploring all the ways I can play Blues on the harp, which is my focus for January 2015: playing the Blues AND teaching my online course BLUES-HarpStyle, which starts three days after my “Lose Your Blues” show.

Recalibrate your Perceptual Settings

So, let me stop right here and say that if “Blues Harp” means “harmonica” to you, please immediately recalibrate your Instrumental Capability Settings.

By “Harp” I mean a well-strung instrument some claim we’ll all play sooner or later.  I simply decided not to wait. I also had my harp shrunk to the size of a crossbow, and I wear it like a ship wears its masthead, only mine’s strapped on with a harness.

After being told early on that the harp was a ‘limited’ instrument, I’ve spent a lifetime exploring, inventing and sharing the amazing things it CAN do.  Not because of everything I was told it could do – but because of everything I was told it couldn’t do.  I was drawn to its ‘limitations.’

Limitation never exists in a vaccuum but only in relationship to what we’ve decided is normal or ‘unlimited.’ So any time I explore a limited environment it’s really about deconstructing my own mental constructs, unlocking perceptual dimensions, dismantling the limitations I hold in my mind.

Maximum potential from a limited source

Professor Carl Rahkonen at IUP, where I recently did a collaborative project with the music department, told me there’s an old Finnish folk idea of “Getting the maximum potential from a limited instrument.”

The Finns should know a lot about this.  The Kantele, their traditional harp-like instrument, would be considered by most people to have severe limitations – way more limited than the harp – and Dr. Rahkonen wrote his dissertation on the Kantele.

The practice of resourcefulness has always fascinated me.  It never occurred to me that it might be hereditary.  Not that I’m Finnish.  But half my family came from Sweden, which shares a border, a lot of latitude and a little longitude with Finland. That may also be why I’m drawn towards turning a cold winter night into a celebration.

Which leads me back to THE BLUES – and my January “BLUES HarpStyle” course and “Lose Your Blues” show – because THE BLUES is a musical form that could be considered severely limited.  It’s traditionally 12-bars long (no longer, no shorter), and follows a specific set of harmonies, in a specific order, using only three chords.  You can’t get a whole lot more limited than that musically.


Yet it is one of the richest, most creative musical forms there is. Because a limitation is simply where you START.  In fact, sometimes the riches begin when limitation provides a focus and a fountain for creativity, even if the source of that fountain is the frustration of “Why doesn’t this do what I want it to do???”

Once you crack that open, it unleashes huge potential.

Because there’s no tradition of Blues on my instrument, I’ve never had to break away from the traditional “My Baby Done Left Me” Blues.

Once I grasped the simple underlying structure of the Blues it became a way to express  anything – I sing Blues about Canine Cultural Exchange Programs, the delights of the Watermelon, what to call the graceful act of disengaging the manual door locks on old cars, what a modern-day Sancha Panza might sing to her Doña Quixota.

Can you combine the 12-bars Blues with the impressionism of Claude Debussy? Yes, I call that tune “Debluessy.”  Can you sing a Blues about food preparation and love? YES! It’s called, the “Sous Chef Blues” which is, according to a friend of mine, the most kid-friendly racy song he’s ever heard.

Can you create a Latin-flavored Blues? A Blues about meeting Elvis in Heaven?  A Blues about never wanting to playing classical music as a kid?? Yes!  Yes!  YES!  (And you can hear those Blues in my January 10th show – AND you can create Blues like that in my BLUESHarpStyle.com course)

Because the Blues is a starting place for endless exploration and experimentation. Last year, when I held an impromptu Q&A before the second half of the show, an audience member asked how the levers work on the harp and instead of describing it, I invited him right up on stage to play some Blues with me even though he’d never touched a harp before.

So you never know where limitation will take you.

If you’re in the Boston area, join me in Natick on Jan. 10 for “Lose Your Blues” – buy your tickets now.

If you’re a harp player anywhere in the world, it’s time you brought the Blues to your instrument.  Check out my new video mini-tutorial and join my January BLUES HarpStyle course then come with jam with me in BLUES Harp-Style!

Posted in Blues, Coaching, Teaching, Students & Learning, Events, Harping & Harpists, Online Courses, Performance | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lose your Blues – with a 32-String Electric Harp

The lead-up to the Holidays is intense –then it all deflates in the cold days of January when the Blues hit you hard.  That’s why I always brings my Annual Lose Your Blues show to the Boston Area just after New Year’s.

Lose your Blues – with a 32-String Harp
Electric Harpist & Singer Deborah Henson-Conant – Sat. Jan. 10th 8pm
TCAN in Natick, MA

PRESS RELEASE (Run through 1/10/15 – Contact info@HipHarp.com)

Imagine a 32-string harp shrunk to the size of a crossbow. The player strides onto stage with the swagger of a matador, straps on her instrument and plugs it in like an electric guitar. She sings and tells stories – and pulls sounds from the harp you’d never expect to hear:  Blues, Flamenco, even Rock licks.

Deborah Henson-Conant at the Circle of Friends Coffeehouse May 12, 2012This woman is GRAMMY®-Nominated composer and performer Deborah Henson-Conant. The instrument is a 32-String electric harp invented for her.  She’s toured with Rock legend Steve Vai and the renowned Boston Pops, she’s opened for Ray Charles at Tanglewood and had her own music special on PBS … but her forte is solo shows.

And every January she brings her annual “Lose your Blues” show to TCAN (The Center for Arts in Natick). This year it’s on Sat. Jan. 10, 2015 at 8:00pm. (Details, Tix & links to hi-res photos are in the “Who, What, When, Where” section below)

Most people think “Harp = Classical Music” - but thinking the harp is a ‘classical instrument’ is like thinking all dogs are poodles.  DHC straps on her ‘hip-harp’ and plays it as if it were a physical extension of the human body.

Ok, so what does DHC actually do?

She sings, tells stories, and plays the harp – but not like any harp you’ve seen or heard before. It’s a 11 lb. carbon-fibre harp that was built in France using top racing bike technology.

It’s fully electric, with a pickup on every string, so it can sound as angelic as a harp, or as driving as an electric guitar.  Named after her, the “DHC Light” — is now the top-selling electric harp in the world with waiting lists of nearly half-a-year.

She straps it on with a harness, and uses a looper pedal to layer sounds that pad and prod her voice, in spoken word, belting Broadway-style or lilting like a Celtic lullaby.

She’s a solo performer – someone who loves to create an entire world just from what she can do with hands, feet, instrument and voice. 

Her background is in Jazz and musical theater – so she brings both to the stage.  Improvising alone or with other musicians and bringing stories alive with spoken word and music.

Her shows are a thinking-woman’s night of music and humor — a show she can feel comfortable bringing anyone to see: from her rock-playing nephew to her new flame to her creative mastermind group.

Read more in her blog “So, what do I actually DO?”   http://bit.ly/17zZcqF

A Brief History of the Artist

Deborah Henson-Conant hit the jazz scene in the mid-80’s with her “Jazz Harp Trio.” She became a Boston-area jazz staple until her appearance with Charlie Rose led to a recording contract. She was the only woman instrumentalist on the Contemporary Jazz label GRP.  She toured the US and Europe with her quartet in the 90’s, when she also began working with the French harp firm, CAMAC, to develop an electric harp that could be strapped on like an electric guitar. For a decade she wrote solo and symphonic music for this new instrument.

In 2006 Henson-Conant received a Grammy Nomination for “Best Classical Crossover” Album for her all-original show with symphony orchestra.  In 2007 her public television special “Invention & Alchemy” appeared on PBS stations across the US. From 2008 – 2011 she wrote and performed one-woman shows — all with main characters who played harp – combining redoubtable history, fantasy and theatricality. In 2012, she joined the rock band of guitar legend Steve Vai, touring nearly 100 shows in 30 countries.  In 2013, her concerto “Soñando en Español” played alongside works by Bernstein and Gershwin, she started an international online school and was invited to South America to represent the U.S. as a citizen cultural ambassador to Paraguay.

In her spare time, Henson-Conant is a runner and a music blogger- with a Facebook following in the multi-thousands. She created and manages an international online learning community specifically for harp players worldwide. She lives in the Boston area with her husband and two black cats.

The Instrument Invented for Her

The “DHC Light” was invented specifically for the shows she creates: a 32-string electric harp-like lyre created for and named after her, by the CAMAC Company in France. The 11-pound, carbon-fibre instrument was designed especially to allow her to move, dance, tell stories, sing, and even layer sound upon sound with the looper pedal she uses – and to be completely physically integrated with the instrument. This model is now the top-selling electric harp model in the world. 


WHO: GRAMMY®-Nominated Electric Harpist Deborah Henson-Conant
WHAT: 4rd Annual “LOSE YOUR BLUES” Blues-Inspired Show
WHEN: Sat. Jan. 10, 2015 at 8:00pm
WHERE: TCAN (The Center for Arts in Natick)- 14 Summer St. Natick, MA 01760 – (508) 647-0097 -  NatickArts.org
TIX: $24 for members, $26 non-members, Discounts available for seniors & students – (508) 647-0097
BUY TIX: http://www.natickarts.org/performance/deborah-henson-conant-lose-your-blues
MORE ARTIST PRESS INFO: http://www.hipharp.com/publicity.html
HI-RES IMAGES: http://www.hipharp.com/pressphotos.html

Deborah Henson-Conant
Golden Cage Music, Inc. & HipHarp.com
info@HipHarp.com / 781-483-3556

Website: http://www.HipHarp.com
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