I was trying to update my bio for my I started asking myself “Who Am I, Anyway??” which led to me jumping over here to my blog where I wrote this:
My official “Short Bio” is:
“Deborah Henson-Conant is an electric harp virtuoso with a wicked sense of humor, a gutsy set of vocal chords and theatrical flair.”
So guess who wrote that? This great guy from TaskRabbit, Josh Ardnouse. I’d hired Josh to help me move a bunch of boxes, but it turned out he’s an Indy artist and great with words, so after about a month of box moving, I asked him to help me write a short bio-blurb one night I think he nailed it.
My official PHOTO right now is:
So guess where it came from? It came right out of the middle of a live show, shot by one of my favorite photographers, Jake Jacobson, at one of my favorite coffeehouse venues, the Circle of Friends Coffeehouse . He sent me his photos after the show and I nearly fell off my chair – yay Jake!
A Few (Possibly Random) Things About me you May Not Know:
If you don’t know me at all you won’t know any of these:
- My website is HipHarp.com ( http://www.HipHarp.com )
- I love story & music, and always have.
- The first instrument I played was the ukulele, I started when I was 7 when I learned 3 chords from my mother and realised that was all I needed to play pretty much every song I knew.
- I always played piano but never learned to read music. All my relatives had pianos, and I played them as toys from as early as I can remember – creating stories with music. My mother taught me to read chord charts (or “fake sheets’) when I was 10, but I never read ‘real’ music and I refused to take piano lessons. I started trying to learn to read ‘real’ music manuscript when I was 19, but I’ve never become fluent at it.
- I invented the instrument I play, now: the “DHC Light” harness harp. I collaborated with the CAMAC Harp company in France who designed and manufactures it, and I created the first prototype. My signature model, the “DHC Light”- (named after me, which I’m really proud of) – is now played by harpists all over the world. That’s another thing I’m incredibly proud of: that I imagined something, inspired its development and now it empowers and liberates musicians all over the world.
- This is my favorite self-portrait, drawn after an all-nighter. I am personally impressed by it’s likeness.
- My instrument is a 32-string electric harp that I wear on a harness in concert. It’s built of carbon fibre (including many of the strings), has a lever on each string and weighs 11 pounds. The harp company went to a French racing bike company to get help developing the harp frame.
- I’m highly influenced by Latin music, the Blues and have deep roots in music theater
- One of my most influential performance coaches was a mime, Tony Montanaro – but he didn’t wear white face and he talked – a lot. And always brilliantly.
- I’ve been composing musicals since I was a kid. I started writing this one, The Golden Cage, when I was 19, produced it in the 80’s and recently revised it again.
- I started playing the harp seriously when I was 22 and I kept at it because I thought it would be a great way to make money to help support myself and my projects as a composer. It became way more than that.
- I got a Grammy Nomination for my 2006 release “Invention & Alchemy” and that project was one of the proudest achievements of my life even though I lost the Grammy itself – to a Welsh Opera Singer and his Christmas Album. “Invention & Alchemy” was an album of my original music for symphony orchestra, electric harp and voice, recorded with full orchestra – and the DVD version appeared on PBS stations all across the U.S. The only reason I was able to do a project of that scope was because of a private grant from an incredible philanthropist name Peter Wege.
- Later on people told me that “Invention & Alchemy” was a stupid title for my Public Television special because it sounded like a Science show – but to me the title is all about the interplay of the individual creative power (Invention) and the creative power of collaboration (Alchemy). Invention happens in the individual mind. Collaboration empowers it in ways that feel as magical as Alchemy. The “Invention & Alchemy” project took my work as composer and soloist – and empowered it with symphony orchestra. Thus: Invention & Alchemy. But now that I explain it, I realize it probably isn’t that great a title. A great title probably needs no explanation at all.
- I got stuck creatively after “Invention & Alchemy” because it was the achievement of a life-long goal. I had no idea how I could possibly top it, and it took me 10 years to figure out that ‘topping’ it was not only irrelevant but a deeply corrosive idea.
- I’ve toured with the Boston Pops as their featured soloist, playing my original orchestral music — and with rock guitar legend Steve Vai as one of his band members, reinventing electric guitar and keyboards parts on my harp. Both were incredible challenges and deeply rewarding experiences. Also very intense.
- In 2013 I created my own online school to teach jazz and improvisation fundamentals to harp players around the world. The unofficial school name is “Pluck University.” ( http://www.HipHarpAcademy.com ) The hardest part has been figuring out all the back-end details of how to deliver and manage it. The fun part is actually connecting with people all over the world and realizing that what I know can empower and liberate other people. The current course is called “Blues Harp-Style” and you can see some of the final projects the people in last-year’s course created here (my students ROCK!!)
- In late 2015 I created a year-long mentorship program called “Harness Your Muse“ – a creative career-development program for harp players — and the harpists in that group have already created their first shows and recordings, even though the program doesn’t officially begin for another week. (My Mentorees ROCK!!)
- I’ve been compared in the press to Elvis Presley, Leonard Bernstein, Xena Warrior Princess. Eddie Izzard and Joe DiMaggio. The only time I can remember being compared to another harp player was when a reviewer in the Plain Dealer called me “a talkative Harpo Marx in a mini-skirt.” I loved being compared to Joe DiMaggio. Actually, I loved being compared to every one of them.
- I’ve jammed with Bobby McFerrin, Steven Tyler and Gary Larsen (the cartoonist — who’s a wonderful guitarist). I’ve opened for Ray Charles. If you’ve never heard of any of those people, what can I tell you? Then you might not like my music.
- Right now, as I write this, I feel uncomfortable, like I’m bragging … so, that’s interesting (to me) …
- I once stupidly told Stevie Wonder that I didn’t play Blues because I was too nervous to play with him.
- I’ve been interviewed by Charlie Rose, Studs Terkel, Scott Simon and Joan Rivers. I love great interviewers and I love interviewing other people. I loved Joan Rivers. I got a crush on Charlie Rose. Also on Scott Simon. I love the power of questions. I’ve been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, NBC Today Show, Weekend Edition — and the Food Network. And once I took a petrified hotdog all the way to NYC for an episode of “The View.”
- I also compose some incredibly ‘serious’ chamber music like this “Mythic Women” project I did with Boston University Chamber Ensemble department in 2014
- In some circles I’m best known as the founder and curator of the “Burnt Food Museum” ( http://www.BurntFoodMuseum.com )
- I try to get as many different sounds as I can out of my instrument by bending notes, strumming it like a guitar, using objects (like picks or metal bars) on the strings and running the signal through a looper pedal, distortion or wa-wa. It’s not that I don’t like the sound of the harp — it’s that I think that what people think of as “the sound of the harp” is one very limited sound you can get out of the instrument. What fascinates me is everything we’re missing that’s right in front of us and what has to happen in our minds for us to see it and bring it into the light.
- One thing I’m proudest of is that harpists all around the world play my concertos, especially my “Baroque Flamenco.” What I really wanted to be as a kid is a composer, so whenever people play my music in concert, I feel like I’m achieving that goal, and it feels great.
- I can still remember sending off to the Library of Congress for my first Copyright for the first song I wrote. I think I was 12 or 13.
- I thought I would grow up to be a man. When I was a kid and knew I would be a composer, I noticed that all composers seemed to be (old) men, so I got the impression that regardless of what you were born, if you were a composer you’d eventually become an old man.
- I had my conducting debut in 2014 when I got to conduct my concerto, “Soñando en Español” with an incredible UK soloist, Eleanor Turner and the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra – and later that summer, with Chamber Ensemble in Sydney, Australia. I now wish I hadn’t worn a backless dress, but at the time it seemed like a good idea
- My double-last name happened when I was a kid, after my mother remarried. I took both my biological father’s and my stepfather’s last names: Henson-Conant. I had already decided I was going to be a composer, and I thought that was a great name for a composer. Now I’d rather have a really short name, like “DHC”
- I don’t identify with my first name at all even though I think it’s a great name for other people. That’s why I keep trying to change it in little ways, to see if it makes any more sense to me. Sometimes I say my name DEborah and other times DeBORah, so some people call me one and some the other. In France they call me DeboRAH. Some people call me DeboRITa, some call me DEbalah. I like it when people come up with their own name for me based on one of the basic syllables in mine. I mostly call myself “DHC” (or just ‘you’ when talking to myself tete-a-tete) and that’s probably what I most identify with, but I never feel comfortable introducing myself as “DHC.” If you call me “DHC” I’ll definitely know who you’re talking to.
- My brother lives in Costa Rica where he builds Trapeze rigs, and flies with his beautiful wife, Christine, who is a professional silk dancer.
- My Aunt Gloria is one of my best friends and has been my personal hero since I was a little kid. She lives in New York City and is an opera singer and voice teacher – and can make me laugh more than anyone I know.
- My best friend, Celeste, has been my best friend since college. I courted her as a friend by inviting her to play music together, and we played together for years – and had many adventures – as a harp and cello duo. She’s now a cellist, ice skater and model. We used to play weddings together and once we were playing a wedding, and it was so romantic we both started crying, then we looked at each other and started to laugh, then tried not to laugh and that made us sound like we were sobbing. Which made us laugh harder.
- I love to draw cartoons. I love to read. I love to sing. I love to waltz. This is one of my all-time favorite cartoons I drew for myself. I LOVE this guy – when I look at this I can actually feel happiness, like a chemical, bubbling in my belly (and it’s not because he has a martini – that’s not a real martini, anyway – it’s got something really special in it – I don’t know what, but it comes from a completely different dimension):
- Some of my favorite books are Frankenstein (Mary Shelley), East of Eden (Steinbeck), How to Solve It (Polya), Tropical Depression (Laurence Shames). I’m a voracious reader. I read books more than once. Sometimes many, many times, and they always get better the more I read them.
- I once read everything by Oliver Wendell Holmes except all his poetry. That’s because I was writing a one-man play about him for Harvard Medical School’s 200’th anniversary. I fell in love with him and the way he thought. When I had to return all his books to the special stacks in the Countway Library, I nearly cried. Then I went to a tiny used bookstore in Boston and lo-and-behold they had a complete set of his books. Which I have to this day. By the way, I mean Oliver Wendell Holmes senior, the very short writer/poet/doctor – not his famous and very-tall son.
- I run nearly every day, but don’t consider myself a ‘runner’ – I just do it because it clears my mind.
Just curious … is it interesting to know things like this about someone?? Please tell me in the comments below – please not just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – but what’s interesting about knowing things like this about someone – and what are the most interesting kinds of things on the list? And what did I not say that you’d want to know — and why would you want to know it?
Oh right … I forgot to mention that I’m sometimes criticized for asking so many questions. But sometimes I think questions are one of my superpowers.
You can see videos and blah blah blah – you know, the normal stuff – at my website HipHaRp.com ( http://www.HipHarp.com )
Oh right! Register free to get on the Artist’s Guestlist for my Jan. 9th Livestream show – or BETTER YET … buy tickets and come be in the real live audience Jan. 9 at TCAN – Center for Arts in Natick, MA!