Rock Harp Diaries
(On Tour with Steve Vai’s “Story of Light” tour)
Wed. Aug. 8, 2012
In Day 2 of the final week of rehearsals with Steve Vai for his upcoming “Story of Light” tour my goals for the day were:
GOAL #1: To convince Steve to let me play “The Animal” on harp instead of keyboards using my new “Wa-Wa-Pedal-Plus-Harp = Hammond-B3-Organ-Only-Different Technique.” See yesterday’s Rock Harp Diary entry for my first Wa-Wa-Harp triumph — but the thing is, with “The Animal” the wa-wa technique is a completely different … er … animal. Because it evolves into this “Wacka-wacka-wacka” Jimi-Hendrix guitar thing and because – well, because it’s just unbelievably fun to play that piece!
GOAL #2: To get the chance to play the Ravel-esque version of Steve’s “Whispering a Prayer” that I worked out.
There’s always this beautiful tension with Steve between a passion to recreate the quintessential recorded version of a tune live on stage .. and his fascination with new sounds – which is why I’m in the band in the first place.
His interest and ability to recreate verbatim spectacular performances is one of the reasons I see him a rock musician with the soul of a classical virtuoso. But it also means that whenever I want to do something different, I have to really ‘sell it.’
Sometimes that means I have to seed the new sound in when we’re taking a break, so he hears it first instead of hearing ‘about it’ – because if you say, “Hey Steve, harp with wa-wa pedal sounds like a Hammond organ” – or “This piece would sound great played in a French Impressionistic Style” it’s unconvincing, especially when you’re on an artistic deadline. But if you can just show how cool it is – if you can just find a way for him to hear it …
And somehow today I did! And he liked them!
So I get to play “The Animal” on harp (Wahooooo!) and I get to play my “Maurice Ra-Vai-el” interludy-thingy, too – and I’m thrilled, THRILLED I tell you!!!
But wait … that’s not all! There were two more highlights today that I wasn’t even hoping for:
WEEPING CHINA DOLL is one of the most challenging pieces from Steve’s new album “Story of Light.” Simply to remember the lever changes on this piece I took a workshop in memorization (no joke!).
The piece is epic and cinematic, and my part is very much like an orchestral harp part: broad sweeps, coloristic, with sounds that range from bell-like harp arpeggios to sounds like a Koto.
To execute some of the harmonic changes in this piece I use a Whammy pedal to shift my whole instrument down a half-step (to make that shift ‘by hand’ on my lever-harp you’d need to change 32-levers). So I worked like crazy on this piece with my coach, Marta, and when we rehearsed it today, I poured all of that into it.
And when we were done, Steve put his guitar down, walked across the stage and hugged me.
And I didn’t even burst into tears.
AND FINALLY … MY SOLO.
In the show both Dave Wiener and I play cameo solos, and I’d decided to go with one of my Blues … which I played for Steve tonight … and got a negative.
Now, I swear this was not a strategy on my part, though it would have been a brilliant one, since I know that one of the best ways to get help from a master is to present them with a piece of work that’s not quite right — since they can’t help but want to make it great.
So after the rest of the band left, Steve sat down with me and together we worked out a new solo, taking pieces from three of my tunes and crafting a new tiny tour-de-force out of them.
And that was the end of my day.
Oh … and the costume photo? Well, that was a semi-goal … to show Steve my idea for a “Weeping China Doll” costume.
And the jury on that one? Still out. But it’s not a clear “no” yet. So we’ll see ….
To read more in the Rock Harp Diaries, go to: https://hipharp.com/blog/category/rockharp-diaries/