One day in December 2014 I bundled my harp into Renee’s jeep (Renee’s my amazing Personal Assistant) — and she trundled me off to the Jet Blue terminal at Logan.
4 hours later I landed in Pittsburgh, got into a towncar, firmly regretted half the sushi I’d bought in the airport and threw the other half away, and slept my way through the mountains from Pittsburgh to Indiana, PA, the Christmas Tree Capitol of the world and the birthplace of Jimmy Stewart.
The next morning, Jeff Wacker, coordinator of the Arts-in-Education Services at IUP (Indiana University of Pennsylvania) picked me up at my hotel and we drove to IUP’s Stapleton Library where I walked through the door, only to see a wonderful “The Ubiquitous Harp” display that Music Librarian and professor Dr. Carl Rahkonen had created which was SO cool (and not just because it had my name prominently displayed).
I set up my harp – and did NOT get yelled at by librarians for making noise (woohooo!) and presented a casual lecture-demo from-the-harp including a rendition of “Take Five” that featured impromptu solos plucked by library patrons.
I got some GREAT questions during the Q&A including a slough of them from one music major who’d seen me on tour with guitar legend Steve Vai and wanted to know all about what it was like to be on a Rock tour, and how I got the kind of guitar effects he’d seen me do on line (you can see some of them yourself right here).
Then it was off to my first rehearsal with the IUP Jazz Band. And here’s where it got REALLLLY interesting! See … I don’t write music for Jazz Band. All my ‘ensemble’ music is written either for symphony orchestra or string orchestra. So over the past 4 months, graduate students and faculty at IUP have been reinventing nearly a dozen of my orchestra scores for Jazz Band – they’ve been turning string orchestras into Saxophone Quintets, woodwind solos into trumpet features, and timpani solos into raging conga and drumset extravaganzas.
This is sort of what it looked like:
Some Favorite Moments
Some of my favorite moments were solos with members of the band: an improvised vocal/sax duet with Nate McMahon a ‘harp versus congas anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better’ duo with percussionist Michael Garbett , a raw, primal drumset-vocal-harp collaboration with Errol Flynn look-alike John Mullen (you have to be a vintage-movie buff to know what I mean – and if you are, you’ll know that every time I looked at him I imagined him swinging onto stage hanging from the chandelier. Yes, yes – I admit it! I wanted to be a swashbuckler as a kid. Ok, I still do. Hey… where’s my chandelier??), a tender duet with trumpet player Sadie Spencer and a classical-harpissimo-gal-meets-electric-harp-chick duet with blonde harpist Lucy Scandrett (and when I say “blonde” I don’t mean it disparagingly — her website is actually BlondeHarpist.com)
My biggest surprise was the “The Nightingale” arranged for jazz band by graduate student Andrew Fouse. I originally composed it as a delicate, transparent piece for strings and woodwinds. I couldn’t imagine he’d reinvent it for trumpets, trombones and saxophones — and conductor Kevin Eisensmith (the creative mastermind behind all this reinvention) had assured me that if it didn’t ‘work’ nobody would be disturbed if we cut it.
But it DID work! Oh, OK, the teeniest rocky moment on the way in – during a delicate pianissimo entrance that string players can easily manage but that’s sooooo difficult on brass instruments – and then absolutely beautiful, soaring playing throughout!
In fact, that tiny entrance glitch actually enhanced the whole experience by reminding me how elegant and unexpectedly delicate the arrangement was – and how challenging it was to pull that off on completely different instruments than the original orchestration!
Ahhhhhh! I totally enjoyed every bit of the show. Thank you IUP – students, faculty, educational outreach, librarians, Lively Arts – for a GREAT visit!!! What a marvelous playdate!
I can’t wait to come back.