A review on the Jazz Harp Festival & Academy 2013 

by Annelies Kole 

November 2013 


Friday morning, 9.30am, location Het Leidse Volkshuis. 

All 3-day Intensive Course participants are standing in a circle, in anticipation, and maybe even somewhat agitated. Pedal harps, lever harps, electric harps all mixed up. 

The first lesson is taught by Deborah Henson-Conant. After everyone has introduced him/herself, my first thought is: "now we have to play all kinds of difficult things". The contrary appears to be true. Deborah asks us to play just one note, and accompany it by a movement of the arm much larger than we consider normal. She lets us look at the harp and touch it as if we see it for the very first time. Everyone is walking around their own harp in circles. I have no idea what this must have looked like, I mainly gazed at my own harp ;) 



Deborah told us that she wanted to move freely while playing the harp. This originated from the following event: during performances, her drummer, walking to the front of the stage for his solo, got a thunderous applause. Her bass player played a solo at center stage as well, and he too received a huge applause. Deborah herself played a difficult solo, full of technical challenges, and she got a modest applause. She started wondering 'what do they do that I don't'? Her conclusion was that she didn't move. This is when she started to try and play her pedal harp standing up, and moving. 

Camac then made her several harps, and now she is playing on the super lightweight electric harp that she can wear and that she can move with as much as she wants. (the Camac DHC light, red.) 


Next, she asked us to play a bass note and dance and sing around our harp and sing the blues...  




The ice was broken and the tone for the weekend had been set. 


Iris Kroes (winner of the Voice of Holland 2011) was there too, and Deborah asked her to show how she combines singing and playing harp at the same time. Then she started working with Iris, and she regularly asked us what we noticed. After a while, Iris presented herself much more self-assured (she was as excited to play harp between all these harpists as everyone else), her movements were bigger, and the accompaniment much more simple. This really intensified the contact with her harp and with the audience. 


The rest of the day was divided into lessons on harmony, improvisation, and combo playing. In the harmony lesson with Johan Clement, we fell right into the II-V-I progressions. Luckily, Rossitza Milevska was there to help us transfer it all to the harp. 



During the improvisation lesson, Rossitza had us walk through the room and sing a melody at the same time. The problem in our improvisations was that we played a lot of notes not resulting in a melody, and the most important issue was that we didn't breathe.  

With singing, not breathing is not an option. Walking loosens you up and enables you to make a logical sentence.  

As Kurt has said so many times already: "improvising is telling a story, and in a story, you make sentences, with comma's and all." By singing, we also learned to use dynamics in a natural way. After all, one doesn't tell a story monotonous. 


We thoroughly enjoyed playing at the combo lessons. What a chance to play with such great jazz musicians. Whatever we did, they responded and catched you up so you could play on.  



From the combo lessons, I have learned that it is important to have a plan of your own and to be able to lead the other band members.  

And that was exactly what I lacked, of course, since I hadn't considered ahead of time what to do when the melody was over, let alone what to do with an intro, or an outtro.  

The next day, I thought: "I'll do something simple, a blues, so I can try to play with the combo after all." So I had half a plan, not having enough time in between activities to quietly try out some things. I had a clear intro, learned from Deborah, plus the standard blues progression. Meaning I stranded halfway, without a plan.  

A lesson learned. From now on, I know what to prepare. 



I can tell you much more about the wonderful concerts, the jam session, the other harmony lessons where we learned more and more every time, the body percussion workshop, the expo with electric harps, the wonderful venues in Leiden, etc., but let me tell you especially about the things that stuck with me most: 


Maeve Gilchrist. Maeve is a very kind and beautiful woman who touches you with her harp compositions and songs. She taught us that you make music for the sheer beauty of it, and to touch people. We also learned from her how to play one of her beautiful pieces. 



Deborah's stories. They really helped me a great deal to really make my way into jazz harp. She shared her pitfalls, problems, and solutions, not only from a harp-technical point of view. 



Finally, I really enjoyed this weekend because of the great atmosphere between participants, and between faculty and participants.  

It was very nice to have some workshops together with the other groups in the course. I have gained great new (international) contacts.  

There really was a fun and positive mood, not in the least due to the amazing organisation by Sabine, Brenda, and their aids! 


So I am looking forward to the next edition in 2016! Make sure you don't miss it! 


Annelies Kole 


shopping cart




check out