Jazz Harping in Chile - festival performance report
by Liza Wallace
The cueca dancers took their final bow and I entered to play for a sea of faces from all over Latin America. On January 26th, I performed in the Festival de Arpas al Sur de Chile, an international annual harp festival in Concepción, Chile. Taking part in this event was a marvelous experience which reminded me of why I play music and the beauty of this truly universal language we speak. There were fifteen other harpists from countries such as Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Paraguay, and France. Most of the harpists played traditional Latin American harps such as the arpa llanera from Venezuela and Colombia. Athy from Argentina played the electric lever harp and I was the only pedal harpist. Everyone thought I was crazy to play such a large and heavy harp. They thought I was even more crazy when I jumped into the ocean when we went to the beach (the water is very cold along the coast of Chile) but I am San Francisco girl, what can I say.
The festival lasted for three days, one 3-4 hour long concert each night. We performed at El Teatro Concepción, located in the center plaza of the city which seats 3,000 people. The festival was a huge success! 5,000 people attended in total and about 1,700 attended the final concert in which I performed.
In my concert, I played my compositions and original arrangements.
My compositions draw from the rich harmonies of Jazz music, the melodic sensibilities of Folk and Classical music, and the rhythmic patterns of Latin American music. As I am also a singer, I mostly write pieces for harp and voice and sing while I play. Between my left hand carrying the bass, my right hand comping and filling the harmony and contrapuntal contours, and my voice carrying the melody, I can create a Jazz trio type arrangement just with the pedal harp and my singing. In the improvisation sections, I often scat sing and also improvise with my right hand as I comp with my left.
For example, I performed one of my compositions, “Into Your Heart”, which has contrasting sections of samba and son rhythms which underlie Jazz harmonies and modulations with my melody, lyrics, and scatting over top.
Check it out here: http://youtu.be/OjdMBqsFU5U
I also performed my arrangement of “Cry me a River”, a great Jazz standard by Arthur Hamilton. I set this piece to an old style milanga rhythm to add to the dramatic quality of the lyrics. Here's a clarinet-harp version of that one too: http://youtu.be/XyjydILSbK8
I was unsure how the audience would react to my music as it is quite different from the music the other performers played. However, the audience was enthralled with my performance and loved my music. The stage hand said everyone was completely silent throughout my show. The main thing people said to me was that my music moved them, that is made them feel or think a certain way. I was so happy to hear this, that even across cultural and language barriers, music still has the power to transmit emotion and intention.
In general, I was struck by the inclusive and celebratory nature of the whole festival. Whenever the audience knew the song the performer was playing, they would sing along. People were dancing in the aisles all three nights! I felt that it didn’t matter what country you were from or from what social class, that this week was a festival honoring the love and compassion we share with one another through music. The festival was a celebration of life and I was honored to take part in it!