Saturday, October 12, 2013

Proof that the Celtic Harp is not a Boring, Sleepy Instrument

I've come to the sad conclusion that many people have the mistaken impression that the Celtic harp, or perhaps any type of harp, is a boring instrument that puts people to sleep. So, one day, in a bit of frustration, I set out to prove that this assumption is waaaaay off. And I'm still working at proving this...

Some of my all-time favorite performers include Liberace, Victor Borge, and yes, Harpo Marx. Were they considered virtuosos on their instruments? Not particularly. But what they did was fantastic--They introduced their instruments and fine music to the masses. They played songs that everyone would know and love. They did a great service to music, because they demonstrated that a classical piano wasn't boring and that a concert harp wasn't just for the orchestra.

When I began performing in restaurants many years ago, i discovered that people wanted to hear their favorite songs, and if they did, it translated to money in my tip jar. It also caused them to return with their friends to hear me perform again. Yes, I love Celtic music, the music from Ireland, Scotland, and Wales that sounds native to the Celtic harp. However, only a small percentage of my dining audiences request to hear those beloved tunes. 

What do they really want to hear on the harp? Here is an example of how a typical conversation for a music request would go:

I would ask, "What would you like me to play for you?"

"Uh, I don't know any harp songs," the dining guest would answer.

"Well, what kind of music do you listen to on the radio?"

"You can't play any of that, can you? Okay. Then play 'Stairway to Heaven'. Ha ha. Never mind, I'm only joking. I know you can't play that on the harp."

So, one day, I decided to prove them wrong. I worked up an arrangement for this Led Zeppelin classic, and I blow my audience away with it. Turns out that now, when I play restaurant gigs, I end up playing this tune several times in an evening, just because diners now say, "I hear you play 'Stairway to Heaven'. Prove it."

And it's not just "Stairway to Heaven" anymore: Music by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Metallica, Guns 'n' Roses, you name it. People hear that I'll take requests, and they want me to play their favorite songs. Who cares that I'm playing a Celtic harp? Just because a guitar is a Spanish instrument doesn't mean that a guitarist can only play Spanish music on it. Just because I play a Celtic harp doesn't mean that I can only play Celtic music on it.

But tell this to most restaurant owners, or to mainstream musicians, and they look at me in disbelief. Rock bands will have nothing of me--A harp in a rock band? They look at me as if I'm from another planet. I contact restaurants, and their typical response is, "A harp? What can you play on a harp? We prefer jazz bands." What they really think is that I will be putting their guests to sleep with  dull music.

A while ago, I was listening to a new radio show on NPR (National Public Radio) called "How to do Everything". Actually, when I first heard this show, it was only sort of NPR--Produced by NPR producers but just a podcast and not broadcast on radios. It's a kitchy show where the hosts, Mike and Ian, answer listener's questions about how to do things (sometimes, the producers answer their own questions). 

Out of frustration, or just because I wanted audiences to understand that the Celtic harp was something out-of-the-ordinary, I wrote to the producers of the show. I wrote, "I'm stumped. How do I get my music played on NPR? I've tried, sent it to all the links I can find on NPR sites, and to no avail. Do you know anyone else who can play 'Stairway to Heaven' on the Celtic harp?" Geez, someone needed to know that the instrument was more than just a tool for getting people to nod off for some z's. 

I sent them an mp3 of my version of "Stairway to Heaven," and Mike and Ian listened. They played it on Episode 7, a classic episode containing indispensable information about how to justify your use of the acronym "OMG", how to use Pandora effectively, and how to undo an awkward first impression. Useful stuff with a humorous twist.  

The show "How to Do Everything" is now a true NPR show, broadcast on a bunch of channels across the nation, and even on Sirius XM Channel 123, Public Radio Remix. And producers, Ian and Mike, have kindly played my rock tunes again on Episode 121 ("Stairway to Heaven"), Episode 122 ("The Unforgiven"), and Episode 125 ("Free Bird"), the latter, where they actually mention me by name, at the end of a fabulous episode about stink fights, corn chips, and sour toes.
Stink Fights, Corn Chips, & Sour Toes--Episode 125 of How to Do Everything, and "Free Bird" on the Celtic Harp

I love this show, and I'm proud that my eclectic music is being heard across a phenomenally wide audience. Has it gotten me more bookings? Has it landed me more concert dates? Has it caused my downloads to go viral and sell like crazy? Not yet. It's an uphill battle to convince the general public that the harp isn't boring.

You can help me get the word out about the coolness of the Celtic harp--I'm looking for an agent/manager who can book me into the venues--concert, restaurant, and more. Or contact me if you are a bandleader interested in adding the harp for some needed color. Or contact me if you are a restaurant owner or concert promoter. Or contact me if you are a music supervisor for commercials, TV, or movie projects to help introduce more people to this music.

Don't believe that the Celtic harp can handle "Stairway to Heaven"? This rock classic, and more, are on my album Blue Jeans. Find it on, iTunes, and of course, at my website at Go listen to it. Wake up and smell the roses. The harp is a cool instrument.
Blue Jeans album contains "Stairway to Heaven" and more.