This weekend I traveled to Edinboro, Pennsylvania to compete in the Edinboro Scottish Harp Competition and US National Scottish Harp Championship. My dear friend Emily put me up in her Pittsburg apartment. Taking a break from her busy PHD schedule, she accompanied me to the competition and acted as my cheerleader, counselor, chauffeur, harp roadie, and anchor for the weekend.
Saturday morning we got up a little after 5am (which for me was more like 4am), hit the drive-through at Starbucks in Pittsburgh, and drove an hour and a half north to Edinboro, PA. Lovely harp performances in the Beginner, Novice, and Apprentice solo categories filled the morning, punctuated by MC Jen Narkevicius’ occasionally serious but mostly hilarious and snarky commentary between competitors. We also enjoyed harp interludes from harpists Steve Schack and Carol Kappus.
I scarfed down a sandwich for lunch and went and practiced some more, in a vain attempt to make the funny feeling in my stomach go away. I should mention that Pittsburgh harpist Julia Scott amazingly lent me her Merlin R harp for the competition; I was too traumatized (in advance) (and poor) to bring my own Musicmakers Jolie on the airplane. And Julia’s Merlin was just perfect – the shape, size and tension were great, and I felt comfortable playing on it immediately.
The afternoon categories (Journeyman, Master, and the Special Categories) started around 1pm and I simply loved watching and hearing everyone. In a Scottish Harp competition the harpist introduces each piece, sharing either the history of the tune, something about the arranger, or their own personal connection to the music. I learn so much and always end up with a long list of new tunes to practice.
As I listened to all the wonderful harp music I experienced that same old predictable feeling of being inspired to practice. Does anyone else get that? For me it usually manifests itself as an urge to stand up and go to the nearest harp. This worked out well because I was actually ALMOST eager to perform by the time it was my turn.
-The Duke of Fife’s Welcome to Deeside, by James Scott Skinner
-The Bonfire, from the Simon Fraser Collection (and the second piece in my music video)
-The Dogs, learned from Wendy Stewart this spring in Edinburgh
-Ca’ the Yowes to the Knowes
-Brose and Butter
I played, and none of the disastrous things I had been imagining happened. I didn’t blank on the tunes and I didn’t fall off during the reel and I didn’t forget the titles of the pieces. I remembered to listen to my dynamics and I got in the cool ornaments I wanted to get in there, and I had a spare brain cell left over to enjoy myself. When I set my harp down I was happy with how I had played.
The afternoon wrapped up with the awards ceremony and I was honored and happy to be named the 2018 US National Scottish Harp Champion. I looked at the names on the trophy and felt so astounded to know that next year, I’ll be listed next to them. Thank you to everyone for the encouragement, to Maia Chisholm who organized the competition, to Jo Morrison and Seumas Gagne who judged the competition and gave such great feedback, and to the Clan Currie Society who sponsored the competition and made it all possible.
Maia Chisholm invited both Emily and me to stay for the ceilidh that night. I played my March/Strathspey/Reel set for the group, we enjoyed amazing music from harpist Carol Kappus, an impromptu set of reels from the judges of the fiddle competition, and exciting tunes from a completely unprecedented orchestra of high school students playing Scottish music from memory. (The “Scottish music from memory” part isn’t amazing – it’s the “high school orchestra …from memory” part that’s amazing.) I was impressed with them all.
We drove back to Pittsburgh after dark buffeted by waves of rain and wind: a sixteen hour day.
Flying home, I cast a hopeful glance at the face of the TSA agent as my bag went though the X-ray. His expression was priceless and I was laughing when they called out to see whose bag it was. Who packs a 3-inch chunk of solid marble in their carry-on anyway?
If you enjoyed the blog post, you might enjoy this video of Ailie Robertson’s arrangement of Marry Me Now.
Stephanie Claussen is a professional harpist from St. Paul, Minnesota. She performs on her harp throughout Minnesota in various concerts, recitals, and collaborations with other musicians. Sign up for her e-mail newsletter to receive announcements and notifications of upcoming performances.