Learn about Bobbie Jo’s Amazing lifetime of passionate Harp, Voice, Flute and Musical Performance

The Harp; My Other Limb!

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The Harp; My Other Limb!

Is music your passion? It sure has been mine since I can remember…there was so much music when I grew up. I so loved to sing and then started piano when I turned 6. I really don’t think my parents needed to make me practice; I remember wanting to sit at the piano and hear those beautiful melodies coming out. They seemed to make everyone else feel good too, so I just couldn’t get enough.

So here I am 45 or so years later writing some of my first blogs ever, and still, the wandering minstrel-ette. I picked up guitar at age 10, and the ever so lovely Celtic Harp when I hit 19. I certainly couldn’t turn back from that…in fact the beauty that I saw first playing one was Shawna Selline and I made her follow me home. It’s easy when you live a block away from the college we went to. We were both taking a scoring and arranging class, and she brought her harp in. It certainly was love at first site with this instrument. Not only is it set up just like the piano, it is ancestor to the piano also. If you can play the piano, you can play the harp! As Shawna was playing, I could tell exactly where she was and what she was doing (note wise.)

Imagine, if you will, the white keys of the piano—these are the strings of the harp. The harp is color coded with the Cs being red and the Fs blue. That makes it quite handy when you are looking askance at a plane of strings. How would you know where to pluck with no reference?

So, being the ancestor to piano, the harp is a very forgiving and quite easy instrument to learn how to play. Within one year, I was already doing weddings and winning harps at the Irish Faire harp competitions. In other words, the harp has become one of my limbs and it is so enjoyable to play.

I play for a couple elderly living places here in Maui and I also go to the chemo ward at the hospital and play for the patients when they are receiving their treatments. I believe that music is a great healer and a wonderful comfort to ailing and elderly people. The harp is so ancient and so resonant that it has become one of the top choices in music therapy.

Every time and everywhere I play, the harp touches people in a very deep and spiritual way. I couldn’t ask for a better life!!

Expand Your Horizons With More Styles of Music in Your Harp Playing

Expand Your Horizons With More Styles of Music in Your Harp Playing

There is much freedom in allowing oneself to play anything your heart desire…not just what’s normal for a harp. I was classically trained in piano and voice, but was in a rock band for 10 years and a folk/rock quartet for 7. In that time I developed a love for so many styles of music that can really work with a harp if you flow with it.

As a young person and activist in our quest for Earth Healing, I felt drawn to songs like “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” by U2 and worked it out on the harp. It had a powerful effect, not only on me, but on my audiences as well. All of a sudden they are exposed to a different side of the harp. I am also a singer and have accompanied myself since a young age, so singing and playing come quite naturally to me. When you sing along with what you play, there is so much more you can do then just playing a piece. Your voice is the melody and your hands the harmonic structure. This means you can fill out the musical accompaniment with fuller chords, more inversions, grace notes and passing tones. You are not limited to play the melody with your right hand and the chords with your left.

If you are interested in Reggae, try some! You will find you use more dampening techniques and maybe playing closer to the soundboard for a more percussive effect. You will play more backbeats and block type chords, unless you are trying to mimic a steel drum. You hear lots of arpeggios on steel drumming.

Pick one of your favorite bluesy or jazzy songs and try it out. Pick out the melody, then the bass line, and then try to fill in the rest. Substitution chords are always handy if you are not a ‘lever flipper.’ I call myself a ‘lever flipping maniac’ because I love to do the “hammer-on” and “pull-off” techniques you hear on guitar.

One of my favorite pieces to do at any event is F
űr Elise, although it is not a harp piece. When you attempt a song like this you have to choose your musical voicings very carefully. I play a levered Woldsong harp that has blade levers, not flip up levers. These are quite a bit faster (in my opinion) then the flip ups, and it’s all I’ve really ever played. My harp maker, Paul Culotta (RIP dear one), was very different in his style of harp making. Hardly any harp makers use the blade levers, but I wish they’d make a comeback. In as much as they chew the strings up a little more, they sure are a lot quieter and faster when you are doing blues or heavy modulating.

Expand your horizons when you are thinking of pieces to play. Just because it’s a Celtic Harp, doesn’t mean you have to stick to Celtic Music! Play what you love,…play what you feel.

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People sometimes ask me if I write songs and how I do it. Each person has a different approach to songwriting. Mine is pretty literal. I don’t usually write a song and create some sort of story. The story is actually my life and the experiences that come about bringing inspiration.

Sometimes I’m not really sure where it comes from because it comes so fast. For example, I was sitting in my garden the other day watching a flower open. It opened in 10 minutes! That’s really fast. Well the song came out just as fast, pretty much.

I just allow words to start flowing through my head…usually the lyrics come first and the melody and chords follow. The lyrics seem to bring about what kind of sound needs to be coupled with them. Sometimes the ‘hook’ comes with the lyric. For example, I’m in the Safeway parking lot, worrying about hurrying up, when all of a sudden the lyric and hook just popped in my mind….’time is of no essence…time is of no creed. Time will wear your shoes down, and time will give you what you need.” Bingo…a song.

Sailing at night under the big dark sky with billions and billions of stars is another favorite place for inspiration. Not too many people can get out there, but there are plenty of places with a dark sky and lots of stars.

Huge old growth forests with the damp smell of moss and mulch are excellent places to bring forth thoughts and deep feelings.

I find that any detail of our normal everyday lives has the seed for opportunity in the storyline of a song. Say you are having a difficult moment trying to understand a situation—write about it!

Sometimes the best songs come from deep seated problems or feelings: look at “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”…look at “Wonderful World”…look at “Wonderful Tonight”…all of these songs have a personal statement—deep feelings—or a problem that needs attention, or even just the beauty of everyday things.

It sure is great to be a storyteller and be able to create songs through stories, but I find that my own life is full of stories and plenty of content to write about. Even the mundane things in life can add to your inspiration…”scrape the mold off the bread and serve you French toast again…” (Sheryl Crow) “If it makes you happy…it can’t be that bad!”

Just keep writing! Blessings, Bobbie Jo