Asni: harps and imagination - newsletter #1
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Three years ago I arrived in New Zealand with two suitcases and a couple of harps. Meanwhile I have officially become a permanent resident in this beautiful country, have acquired enough things to crowd a small one-room apartment, and am just about to leave for my first trip back to Europe.
From 7-12 April, I will be performing and teaching at the Edinburgh International Harp Festival. There will be a public evening concert on Sunday 9 April, which I will be sharing with Kathleen Loughnane and her improvising ensemble. I will be performing my “700 Years of Pop" programme.
On Saturday 8 April I will be holding a workshop on “Music in Middle Earth”, which will be open to the general public. I will be looking at the ways Tolkien uses music and song in his writings, and how we can think about constructing the types of music and instruments that would be appropriate, taking the work done on the “Lord of the Rings” movies in constructing the architecture, costumes, artefacts and armour, of the different cultures of Middle Earth as an example and a guideline. Of course this workshop will also be looking at some music from the film soundtrack, and at the different types of Middle Earth harps!
Apart from that, there will also be two weeklong courses, one about Spanish baroque music and the the Spanish cross strung harp, the other on “harp and pop”, which will be looking at improvisation, and the use of harmonic riffs or patterns, that haven’t changed much from the early baroque to our days.
After the festival, I will back in Germany – the next concert will be at the Bachhaus in Eisenach on Easter eve (15 April), with a programme focusing mostly on baroque music. A week later, on Saturday 22 April, I will be performing for the first time in the Czech Republic, at the beautiful old church in Chotec near Prague, where I will be doing “700 Years of Pop” again, as part of the “Six faces of the harp” concert series organized by the wonderful Lenka Mitasova.
In the first half of May, I will be travelling to Sweden to catch up with friends and do a class on medieval harp in Malmö on 14th May, which, from what I can gather, will be happening on a boat. There is also talk of doing a concert in Malmö or Lund, and possibly a continuo class at the music college in Malmö. But these things are still being worked on – not very hard, as my friends assure me. ;-)
Back to dates that are definitely confirmed: “Rent a Nightingale” (harp and recorder duo with Gabriele Bultmann) will be reloaded on Friday, 19 May at the Hochmeisterkirche in Berlin, and the next day I will be rushing off to Bielefeld and perform my newest solo programme, “Travels in Middle Earth” at the Heimatmuseum Borgholzhausen on Saturday evening, and at the gorgeous medieval Peterskirche in Dornberg on Sunday afternoon.
I will be hoping that all this still leaves me time to catch up with family and friends, and to sort out my music, books, furniture and other belongings which I left behind three years ago, not knowing that what was then supposed to be a three month tour, would turn into three years. - Of course I will be spending time in Berlin with my family, and in Bavaria in my old village, and I will also be travelling to Bremen to see my friends and former study mates – and I will be staying just long enough to visit the Tage Alter Musik in Regensburg on Whitsun weekend. If you would like to meet me, either at one of those places or somewhere not too far off the track, now is the time to get in touch!
And on return to New Zealand in early June, there are some concerts of medieval music in the pipeline, including a “Feast of Fools” in the Wellington Town Hall on 24 June. And ROAR! Gallery has offered to exhibit some of my paintings in spring… I’ll keep you updated on these.
workshops and courses
Poised on edge of my first trip back to the old country, it seems to be a good time to look back on the past three years as a recent immigrant in New Zealand and reflect a little. What has it been like?
Well, it has been different. True, I have continued doing some of the things that I used to be doing back in Europe, playing concerts of early music, teaching, getting my website up and running and selling cd’s and music books. The early music scene here, not surprisingly, is quite a bit smaller than what I have been used to in Europe, but not all that different. People have studied with the same teachers at the same schools in Europe, and there is a basic agreement about how to do things, that crosses all boundaries of continents it seems. The main difference is that there aren’t nearly as many performing opportunities, and the concerts that do happen usually happen for the love of it, with very little financial support for the performers. Nearly everyone here has another job, be that playing with the Symphony Orchestra or teaching at the university, or working at the radio, or doing something completely unrelated, such as working in a caregiver job, which is what I am currently doing (as a recent immigrant with an accent, one is definitely at a disadvantage when it comes to breaking into the closely-knit networks of culture management in this town, even though one is always welcome to offer one’s time for free as a volunteer…)
This may seem like a depressing prospect, but on the upside, I find that here one is much less limited to doing only one very specialized thing such as “playing and teaching the baroque harp in a historically informed way” which, to be honest, after a while, can get quite boring. At least that is what I felt in my last few years in Europe. Only there, I didn’t see much of a chance of breaking out of that safe little corner – or was it an ivory tower? Here, everyone has to do a bit of everything, just because there aren’t enough people around to afford narrow specialisation, and no one takes exception to seeing a symphony orchestra player perform with a rock band (or the other way round), a university teacher jam along at the folk music club, or even a medieval harpist crash the stage at a roots music festival. As happened to me recently. But more of that later.
It makes for an openness and a freshness of performance that I have often found lacking in the country where I come from. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra has a marvellous sense of rhythm unusual for a classical orchestra, but not surprising considering that most players also venture into jazz, rock, pop, folk or reggae on a fairly regular basis. And the local rock and roots bands benefit from a pool of players who are classically trained and bring a technical mastery of their instruments, and a broadness of musical experience to their music which has resulted, in the last few years, in creating an entirely New Zealand brand of music which, I suppose, should be called “drop” (if it isn’t already). Based firmly around reggae and roots, it integrates the improvisational freedom of jazz, the sound wizardry of electronica and good old big band style brass sections, as well as a good dash of Polynesian musical sensibility, since the majority of the musicians so engaged are Maori. Bands like Fat Freddy’s Drop or Salmonella Dub (their most recent album is called “One Drop East”) have taken this drop music to international success. Katchafire are touring incessantly across the two islands, and play sell-out shows wherever they go, in front of audiences who sing along with their every tune. And there are more bands coming up – watch out for Kora, Cornerstone Roots, and ex-Trinity Roots man Warren Maxwell’s newest creative venture Little Bushman and you’ll know what I mean.
And this openness does not stop at crossing musical borders. Ask around, and you’ll find that most people here have at least two passions – and one of them is usually, creating art. Me myself, I have been painting since I was two years old, but I never had the expectation to be taken at all seriously. After all, in Germany at least, you are only supposed to be good at one thing, one thing only. Any sort of multiple talent is deeply suspect and can, by definition, not compete with the accomplishments of those who devote themselves single-mindedly to only one area of creation. Completely ignoring all historical evidence that many great artists, musicians or writers also make good writers, accomplished artists or competent musicians. If you see what I mean.
Well, here in Wellington I only had to put up my canvasses in my flat, or my photos on the walls, and I was already accepted as an artist and photographer. People would actually look at my images and actually say what they thought of them, rather than timidly waiting for some art critic or photo expert to come along and tell them what to think. This has been sufficiently encouraging for me to go and try my luck at the local galleries. Admittedly, meeting some fellow artist part-timers at my caregiving job helped greatly in getting the proverbial foot in the door, but by now, I have prospects of an exhibition at one of the established off-beat downtown galleries, which is more than I ever dared dream of just a few years ago. Of course, just having the time and space to paint – and all that wonderful landscape and nature and the gorgeous light to take photos of - did help greatly in getting me to that stage. And I should not fail to mention the spiritual and practical support received from various internet art communities, particularly that on John Howe’s website and forum (if you should not know who he is, he’s mostly famous for his Tolkien illustrations and for being one of the conceptual designers of the “Lord of the Rings” movies). I would not have created half the work I’ve done over the past couple of years without the motivation provided by his monthly fan art “contest”. Well, it has to be said.
So on the creative side of things, everything is definitely moving in the right direction. It is like having found a space to breathe after being stifled by preconceptions and expectations for far too long – preconceptions that people here in New Zealand are not encumbered with, since the culture of these islands is still happily and prolifically in the making. After all, roughly 1000 years of human occupation are a very, very short time on the scale of the history of the human race, whichever way you look at it.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to a place called Parihaka, a Maori pa (village) nestled in the foothills of Mt Taranaki. During the New Zealand land wars in the 1860’s and 1870’s, and up into the early 1880’s, Parihaka offered refuge to many Maori people who had been driven off their lands by the Europeans, and chiefs Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi preached and practised a strategy of passive resistance which was similar to that used later by Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King. They sent out parties to pull out surveyor’s pegs, to avoid having their lands measured out into slices to be allotted to settlers. They went and ploughed lands that had been illegally occupied by pakeha (Europeans), and they built fences across the new access roads made by the government, to prevent cattle from straying into their fields. And they stubbornly refused to offer their lands for sale.
Eventually the colonial government got so exasperated by all this that they sent out an army to "conquer" this essentially peaceful and unarmed village. When marching on Parihaka they found groups of children blocking the road by sitting on it and playing games - it took the soldiers several hours to advance to the centre of the village, where they found the adults (mostly women and elderly, since most of the men were in prison for ploughing and fencing by then) sitting tightly packed on the marae and refusing to move. Despite massive threat of arms, the arrest of their leaders, theft of their belongings and raping of their women, the people of Parihaka kept this silent resistance up for a full 18 days. Incidentally, the place does not show on my Automobile Association map of Taranaki, despite being a fairly substantial village.
This year, apparently inspired by the great success of last year’s WOMAD festival in New Plymouth (also in Taranaki, for those of you who aren’t from New Zealand), the local community decided to put on the first ever Parihaka Peace Festival – featuring three days of non-stop music on both a main stage AND a dance stage, including many of New Zealand’s top acts. And workshops, live poets, film screenings and talks by leading New Zealand politicians, and promoters of peace throughout the world. And a Maori craft village where one could watch carvers and weavers, or get a tattoo. There was a healer’s tent where women versed in traditional healing skills offered their services for a donation – and they succeeded in doing something about my chronically congested sinuses, which no other cure so far had made any better. There was onsite camping in the rolling hills surrounding the village, and I pitched my tent within view of the main stage. There even were showers and flushable water toilets (and they could have given us portaloos!). There was a food village where one could buy huge plates of grilled mussels, or Indian food, or pancakes, or a hangi meal cooked right on the festival site, the traditional Maori way, in an earth pit heated by hot stones.
All this was happening in happy semi-organization all day and all night - after midnight, the Jammer’s Stage kicked off, where everyone who dared could go and sign themselves up for their 10 minutes in the spotlight. Considering that it was absolutely free for everyone, the quality of the often spontaneous sets that happened into the wee hours was absolutely amazing. There, I got to experience what it feels like to play the harp at five in the morning, with fingers stiff from sitting in the chilly wind for several hours, listening to all sorts of noisy groovy music. But the audience didn't seem to mind – I even got asked to perform another set on Sunday afternoon. Go the harp!
But by far the most moving and emotional experience was to hear the elders of the village talk and pass on some of their histories, and to tell us what it meant for them, and for their community, that so many had come to their festival. The history of Parihaka, it seems, is still being written - or rather, told.
I am pleased to announce that my newest book of sheet is just about to have the finishing touches laid upon. The PASACALLES by Diego Fernandez de Huete, published in his “Compendio numeroso de cifra para harpa”, vol II, Madrid 1704, are a set of pieces in late baroque style which were presumably meant for use in the church service. Beautiful and intricate, they fall nothing short of some of the best music of the time. The music is of medium to advanced difficulty and suitable for more experienced players of chromatic or pedal harps. It is also suitable for organ and keyboard instruments. To my best knowledge, this music has not been made available in a modern edition or on recordings previously. One of the pasacalles features on my cd "700 Years of Pop", you can listen to an excerpt here: Pasacalles de primero tono
The new edition of the pasacalles will be available in time for my performance and classes at this year's Edinburgh International Harp Festival (7-12 April) Copies can be ordered NOW and if you place your order before April 5, you can take advantage of my very special LIMITED SUBSCRIPTION PRICE OFFER - of US $ 12.50 / Euro 10, plus handling and shipping. This offer is only valid for orders received through my website. Place your order now
The plan is to eventually publish the entire music contained in the Compendio numeroso - I will keep you up to date with my progress! :-)
Secondly, if you are still hesitating about buying a copy of my cd 700 years of Pop, have a read of what artist John Howe -Tolkien illustrator of fame and conceptual artist for the "Lord of the Rings" movies - writes about the cd on his website:
“A few weeks ago, I received a CD. «700 Years of Pop», by Asni...It’s been in the player since I put it in 2 weeks ago, and has to be the most wonderful music for drawing that I’ve heard in ages. ... It covers, as the title says, 700 years of music, from an anonymous 14th century piece to Howard Shore. The simplicity of the harp (occasionally accompanied by a baroque guitar) makes it seamless. ... It’s really astonishingly beautiful. Buy it. NOW !! (You won’t regret it, believe me.)”
Read the full article here
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last updated: 23 March, 2006