This is the third, and final instalment of my blog triumvirate. The first was about a man in Lederhosen. The second was largely about my deeply uncool, but unabashed love of The Sound of Music. Now, as we reach Blog III, Return of the Killer Blog, it’s about my first concert in Arlington.
September 25th was, for me, a day of many firsts.
It was my first concert in Arlington, at the magnificent Regent Theatre.
It was my first time performing a duet with Deborah Henson-Conant, my longtime harp-hero-now-teacher.
It was my first time performing with a strap-on electric harp. You can see in the top picture below, that I appear to be buckling under the weight somewhat (either that, or the stage was very windy), but then, in photo #2, I’ve readjusted, and we’re having a great time.
It was also my first time playing an impromptu trio with Deborah Henson-Conant and an International Whistling Champion (I’ll come back to this)
AND it was the first time I saw a man juggle three garden chairs on stage.
There he is: one, two, three…
And UP THEY GO!
Isn’t that fun! Not so much for you, because you weren’t there, but as your man on the scene, I can report that it was, in fact, very fun indeed.
Now for a bit of backstory.
Two days before the concert:
‘One of the fun things about having a harp named after you’ Deborah tells me, as we wade into what appears to be a BIG box full of bubble wrap, ‘is that you get free stuff.’
To me, free stuff means a complimentary mint, perhaps a drink on the house, a promotional biro, an ice cream at Old Orleans that time I found plastic in my pudding (what a day!)
But Deborah’s ‘free stuff’ is a harp, sent over from France. A DHC Blue Light, in a VERY handsome bronze finish.
‘Let’s play a blues duet!’ Deborah says, excitedly, hoisting her harp around her waist and gesturing for me to do the same with this sparkling new toy. ‘We can do it in the concert on Sunday!’ (today is Friday)
I have now been learning the blues for the best part of a week, so getting up on stage to play a duet with one of the world’s best harpists, in a style with which I am barely competent, on a harp that sways when I move, and swings away when I move my hands towards it, should be noooo problem.
We would practise it once, and decide on the form (who would solo when and so on) in the dressing room before we went on. Yup. Noooooo problem at all.
Deborah is a big believer in learning by doing, and I’m really coming around to it. I think this is how she gets so much done, this fearlessness. Or rather, her way of harnessing fear into output - straw into creative gold. (Actually, we were talking about Rumplestiltskin just the other day over lunch - Deborah feels him to be a much maligned character, and put forward his case excellently and with the dazzling originality of thought that I have come to accept as typical - but this is a story for another day) Having always been a disciple of the ‘Learn by WATCHING CAREFULLY AND NOT INTERRUPTING’ school, I found it a daunting concept at first. To put it mildly. To put it less mildly, I was fucking TERRIFIED.
So, over the next couple of days, I did a LOT of doing.
Two days later, I am a lever harp pro. Well, perhaps ‘pro’ is exaggeration. I can, however, after MUCH practice, get the harness on:
kneel down, clip it on the side, HOIK harp over the shoulder, stand up, careful, caaareful, clip it on the bottom, clippedy-clip, and tadaa! Girl, you are WEARING that harp.
(You can’t tell, but I just had to mime putting on an air harp to write out those instructions. Worth it though, right?)
Next step: moving.
On the day of the concert, I had a chilling realisation. Deborah would be doing a couple of solo numbers, then I would join her onstage for our duet. This would mean my entrance would have to be speedy, sprightly and IN FRONT OF PEOPLE.
It is harder than you might imagine to shimmy onstage with the effortless grace of a musical gazelle when you have a harp strapped between your legs.
Deborah makes it look utterly effortless - she can stride, she can dance, she could probably join a conga line if the mood so took her. But she generously reminded me that it has taken years of practice, as I was very much at the waddling stage.
So much of music is making the things we spend hours, days and YEARS working at, seem easy. (This is a thought I come back to every day and will, I’m sure, return to in a future blog.)
But I didn’t have years! I had approximately four hours.
No matter! I decided that if I took big enough steps (not figuratively, we’re talking lunges) I might just be able to make my Boston debut without looking like a I was walking with a balloon wedged between my thighs.
That’s all one can ever ask of a debut, really isn’t it??
Well, it turns out that you can also ask to be joined onstage by an international whistling champion (a.k.a. my ultimate dream come true)
I have always considered whistling to be my only real talent. People always laugh at me when I say that, but I don’t think the harp, or anything else I do counts as a real talent because I never sat down at the harp and was like ‘HEY I can PLAY!’ Not so. I have to work hard at it all the time, not only to improve but also just to stay in good fettle. Whistling, however, has always been fun and EASY. And I’m not bad either! It’s not a liveable on-able skill, sure (being a professional whistler would be my ultimate dream career, but sadly I don’t think there’s much call for it. Unless I become a whistling plumber), but it’s enough to amuse myself and my friends. Also, I have discovered that whistling opera favourites and accompanying myself on the harp is the BEST way to make tips on a gig. Not so long ago, I got £40 just for one rendition of O Mio Babbino Caro. I think it was for the novelty, as opposed to the raw whistling magic, as my current opera-whistling status is Bel Can’to, but I’m not complaining.
Back to the concert.
So there we were, bluesing away, when Deborah suddenly says
‘Hey Katya! Take a whistling solo!’
My eyes were like saucers, but I managed to lift my jaw off the floor in just enough time to purse my lips into a premium whistling position. It turns out it’s impossible to transcribe the sound of whistling into roman characters, so I can’t really give you anything about how it went, all I can tell you is that it was FUN.
THEN Deborah remembered that there just happened to be an international whistling champion in the audience (talk about getting upstaged) In the time it took us to get through an eight-bar chorus, he was up onstage and ready to go. And boy did he go! He went low, he went high, he raised that fourth like nobody’s business.
And I got to practise my walking bass!
I wish my real walking had been as successful. At the end, as I went to lunge offstage, I realised my harp was still plugged in and came hurtling back. Nuts. Unplug. Lunge away, with both harp and tail very much between my legs.
After the show, I asked Eric how he learnt to whistle so well, and how he practises.
‘Well, I guess it’s because I never stop. My wife says the only time I’m not whistling is when I’m asleep!’
She quickly cut in:
‘Honey, don’t believe a word of it! He whistles in his sleep too.’
So all of this came about because The Regent Theatre was celebrating its 95th Anniversary. To mark the occasion, the theatre’s director, Leland Stein, decided to put on a variety show as a callback to the venue’s vaudeville origins.
There was singing, there was dancing, there was juggling, jiggling, bluegrass and electric harp(s).
The final group of the night was a twelve-voice, multi-instrument extravaganza called the Ultrasonic Rock Orchestra. They played songs by Queen, The Who, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, all with serious gusto.
The Regent soon after it opened in 1916
In my previous blog, I was trying to decide whether to go and see The Lion King 3D or The Sound of Music Singalong. Or, more specifically, which would be sadder to go to on my lonesome. Although the general consensus has been that it is more pathetic to go solo to a singalong (thanks guys), I have decided to kiss my pride goodbye and go for it anyway.
Not only because I know I’ll have a great time, but because The Sound of Music Singalong is taking place at the very theatre I have been telling you about. DOUBLE BONUS! And would it not be churlish of me not to support this fine institution, this stalwart champion of the arts? It would! It would! She cries, lacing up her dirndl, pre-emptively. The wonderful people at The Regent put on FUN shows at good prices. They won’t let you take in your own food (no siree bob) but they will show you an excellent time. So I’m going. Best get cracking on my yodeling.
TWO FUN THINGS:
I’m meeting up with Eric tomorrow for a whistling lesson and jam session. I’m unbearably excited.
and Sal, who runs the Ultrasonic Rock Orchestra has asked me to play in a show with them next week!
So, if you take a look at their videos, you will see that this story may well end in ME wearing leather shorts.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen…
I just hope no one gapes at me on the subway.