Old-time instruments and songs create annual tradition
A Blaine Christmas tradition will be observed this Sunday, December 11, as the seven-member Winter Harp ensemble returns for their annual concert in the Performing Arts Center (PAC). Concertgoers will also be able to purchase $90 season tickets for next year’s Pacific Arts Association (PAA) six-concert series, “in response to a lot of requests,” said Sandy Wolf, former PAA head and coordinator of the summer Jazz Camp, “because people wanted advance season tickets available to buy as Christmas presents.”
Patrons will also be able to purchase $250 scholarships for a child to attend next July’s week-long Jazz Camp for Teens, and an ad-hoc committee raising funds for the Bob McDermott sculpture “the Vigil” that will adorn Blaine’s new boardwalk will be selling memorial bricks and plaques at the concert as well.
“Winter Harp makes music the old-fashioned way, with harps, percussion and flute, the oldest instruments in western culture, plus a few others people may not know,” said Bellingham harpist Jill Whitman, a founding member.
“The nyckelharpa is a predecessor of the violin but with many more strings and is played with keys,” Whitman said, “and the droning organistrum sounds like a guitar but requires two people to play it.”
Winter Harp’s psaltery, an instrument normally played on one’s shoulder much like an autoharp, is a floor model five feet tall, giving it a resonant bass range. It’s one of the only such instruments in existence and was built from locally obtained cedar and spruce by Vancouver luthier Edward Turner.
In addition to a good share of traditional Christmas tunes, this year’s program includes some music written by ensemble members as well as flamenco pieces. “Early Christmas Morning” is a humorous song about what to do with unwanted presents sung to the tune of “What Shall We do with the Drunken Sailor?” and closes the first half of the two-hour concert.
The second half includes a seasonal range from jigs to Gregorian chant to Flamenco to the haunting native-composed Huron carol. They follow with their signature piece, “Camel Caravan,” and then close with “Silent Night” and “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” The group does not do encores, “although in one Alberta concert they began yelling for us to do one,” Whitman said, “and we were touched, but still didn’t come back out. The encore is what the audience does with the music and the feelings after we’re done.”
The Blaine appearance will be Winter Harp’s ninth concert in their current tour, which began last month in Sechelt, B.C. and has taken them through British Columbia as well as Edmonton and Grand Prairie, Alberta. Their December 18 concert in Vancouver’s large downtown St. Andrews-Wesley Church will be taped by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for broadcast Christmas afternoon.
One of three harpists in the group, Whitman plays a large grand pedal harp. Winter Harp’s director, Lori Pappajohn, plays a smaller Celtic harp, as does Whitman’s 13-year-old daughter Emilie. Other group members include Vancouver poet Alan Woodland, Japanese flutist Kenichi Ueda from Toronto, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra percussionist Lauri Lyster and medieval instrument specialist Joaquin Ayala.
This is the fifth of the six PAA concerts in this season’s series, which concludes with Blaine’s Martin Kuuskmann and bass trombonist Dave Taylor’s “Kuuskmann-Taylor Project” concert next February 18 in the PAC.
PAA board invited local sculptor Bob McDermott to exhibit
his preliminary work on “the Vigil” in
the PAC foyer before the concert and
during the show’s
“It’s part of our mission,” said Wolf, “to support the visual as well as the musical arts.”
Bricks and plaques to support the work range in price from $50 to $1,000 and are tax-deductible through the PAA. About half of the $150,000 needed to put the statue on the boardwalk has already been raised, including a substantial in-kind donation of labor and skill by McDermott, who also sculpted the “Dirty Dan Harris” life-sized bronze in Bellingham’s Fairhaven district.
“I hope this statue of a fisherman’s close family waiting for him to return becomes as much a focal point for Blaine as Dirty Dan has for Fairhaven,” McDermott said.
McDermott said he got the idea for this sculpture by looking at a lot of fishermen’s memorials, “and it occurred to me that they never show those who are left behind, the mothers, wives and children.” His sculpture shows two women, one the mother and another her daughter-in-law, standing side-by-side looking west, and a young boy in front of them. All await the return of one man, who is the older woman’s son, the other’s husband and the boy’s father.
McDermott’s process is to sculpt the heads and hands life-size, but the rest of the statue is done in a reduced scale model called a maquette. All of this will be on display Sunday. Blaine’s Jan Hrutfiord is the model for both the mother of the fisherman and his wife, and Blaine student Andrew Dale, 11, is the model for the boy.
“From the back the two women will look like close friends gazing out at something together,” McDermott said, “which I hope makes people want to walk around and look at their faces.”
McDermott said that like the “Dirty Dan” sculpture, “the Vigil” will have heavy internal bracing to make it impervious to people who want to lean on it.
For more information on the concert contact Bob Boule at 360/332-1749 or Kimberly at Pacific Building Center in Blaine.