Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 42
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
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“Harp till You Drop” the Message As Harpers’ Escapists Play Library

Ellen Gilbert

“It’s hard to make the harp sound bad,” joked Harpers’ Escape co-founder Kathy DeAngelo at the group’s Sunday afternoon concert at the Princeton Public Library. After an hour-and-a-half of lilting, wistful, somber, and toe-tapping traditional Scottish and Irish music, the audience that filled the library’s Community Room seemed unlikely to disagree.

This year’s Harpers’ Escape weekend, the largest ever, with 37 participants, took place at Princeton’s Chauncey Center, where harpers Grainne Hambly, William Jackson, Sharon Knowles, Debbie Brewin-Wilson, and Ms. DeAngelo taught players of all levels about playing the harp during two days of “total harp immersion.” Solos by each teacher, individual groups, and a final ensemble piece highlighted Sunday’s concert.

Ms. Brewin-Wilson and Ms. DeAngelo got the inspiration to start the Harpers’ Escape Weekend in 1992, when the intrusions of young children and everyday life threatened to interrupt sustained rehearsals for performances. Now in its 16th year, the Harpers’ Escape “offers a wonderful combination of learning, comraderie, and support for harpers of all levels,” according to its website,

“I think there is a certain mystique that is associated with the harp,” said Ms. DeAngelo in a New York Times interview several years ago. “It’s associated with angels, with serenity, and that kind of stuff. It’s a very sensual instrument as well; you have to get your arms around it.”

While she didn’t make a connection between her name and the heavenly bodies associated with her favorite instrument on Sunday, Ms. DeAngelo did talk about harps and the people who play them.

The Harpers’ Escapists play “folk,” or “lever” harps, she noted, as opposed to the larger classical harps used by large orchestras. Clad in t-shirts announcing their “harp till you drop” motto, the players conveyed a decided air of down-to-earthiness, consistent with Ms. DeAngelo’s insistence on calling them “harpers,” rather than “harpists.” (She also calls the fiddle, which she sometimes used to accompany the harpers, a “fiddle,” rather than a “violin.”)

When people ask “where was the music?” Ms. DeAngelo deadpans, “weren’t you listening?”--the point being that students participating in the Harpers’ Escape Weekend are taught to play by ear. The folksiness of their world was reflected in an anecdote Ms. DeAngelo told about one of their selections, “Still I Love Him.” After it was aired on the BBC in 1952, she said, the song drew responses from women all around Great Britain who knew different verses specific to their own particular regions and husbands’ occupations. Thus, “He works in the pityard for twelve bob a week/He comes home on Saturdays full as a leach/Still I love him, I’ll forgive him/I’ll go with him wherever he goes.”

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