This year’s Minnesota Scottish Harp Weekend was our best year yet! We had over 60 attendees observe or participate in workshops, concert, and competition from seven states (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, North Carolina, Washington, and Wisconsin)!
Friday, July 14 2017
Festivities kicked off Friday morning at the Celtic Junction in St. Paul. A few of us arrived early to have lunch with a group of fiddlers that were having an all-day workshop.
Our guest teachers Seumas Gagne (harp), Mary MacGillivray (fiddle) and Ed Willett (cello), all contributed to the lunch table discussion, with interesting insight into Gaelic culture and what it’s like to have all of your primary subjects taught in Gaelic–including learning shape names while playing with playdoh in primary school. Seumas also discussed his primary motivation to learning Scottish Gaelic. Initially it was to “decode” a treasure trove of Scottish history that was all written in a language he couldn’t understand. Through his journey to learn the language, he realized that learning Scottish Gaelic was more than making history accessible— he wished to “be a participant in Scottish culture, and not merely imitate it”.
Sixteen harpers arrived after lunch and we adjourned to a sunny and spacious dance studio, where Seumas taught us his workshop entitled “Rocking the Background”. He began the workshop with some basic ergonomics, and continued to slowly layer on complexity including counting out loud, clapping rythyms, playing a simple chord rhythm, and finally, playing an entire chord progression to the tune of Auld Lang Syne (the real Scottish version, of course!). To remember the chord progression, think “Good boys eat carrots. Good dogs don’t growl.”
After the workshop, a few of us zipped over to the brand new brewery across the street, Black Stack Brewery. We ruminated over all sorts of topics, including practical life lessons that music has taught us, and dealing with performance anxiety.
The day sped by quickly, and we returned to the Celtic Junction later that evening to hear Seumas in concert. About 30 of us sat in the softy-lit auditorium to listen to a lovely and intimate presentation. Seumas put together a beautifully-paced, textured program with storytelling, harp solo, harp and voice, a-capella, and audience participation. Seumas is careful to not just perform the music, but also to provide cultural context, and English translations for each of his selections. We all thouroughly enjoyed his performance, and left with a deeper appreciation of Scottish culture.
Saturday, July 15 2017
The next morning dawned, and by 8:00 am, we knew we were in for a hot and humid day.
Set-up and registration began at the Scottish Fairgrounds in Eagan. After some bracing and encouraging words from our judge, Seumas Gagne, we kicked off our competition promptly at 9:30 am. In all we had 12 people compete. Two hours and 45 minutes later, with copious amounts of water, sunscreen, and nervous energy, we finished our competition at 12:15 p.m. During the course of the competition, two of our competitors Sandy & Allison were bumped up from Apprentice to Journeyman. The both adapted to this news with grace, and rose to the challenge beautifully. At the end of the graded categories, the judge revealed that two of our novice competitors Jacob and Diane were tied, and that they would need to each play another piece as a “play-off” for second place. The competition was wrapped up by a master performance from Stephanie, and an early music rendition of “Ceol Mor” from Chad.
After quickly tallying the scores, we presented our awards. Here’s this year’s line-up:
- Beginner – 1st Open, Ann Ferrari ($50)
- Beginner – 1st Under 17, Evy Keppers ($50)
- Novice – 1st Open, Amelia Gerlach ($50)
- Novice – 2nd Open, Jacob Nelson
- Novice – 3rd Open, Diane Smith
- Apprentice – 1st Open, Arianna Sprenger ($50)
- Apprentice – 2nd Open, Erin McLean
- Apprentice – 3rd Open, Katherine Marshall
- Journeyman – 1st Open, Allison Stevick ($50)
- Journeyman – 2nd Open, Sandy Waterman
- Master – 1st, Stephanie Claussen ($50)
- Early Scottish Music, Chad McAnally
- Harp & Vocal, Sandy Waterman
- Non-Graded, Kaitlyn Flynn
Last, but not least, our competition has two special awards to give out at the end. These awards are unique to our event, and allow us to recognize our competitors apart from their scores. We awarded “Most Promising Harper” to Katherine Marshall for continuing to play excellently despite her memory failing under pressure. We also awarded our new “Charlotte Fairbairn Award” to Jacob Nelson for being a good sport in the playoff, but for also having the guts to compete as a novice with an incredibly difficult march.
These two special awards came with a $28 refund of competition fees, and a $50 gift certificate from Musicmakers.
That brings us to a rather exciting development this year. We worked with a patron, John Fairbairn to rename and rebrand an old award. Last year we had an award called “Harper of the Day”, which was renamed after John’s mother, which is now called the “Charlotte Fairbairn Award”.
John says, “Charlotte Judd Fairbairn was a person who exemplified dedication. Once she determined that she was going to do something, she threw her heart and soul into it, overcoming all odds and difficulties. One of her favorite phrases was, ‘If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing my best.’ It is that kind of dedication which this award recognizes. Let’s just say it represents ‘the greatest effort to do something well for the enjoyment of others'”.
With much gravity and emotion, he presented our beautiful new trophy to this year’s winner, Jacob Nelson. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Since the Charlotte Fairbairn Award went to Jacob (who happens to be the owner of Musicmakers) he graciously declined a portion of his prize, which was a $50 gift certificate to his store! I was tasked with distributing it, so I gave it to our youngest competitor, Evy. She has many years of harping in front of her, and will need lots of music to learn!
Later that afternoon, Seumas delivered a fascinating lecture on “The Great Song of MacLeod”. Seumas painted a picture of a man named Ruaidhri MacMhuirich, a famous harper. In 1693, when Ruaidhri was 37 years of age, the social order he and his ancestors had always known was falling apart under pressure from British economics and society. A new Chief had been installed and things were changing for the worse. Blind since childhood, the last harper to the Chiefs of MacLeod knew exactly what tradition demanded of him. Seumas gave a tour of the social framework of the day and dissolved the language barrier to give us a chance to see the courage and pride in the verses of The Great Song of MacLeod. The organizer Emily Taege is quoted “it was basically an amazing podcast episode on steriods”.
After a few pints, dancing, posing with the Vikings, and taking in the fair, we all headed home, exhausted, and ready for a shower.
To see lots of pictures from this weekend, check out our album on Facebook.
Sunday, July 16 2017
The excitement is nearly over, and the weekend is drawing to a close. A few of us met at Stephanie’s house for a delicious Sunday brunch of tea, scones, sausage, eggs, tomato tart, and trifle. At the table we discussed linguistics at length, likening the study of ancient languages to archeaology, sleuthing through ancient vocabulary for “liguistic roots”. After fabulous table talk, Seumas helped us settle our stomachs to a short, impromptu harp concert.
Before we returned Seumas back home, we stopped by Minnehaha Falls to give him a little taste of local scenery.
Note from the Organizer
This year was full of firsts for me. This was the first event of this kind that I’ve ever planned, and I had a lot of fun learning about the process. I was excited to finally put faces to all of the generous patrons that were no more than names and exchanged emails. I also made lots of new connections and friendships in the Scottish community. I cannot thank you all enough, because this event could not have happened without your support. I hope that you all will continue to help year after year, and I will do my best to be a good steward of your support by providing you with a fresh and fun event every year.
Emily Taege, Organizer.
Made possible by a grant from the American Harp Society, Inc.
Family of Bruce
Minnesota Scottish Fair
St. Andrew’s Society of Minnesota
Scottish Harp Society of America
In Memory of Susan Loffler