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Millennium Harp Quest

Harping for Harmony sponsors Millennium Quests for harpers. The concept is to declare a quest for a one-year period that will stretch your comfort zone as a musician and provide a community service to your locality.

Joining this program, I have declared my own Millennium Quest for 2005:

I, Jo Morrison, declare my quest to become "Millennium Harper to the Isle of Lewis for 2005." In this quest I will attempt to play for a minimum of 25 different people on the island while here. This could be in any setting, and is likely to mostly be in my or other people's homes. The quest will be over whether I reach my goal or not when I leave the island on March 4th.

  Jo playing her Bohemian harp  

This quest is taking place with a new harp as well as a new location for me. I started this journey by travelling to Germany to build a harp for this trip. I am using this new harp for the quest. (I played for all the people at the harp-building course during the course as well, and also at a Hogmany party in the borders of Scotland, but I'm not counting that as part of my quest.)

This will stretch me to play in unfamiliar territory for unfamiliar people and on a new and very different instrument. If you are interested in more information about the harp-building, see my page about my trip overall.

I have an opportunity to do this to a new (to me) community for a short term, so I am declaring a "mini" quest. This probably doesn't meet any of the requirements for Harping for Harmony's official titles, but it pushes me to get myself out there and playing for others while here, which is my goal.

The central location of this quest is Tolstachaolais and its immediate surroundings, where I've rented a cottage for this short period of time. I've already met a number of the folks in the village, and will see how many I manage to play harp for.

This Quest was declared January 17, 2005.

Below are write-ups for each act of harping event for the quest.

1. Private home, 8 Tolstachaolais, Isle of Lewis

  On Monday, 17 January, I began my quest by playing for my landlady, her mother, and her brother, in her kitchen. I played Arran Boat Song, Fear a' Bhàta, and An Ataireachd Ard as solos. My husband came with me for this first "performance" on Lewis, as he was still here at the time. We played The Mermaid's Song, Mull of the Mountains, and Come By the Hills together, and he played Cronan alone as well. They were thrilled to hear a number of songs they recognized, and hummed along on An Ataireachd Ard, Fear a' Bhàta, and Mermaid's Song. It was great fun and very appreciated.

2. Carloway church, Carloway, Isle of Lewis (about 2 miles from Tolstachaolais)

  On January 23rd, I was presented with an opportunity to play at a church in Carloway. I came about this opportunity to play for a large number of people in a round-about way. Wanting to plug-in to the community a bit and get a feel for the island, I asked my landlady where people around the area when to church. She told me they went to Carloway, and invited me to come with her to the Sunday am service. After the morning service, she introduced me to another lady there who organizes music for the evening praise services they have every fortnight. They happened to be having one that evening. She asked me to come by and play along on the praise music. I knew I wouldn't know most of the songs, but agreed to come give it a try.

So, I arrived prepared to do a bit of improvising, hoping I'd have some chords to follow. When the minister/organizer of the service met me, he wanted me to play a solo. I agreed, and we planned when it would fall in the service. Then we started, and I was in the midst of playing unfamiliar music with unfamiliar musicians and recorded music behind it. There were no chords for most of the music, but I played along on some of it anyway, and it went okay. When it came time for my solo, I played "Simple Gifts." The congregation, who had been pretty quiet to this point, went wild with applause. The minister pretty much insisted I do another, so I played "Amazing Grace" as well.

Lots of people came up and raved about my music after the service, and hoped I'd come back. The flautist with the other musicians invited me to her home and hoped I'd come back and play again. It was an extremely rewarding time.

There were at least 60 people at this service, so I guess officially I've already met my goal. (75 is probably closer to accurate.) I'm going to keep trying to play for others as much as possible, though.

3. Harp lessons - at my cottage and at the Young Musicians of Stornoway building, Isle of Lewis

  I have started teaching lessons to students here, and in the process have needed to play tunes to demonstrate what I am teaching. Some of these occasions include:
  1/26 -- Played "Rights of Man" for Norma
  2/4 - Played "Cuidich an Righ" and "An Ataireachd Ard" for group of three students at ensemble practice, and later for those three and two others in private lessons.
  2/7 - Played "Cuidich an Righ," "High Road to Gairloch," and "An Ataireachd Ard" for Fiona.
  2/8 -- Played the tunes I had written while here for Laura. (Gun Mo Leannan, The Big Storm, and Lights Over Tolstachaolais.)
  2/9 - Played "The Land of the Trees" for Norma.
  2/11 - Played same tunes as before for ensemble, this time with 7 people.
  2/14 - Played same tunes for Fiona.
  2/17 - Played "An Ataireachd Ard" and "The Song of the Kelpie" for three students.
  2/21 - Played "An Ataireachd Ard" and "Cuidich An Righ" for Jane.
  2/21 - Played "Rosyln Castle" for Laura.
  2/22 - Played same tunes for Fiona.
  2/25 - Played "Cuidich and Righ" for Marsali and Mairi at ensemble.
  2/28 - Played "Gun Mo Leannan" for Laura to learn, played same tunes for Fiona one more time.
  3/2 - "The Land of the Trees" for Norma again.

4. Private Home, 3 Tolstachaolais, Isle of Lewis

  On February 5 my good friends Justin and Laura came by to let me know they were home to Tolstachaolais from four months in Australia. They invited me around to their place for a bit, and after some chatting and eating, Laura pulled out her harp to get reacquainted after so long without playing. She played a couple of tunes, and then asked me to play something. I played "Lament for Ravenscraig" and my "North Brig of Edinburgh" set.

5. At my cottage, 6 Tolstachaolais, Isle of Lewis

  On February 12th my friend Andrea arrived to visit, and we spent the evening chatting and playing harps. (Laura had lent us a second harp so we could play together.) I played my new tunes for her, and she played some tunes for me, and we played some tunes together as well.

6. Private Home

  Andrea and I visited Laura and Justin the evening of February 13th, and we played a number of tunes while there, both together and separately.

7. Church of Scotland, Carloway

  On February 12th, the church I had played for before called and asked me to come play again on the 13th. I agreed, and left Laura and Justin's early in order to go perform at the church for a concert they were putting on. I played three tunes for over 80 people: "Be Thou My Vision," "Lights over Tolstachaolais," and "The Water is Wide." The final tune I played with a flutist. I had met her the previous time, and when she arrived with flute in hand I asked her if she would play "The Water is Wide" with me, and she agreed. We performed with no rehearsal, but it went well once we got started in the same key.

8. Private Home

  Wendy Stewart and Cheyenne Brown were here on February 18th, and we got together at Justin and Laura's house. We played harps together and separately, and at one point I played all three of my new tunes for them. This was scary, as they are both excellent harpers, and Wendy is a great composer of tunes, so it was intimidating to play for them. It went fairly well, though.

9. Private Home

  Again at Justin and Laura's, Cheyenne and I played harps together and separately while Laura fixed dinner. Cheyenne started learning "Gun Mo Leannan" from me. This was on February 20th.

10. Private Home

  March 2: I played for my landlady and her mother again. This time I played "Banks of Lochiel," "Gun Mo Leannan," "Lights Over Tolstachaolais," "The Big Storm," and "Mairi's Wedding." The last one was requested, and I was told the tune was written by a man from Tolstachaolais.

11. Private Home

  Returning to Laura and Justin's one more time my final night there, March 4th, they asked me to play all of my tunes I'd written while on Lewis. I played over the three I'd played before, and also played "Working Dogs" for them -- its first public performance. They recorded me as I played, so they are saved for posterity somewhere...

It was sad to leave Lewis -- I would have liked to have made more opportunities to play, but I had a wonderful time taking my harp around the village and playing for folks. As I expected, this was a very rewarding experience. I know I played for well over my goal of 25 people, largely because of the two "performances" at the church, where I had a very large audience. It was wonderful getting to play in the variety of settings and for so many wonderful people. If you count each lesson, I played in public more than 20 times during the course of my two-month stay, so I feel quite good about that.

Revised 4/18/05.
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