Kingston Buskers Festival!


Exciting news! I’m a (very) last-minute addition to the Kingston Buskers Festival this year.

Because I was only admitted last week, my individual schedule isn’t in the newspaper. But here it is on my blog!

Today, I’ll be outside the Royal Bank from 12-1PM, then the Bank of Montreal from 2-3PM, then Chien Noir from 5-6PM.

Tomorrow (Friday), I’m outside Mio Gelato from 12-1PM, Tara Foods from 3-4PM, and then Shoppers Drug Mart from 5-6PM.

On Saturday, I’m outside Morrison’s from 11AM-12PM, Four Points Hotel from 1-2PM, Chien Noir from 3-4PM, and then finally the Kingston Olive Oil Company from 5-6PM.

And on Sunday, I’ll be back at the Bank of Montreal from 12-1PM, my old haunt Chien Noir from 2-3PM, and Shoppers Drug Mart from 5-6PM.

Phew! I’m going to experiment with bringing my big harp downtown today … So you might see me seated in a proper chair and playing a really big instrument for the festival! This is a serious experiment, though — not sure how it will work in the sunlight and moving around several times during the day.



Busking, two weeks later

I know, I know — I haven’t posted very regularly. I’m sorry!

But! I have been out busking several times since my inaugural session.

So far, my absolute favourite part of busking is when little kids get really excited to see a harp. If they look even remotely responsible, I’ll let them come up and touch the strings — “very gently, just like a baby. Eek! I said like a baby, not a bowling ball!!!” I plea in vain — my secret hope is that they will go on to become little folk harpists in their own right.

(I don’t tell their parents how much a new harp costs.)

I can’t even count the number of cool things and people I’ve met over the past two weeks, but here are some highlights. Apologies if I forgot to include you!

  • A young woman asked if I gave lessons, since she got a harp last summer but couldn’t find a teacher. (I don’t give lessons [future blog topic!], but I offered to sit down with her for free one afternoon and show her the very little I’ve learned.)
  • A kind “experimental film maker” (his words!) wants to use me as an actress? extra? random musician? to sit and play mournfully on the harp while he films a hillside near Fort Henry.
  • Several people asked me “What will you do in Ireland?” so I told them about the amazing Irish Harp Centre in Limerick
  • Another gentleman mentioned he had just sold his company for 4.9 million dollars, and he would gladly send me to Ireland with the money … I am too nervous to take him up on the offer.
  • A younger guy asked if I’d work with him as an ‘improvising accompanist’ (!!!) for his shadow puppet play at Story-telling Time at the public library. I can’t think of anything cooler than that entire concept.
  • An older guy rocked out for five whole minutes belting a Metallica song at the top of his lungs, wanting me to play along with him. A friendly woman had to tell him “Shh, I’m trying to listen to the harpist!” I don’t know any Metallica songs (yet), but maybe by the end of the summer I’ll have something down.

I’m still taking lessons, which have been great, although I’ve gotten so many random requests from folks while busking that I think I need to expand my repertoire a bit on my own time! (The most awesome thing I am working on is the Great Fairy Fountain theme song from Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time … it is basically impossible for me right now — so many lever changes!! Maybe someday.)

Unfortunately, the big harp has broken another string (yet again…), so my practice time at home is limited.

A friend of mine wants to start a harp and vocals busking trio, too, so we’ll see where that goes!

Finally, I’m still trying to figure out good timing. So far it seems like the best busking sessions happen in the evening, so I am spending this afternoon at the Skeleton Park Arts Festival — back to my corner tonight, though!

Until next time 🙂

Turns out Kingstonians like harps

The first time I busked!

My first busking session was FANTASTIC. It was a cold night, so in the photo I’m bundled up in my flowy black harping dress (as I like to call it) and a black leather jacket (which is clearly the most traditional attire for a harpist). Since I was sitting right at the corner of Jack Astor’s, half my body was burning in the sun and the other half was freezing cold in the shade.

I was really nervous at first. In fact, I stayed nervous enough the whole time that I forgot half my repertoire and basically played the same seven songs in different variations for … well … two hours straight.

Luckily Kingston didn’t seem to mind. What a generous and musical city! Tourists and locals and little kids and elderly folks and everyone in-between seemed so happy to see a harp on the street. At least 10 people (young and old) came right up and sat with me for a bit so they could try plucking the strings, too.

Some excellent memories:

  • I ran into some friends and colleagues: Sonja, Chris, Paolo — thank you!
  • A mysterious woman whispered “I’m Irish” in my ear, tipped me and danced away
  • Another woman told me it was her birthday, so I played her a song (not even a birthday song — just a random tune), and she gave me my biggest tip of the night (thank you, random lady)
  • A group of high school students were so mesmerized and quiet while listening that I didn’t even notice they had been standing next to me until a couple minutes went by
  • One man — a former professional golfer, apparently?! — told me about his trips in Ireland and Scotland, and requested that I learn “Mull of Kintyre” by Paul McCartney by the end of the summer
  • Several people asked how they could get started playing a harp, too!! Now that’s awesome.

After last night, I want to step up my game. Too bad Mama Harp experienced a very noisy string break — in my bedroom — at 6AM this morning … Sigh.

Busking again this afternoon at the Farmer’s Market. Will try a new location. Ireland, here I come!

I’m a street performer now — for realsies

It’s been a while, but here we go — it’s official! I applied for (and received) my very first street performer license. $32 and ten minutes later, I’m a busker!

Some basic busking rules I’ll try to follow:

  • Move location at least every 90 minutes
  • Only play between 9AM-11PM
  • Don’t bug anybody

Coming up: A photo of my busking sign…

If the weather forecast holds true, I’ll be near Market Square on Friday evening for my first busking session.

Currently I’ve got about 30 minutes of music memorized, which isn’t great, but I’ll keep working on it. In the meanwhile, my improvising/”advanced noodling” has definitely improved over the past month or so. If I get bored, that will work just fine.

The worst that will happen is I just end up spending an afternoon outside, playing!


Building a busking repertoire

I recently realized that, while my music binder is nearly falling apart with the number of tunes I’ve learned in the past year, I haven’t memorized any of them! In fact, I barely remember their names. I quickly memorize current projects, but it’s as if as soon as my teacher checks it off our list, the song evaporates.

Since I hope to busk this summer (eek), this needs to change.

So my new goal is that, by April 18th, I’ll have memorized at least an hour’s worth of music (and know a bit of interesting background for each song).

I’ve currently got around 10 minutes of music memorized just with my current practice, but the pieces’ keys are all so different that it’s not a very efficient or logical flow between the songs since I need to flip so many levers between each song. I also want to play with lengthening some of the pieces — a lot of my tunes are only one page long, but I think I can play with the arrangement so that, if I repeat it a couple times in a row, it sounds different enough each time.

Yesterday I put my repertoire into “key piles.” I’m sure there’s a more technical term and I’m sure I don’t know it. My harp is currently tuned to Eb major, since that allows me the most lever options. So, with that in mind, I just organized my songs by lever combos that seemed sensible to me — C major, G major and D major songs in one pile, and then Eb major and F major in another pile. I suppose if I were to organize all my songs, I’d go from Eb major –> F major –> C major –> G major –> D major, since that would require the least amount of back-and-forth on the levers (…I think? My music theory isn’t great).

Anyway, whatever. I’m starting with the former pile. Baby steps are nice. And the first step? Re-learning the tunes!

“It’s probably Johann. They’re all named Johann.”

I’ve been working on Sylvia Woods’ easy arrangement of Pachelbel’s Canon in D for nearly three months now.* My instructor assures me that this is a big turning point in my practice — beginner harpist to intermediate! — but $#@!, I’m ready to put this song behind me.

It haunts my dreams …

At this stage, I can play the entire thing without false or missed notes (well… most of the time). What I am still struggling with is keeping my tempo consistent without a metronome! If I’ve got my metronome, I’m golden. Without it, the fast section just gets faster … and faster … until either my fingering falls apart OR the song just sounds artless anyway.

I have at least two weeks until my next lesson, so my current plan of attack is just to religiously play with the metronome in the hope that somehow this beat will lodge itself into my brain. I think it’s my fault for not starting the piece with a metronome — I only figured out the metronome app on my (new! shiny!) phone about two weeks ago. So I suspect all these inconsistencies got drilled into me in the month and a half before that.

Any other tips for keeping a beat in the middle of playing? I don’t really have trouble keeping a consistent beat when that’s ALL I have to do (like clapping steadily). It’s just when I simultaneously have to focus on something else, too, that’s already a little technically challenging for me to begin with.

Fellow Canadian Alys Howe plays a much nicer and complex version Pachelbel’s Canon in this video.

On the other hand, as the Boyfriend once showed me, Pachelbel’s Canon also has a very, very dark side.

I’m with comedian Rob Paravonian on this one.

*I’m also embarrassingly pleased with myself that the product description at describes this particular arrangement as “an intermediate harp solo.”