HGG12: Arranging for Harp Guitar Without a Net

After Saturday afternoon’s Luthier presentations we had a final session, and one not to be missed!

We’ve tried two special Arranging for Harp Guitar segments in the past.  At HGG9, Frank picked a tune (“Coilsfield House”) and volunteers Stephen Bennett, Muriel Anderson and Andy Wahlberg went offstage for just 15 minutes, then came back to share their ideas on how they would arrange the tune for their particular style of harp guitar.  They all did a great job on their “unfinished pieces.”

At HGG11 (above), we gave the same three victims along with new volunteer Claude Laflamme 4 months to work on ““Sous Le Ciel De Paris,” bringing their finished arrangements to the Gathering.  All were nearly record-ready with their four completely different versions.  Of course, it does help to be a harp guitar virtuoso!

This year, Stephen suggested trying the most challenging scenario yet: “On the Spot” arranging, in front of a live audience!  He volunteered, but we didn’t pick any of the others until the very day.  Meanwhile, Joe Morgan was tasked to pick the tune, which would not be handed out until the start of the segment.

We then asked – and they accepted – three more brave volunteers: Claude Laflamme and two of our newcomers – Alex de Grassi and Jon Mendle…

…and they’re off!

Joe Morgan (at left) unveils the tune and hands out the sheet music: “The Right of Man,” a well-known fiddle tune in Em.

After a very few tense minutes as they all silently sight-read, SB volunteered to go first.  As expected, you could’ve almost stuck a mic in front of him and recorded it for a CD.  He soon demonstrated his deceptively simple-appearing melodic and accompaniment skills, complete with a trademark downward bend in the melody.

Note Alex staring at SB’s thumb, getting his last-minute crash course in sub-basses.

Next, the totally calm and collected Jon Mendle took a stab at it, offering a bevy of observations and ideas for laying the melody, chords and bass out on his nylon string arch guitar.  He even played the entire melody in natural harmonics.  He ended with a hilarious and valuable bit of advice; when all else fails, end with that James Bond chord.

Alex de Grassi next demonstrated how he would adapt the tune to his particular steel-string style, utilizing as many open strings in the melody as possible – playing across the neck rather than linearly.  He was doing great, until SB reminded him “don’t forget to throw in a token sub-bass.”  This was definitely harp guitar trial-by-fire for the “former 6-string guitarist”!

Last was Claude, who, going last, actually had the hardest time, as he didn’t dare repeat anything he’d heard so far…and what was left?!  Super-trebles, of course.  So he did the whole melody on his 8 supers, hitting the highest notes with super-treble harmonics to extend his range.  He then traveled around the neck a bit, incorporating some new chord variations.  Different and once again impressive!

For a finale, they all played together, swapping the lead, harmonizing, etc. for a rousing harp guitar quartet finish!

It all served to showcase the versatility and variety of these instruments (while serving as a chilling reminder that such experiments are best left to experts!).

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  1. Joe Morgan Says:

    This may have been my favorite part of HGG12. I have enjoyed these arranging challenges in the past, but doing it “on the spot” was a real twist. Thanks to the four participants for submitting to this kind of abuse and allowing the rest of us to get a peek at how they approach a new piece of music. And, congratulations to them for showing us a number of different ideas and techniques they would consider, each unique to the individual player and their instrument. Most impressive.

    Gregg, thanks for the nice summary of this, and all of the other segments of HGG12. I still don’t know when you find time to sleep…

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