WinterHarp ensemble to play this Sunday at the PAC

Published on Thu, Dec 9, 2004 by ack Kintner

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Winter Harp ensemble
to play this Sunday at the PAC

By Jack Kintner

A Blaine Christmas tradition will be observed this Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. as the seven-member Winter Harp ensemble returns to the Performing Arts Center (PAC) for their annual concert. A local favorite, the group plays traditional Celtic arrangements on replicas of medieval instruments and combines that with poetry and singing. They’ve been together 13 years now and have recorded seven CDs on tours that have included most of North America.

The Christmas program includes music written by ensemble members as well as some flamenco numbers and even humorous pieces, like “Deck the Halls with Harry.”

“We like to have fun with this, as people know if they’ve seen us,” said Bellingham harpist Jill Whitman, an original member of the 13-year-old group. ‘Deck the Halls with Harry’ is a medley of the Christmas carol and some well-known Harry Belafonte numbers,” Whitman said.

The Pacific Arts Association, sponsors of this and five other Blaine concerts throughout the year, has also invited the Fourth Corner Miniature Club and the Birch Bay Village Art Group, led by Bruce Mosher, to exhibit their work in the PAC foyer before the concert and during the intermission.

The Blaine appearance is the eighth of Winter Harp’s current season, and the two hour concert will have new numbers as well as some old favorites, “which is what Christmas traditions are all about,” said Whitman. One of three harpists in the group, Whitman plays a large grand pedal harp. Her 12-year-old daughter Emilie and the group’s director, Lori Pappajohn, play smaller Celtic harps.

Other group members include Vancouver poet Alan Woodland, Japanese flutist Kenichi Ueda, Vancouver Symphony percussionist Lauri Lyster and medieval instrument specialist Joaquin Ayala.

The group makes music “the old-fashioned way,” Whitman continued, “with harps, percussion and flute which are the oldest instruments in western culture.” They combine that sound with some odd but mellow-sounding medieval instruments like the nyckelharpa, a precursor to the violin with keys and many extra strings, the droning guitar-like organistrum that requires two people to play it, and the psaltery, a small harp backed with a sound box much like a contemporary autoharp.

They also have one of the world’s only bass psalteries, a five-foot tall version of an instrument usually held and played on one’s shoulder. The design was executed by Vancouver luthier Edward Turner.

A three-foot long two-story dollhouse made by Glenda Barnhart of Blaine highlights the display of miniatures that will be out in the PAC foyer for viewing beforehand and during intermission. Modeled on an 18th century English middle-class farmhouse complete with a thatched roof, Barnhart said that the house is like those found in the English Cotswolds “as well as all over England.”

She leads annual tours to England concentrating on areas where such houses are still in use and when home in Blaine builds dollhouse cottages to a 1/12 scale, the same as “G” scale in model railroading.

“I used hemp for the thatch,” she said, “but in England it’s usually either wheat straw, a roof that lasts maybe 20 to 25 years, or reeds for a roof that can last 200 years.” Barnhart added that the structure of the house would have originally been in the fifteenth century as a large A-frame, then would have been modified over the years as fireplaces and second floors were added, all of which is visible in her rendition just as it is in the full-size versions in England.

“And this little room added on,” she said, “was the bathroom, as the house of course had no plumbing until later. The outhouses were moved next to the house when someone invented what’s known as a dirt toilet. Neighbors would often use the facilities and as a thank you would leave a small gift.” A small pot of flowers sits outside the door in Barnhart’s model.

“Then came the flush toilet that’s installed in there now,” Barnhart said, “invented by that famous Englishman Thomas Crapper.”

Also exhibiting are Debbie and Mike Schramer of Bellingham, whose specialty is something they call fairy furniture made from natural materials like twigs and moss; the whimsical sculptures of Judith Light; Shirley Logan’s patchwork wall hanging; dolls by Berta Smith and Cindy Parsons; beadwork by Jennifer Burge; handmade greeting cards by Kathy Zuehike and art pieces by the Birch Bay Village Art Group.

Single concert tickets are available for $15 with discounted prices for students at Steamers, the Blaine Visitors Center, Smugglers’ Inn, Pacific Hardware, the gift shop in the Semiahmoo Resort in Blaine, or Village Books in Fairhaven. Credit card orders may be made by phoning 332-6484. For more information on the concert contact Sandy Wolf at 371-0141 or at