Special to the Record
Winter Harp will return to the Comox Valley for a Christmas tradition that perpetuates a centuries-old legacy.
The B.C. group will enchant a Sid Williams Theatre audience Dec. 11 with medieval music.
The music that developed in Europe during a time of barbarism, poverty and disease was ethereal, even heavenly, dominated by instruments such as flute and harp.
Ah, yes, the fickle harp. Winter Harp lists two harp technicians among its support personnel.
“Harps are challenging,” comments Lori Pappajohn, Winter Harp director and one of its two Celtic harpists. “When you tour with them, they’re constantly being moved…
“Their mechanisms can become loose or slightly moved, which can cause buzzes. They’re very finicky.”
Winter Harp has begun a 14-performance mostly-B.C. tour that will present Christmas music until Dec. 21.
Pappajohn clearly loves the music that has endured for hundreds of years.
“Why has it endured? Because it’s beautiful. The melodies are beautiful; the words are beautiful. I think anything that is beautiful should endure.”
Originally a pianist, Pappajohn praises the harp for its diversity.
“You can play everything from classical, to jazz to blues.”
Pappajohn is excited that Kim Robertson, her first harp teacher, is back with Winter Harp this year.
Robertson, she explains, was Frenchman Alan Stivell’s North American counterpart in reviving the Celtic harp in the 1970s.
“She’s one of the world’s top Celtic harpists.”
Comox Valley resident Roger Helfrick is another Winter Harp member who will don authentic medieval attire to entertain a Sid audience.
“His voice is just unbelievable … nobody can do what he can do.” Besides singing, Helfrick plays wire-strung harp and medieval guitar.
Narrator Adam Henderson is another key member of the group.
“There are beautiful readings about winter and about Christmas, and he reads those,” says Pappajohn about the veteran actor.
Other musicians are Janelle Nadeau (pedal harp, voice); Lauri Lyster (percussion, voice); Jeff Pelletier (flute, bass flute, wooden piccolo); and Joaquin Ayala (nyckelharpas, organistrum and psaltery, a five-foot-tall bass instrument).
According to its website (winterharp.com), Winter Harp has had a consistent record of near sold-out concerts and standing ovations throughout Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest since its inception in 1993.
Part of the appeal goes beyond the music.
“I’ve had people say they came to the concert just for the (pre-Raphael-inspired) clothing,” laughs Pappajohn.
The impressive backdrop helps to transport listeners hundred of years back in time, she adds.
“You’re not just on stage; suddenly you’re in a cathedral. It’s an experience.”
On that note, she feels the Winter Harp experience takes people on “their own personal journey to their own (Christmas) memories.”
Winter Harp performs Dec. 11 at the Sid Williams Theatre in Courtenay at 7:30 p.m.
For details and tickets to this Blue Circle Series performance, visit sidwilliamstheatre.com, phone 250-338-2430 or visit the Sid box office at 442 Cliffe Ave. in Courtenay.
Mark Allan is a freelance writer and a former editor of the Comox Valley Record.