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article imageReview: Medieval music by Winter Harp warms wintry night Special

By Mark J. Allan     Dec 16, 2014 in Music
Courtenay - Like-minded musicians in Winter Harp are continuing a medieval legacy with annual pre-Christmas concerts complete with unique instruments and compelling narration.
The Winter Harp experience begins before the audience hears the first note of ethereal medieval music.
An enormous backdrop dominated the stage as a near-sellout crowd of 440 waited for the seven-member ensemble to appear Dec. 11 at the Sid Williams Theatre in Courtenay, B.C., Canada.
Depicting a medieval cathedral, the canvas creation literally set the stage.
As the house lights dimmed, the sound of a flute heralded a procession from the lobby down an aisle of Winter Harp’s musicians, each bearing an archaic-looking lantern.
Making their way to the stage with a moody yet uplifting rendition of Sing We Noel, Winter Harp took the stage.
Affected by the solemn, stately procession, the crowd was utterly silent, not applauding until after the first tune from the stage.
The applause grew louder and longer as the group of like-minded musicians from Canada’s West Coast wove a warm sonic tapestry to shut out a rainy winter night.
Besides Celtic harps played sublimely by Kim Robertson and Winter Harp director Lori Pappajohn, and flutes played hauntingly by Jeff Pelletier, the group plays some unusual and striking medieval instruments, all hand-made specifically for the ensemble.
They include a unique five-foot-tall bass psaltery, which Joaquin Ayala played with two bows, producing a droning effect.
The organistrum, a cousin of the hurdy-gurdy, takes two people to play, one of whom is usually Ayala. One person turns a wheel to create a drone while the other person turns pegs to produce different notes.
The nyckelharpa combines a violin and a hurdy-gurdy and a symphonie is an early hurdy-gurdy that includes drone strings, which give it an almost-bagpipe sound.
Percussionist Lauri Lyster was a strong contributor to the experience, producing an eclectic range of sounds that included various drums and bells.
Most of the performers took turns singing wonderfully, including local musician Roger Helfrick, an especially strong vocalist. Everyone played an instrument at some point, including narrator Adam Henderson.
The show would have been highly enjoyable without him, but the veteran actor with a rich, understated Irish accent spun tales that were in turn humorous, whimsical and romantic.
Winter Harp, on a 14-performance mostly-West Coast tour until Dec. 21, overcomes distance and busy schedules in the second half of every year to perform time-tested Christmas favorites with a distinctly medieval flare.
Band members enter clad in period costume, and change clothes at intermission.
The music is the main thing, but Winter Harp works hard to create a memorable concert experience whose memory will stay fresh well into each new year.
If you are unable to see Winter Harp live but are interested in medieval music, its members have recorded many CDs collectively and individually. You can learn more at the Winter Harp website.
More about Winter Harp, medieval music, Christmas
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