Adult Harp Retreat 2018

This past week, I had the immense pleasure of spending just shy of 8 full days in the beautiful mountains of north Georgia, teaching at the Adult Harp Retreat.  Every year, a group of adult harp students travel from upstate New York and south Florida and all spaces in between to spend a week enjoying and studying the harp.  Two professional teachers are brought in to teach lessons and masterclasses, as well as lead ensembles and give evening presentations.  The students are almost all “hobby” harpists, from a wide variety of backgrounds, experiences, and playing levels.

Back in October, I was asked to be one of the instructors for the 2018 Adult Harp Retreat and I’ve been looking forward to it ever since.  The retreat is organized by Judy Smith, who also attends as a student, and she works very hard to plan and organize this retreat every year.  Leading up to the week of the retreat, I was in touch with Judy and my fellow teacher Rachel Brandwein to make sure that we planned a fantastic week for all of the students.

To save on loading times, I made a separate posts with my videos from the week.  You can see them here.

Smithgall Woods

The Adult Harp Retreat took place at the Smithgall Woods State Park.  The 3 cabins that we stayed and played in were far into the woods of the north Georgia mountains, surrounded by breathtaking scenery.  After stopping at the visitor’s center and receiving a code, I drove through the gate and almost 2 miles of this:

The AHR made use of 3 cabins in the woods.  After passing the first of the cabins (Creekside), I continued on to Smithgall Cabin, which is where I stayed during the week.

To follow the road along to the last of the cabins (Dover), you actually have to drive through the constantly-rushing creek (which is quite a bit more than what I would actually call a “creek”).  My car is very very low to the ground, so I elected to stay in the carport and never drove across.

Smithgall Cabin sits above the intersection of the two “creeks”, so we got to spend the whole week hearing the constant flow of water.  Despite the relatively small area of water, the flow down the mountain was constant and actually fairly loud.  To help with loading of this page, I put all of my videos on a separate page.  You can go there to see videos I took throughout the week, which include several where you can hear how loud the water actually was.

From where I parked, there was a long foot bridge over the water and to the cabin.  This is a picture taken looking back towards that bridge and the cabin.

Here are some other general scenery pictures, before I get into the events of the week.

And here are some pictures from inside Smithgall Cabin, before the others started to arrive.


On Sunday, everyone arrived and gathered in Smithgall Cabin (it’s the largest and central of the 3 cabins we used) for a meet-and-greet and dinner.  Afterwards, we went over the schedule and everyone was invited to play their easy piece that they pull out when someone says “Oh, you play the harp? Play something for me!”


After breakfast, everyone moved their harps into Smithgall Cabin for large ensemble rehearsal.  Rachel and I each were in charge of leading 2 of the large ensemble pieces.  Of course, I never managed to take any pictures of myself doing things…so here’s Rachel leading the first large ensemble rehearsal!  There’s also a video from this first rehearsal.

After lunch, I made the trek to Dover Cabin and spent the afternoon teaching private lessons.  During what was supposed to be free time, I spent about half of it talking with students about things they’re working on and questions they had, followed by helping a student with some of her music.  After dinner and dessert performances (when anyone who wants to can perform a piece just for the sake of an opportunity to perform), Rachel and I presented an evening of duets.  Having never even met before (let alone played together), the students got to see what it was like for us to try putting ensemble music together on the fly, as well as what our process would be if we were going to continue working together.  It was amazing fun because Rachel and I worked together really well.  It’s rare to find someone who can feel the unwritten dynamics and expressions the same as you, so it was all smiles Monday evening for me at that wonderful experience.


All of Tuesday morning and most of the afternoon, I continued teaching private lessons at Smithgall and Creekside.  On Monday, several students had shown interest in a demonstration of loading/unloading a harp from a car, so I volunteered to do demonstrations for small groups during free time on Tuesday and Wednesday.  After dinner, Rachel led a small workshop on sight reading.  There weren’t any extra harps for me to participate, so I sat in and watched/listened.


Wednesday morning was another large ensemble rehearsal until lunch.  That afternoon, the students had the opportunity to play a piece with an oboist that they had prepared.  (The oboist is somewhat behind the pillar on the left side of the picture below.)  Free time again for me was more harp loading/unloading demonstrations.  Students had a break that night after dinner by watching a movie, while Rachel and I hung out on the deck of Smithgall Cabin.


Thursday morning was more large ensemble rehearsal.  After lunch, I taught a Masterclass for half of the students.  During free time, one of the students asked me to give her an extra private lesson.  We spent a little over a half hour working on jazz music, so it was a lot of fun!  I used the last half hour of free time to finally have a chance to just go to my room and sit.  After dinner and dessert performances, I gave a long presentation on basic harp repair and maintenance, unintentionally keeping everyone too long after bedtime!  Oops!

And I somehow managed to not take any pictures on Thursday….oops again!


Friday morning was finally my chance to work with the small ensembles.  Each of the 3 cabins was divided into a small ensemble of 3-4 harpists, with a piece of their own to work on.  I did a lot of running from one cabin to the next that morning!  After lunch, I taught another Masterclass for the other half of the students who hadn’t been in the Masterclass on Thursday.  During free time, I helped one of the students practice loading/unloading her own harp into her car, since she’d come to one of my demonstrations where I did it with my own harp in my own car.  On the way back to my cabin, I got sidetracked into another extra private lesson.  After dinner, I gave an – again unintentionally – overly long presentation on arranging music for the harp, showcasing and performing a variety of my own arrangements.  This picture is from the Dover Cabin small ensemble rehearsal.


Ah, the day of the big concert!  In the morning, we had a last large ensemble rehearsal.  After lunch, harps were loaded up and moved to the First Presbyterian Church in Cleveland, Georgia.  Once harps were unloaded and tuned, we had a mini-rehearsal and run-through of the program.  It was an early dinner at Smithgall Cabin before right back to the church for a wonderful concert.  The students performed 4 large ensemble pieces and the 3 small ensemble pieces.  Rachel and I performed 2 of the duets that we had most enjoyed playing together on Monday evening.  After the concert, we gathered for a late night get-together at Smithgall for celebratory ice cream cake, wine, and conversation.  The 2 non-cake pictures below were from rehearsal.  I swear I actually did things!  I just couldn’t take pictures of myself when I was conducting. 😉  There are also a few videos from the concert and rehearsal.


After a late night and an early morning, everyone loaded up and headed home!


All in all, it was a great week and I had a lot of fun!  I was very tired when I got home (and to be honest, I still am!) but every minute of it was worth it!  I met some wonderful people and new friends while I was there.  I’m so happy I got to be a part of it!

Don’t forget to check out my separate post of videos from the week!