The Earth Harp Collective at Silver Dollar City
Silver Dollar City has hosted a Spring festival each year for as long as I can remember entitled World Fest. Last year was the final year of this festival and the vast majority of the acts who made it a wonderful time here in the Ozarks. There would be people from literally around the world in our little area, playing music and performing amazing acts that boggled the mind.
Then they were gone, and I was not happy. The Irish Dancers were gone; also the husband and wife duo Robin Slater and Dearbhail Finnegan, people I had come to know and like. They may never again grace us with their wonderful music and silly antics, and I just did not like it one bit.
Of course, I understand that every now and again a change is in order. And now that I work for SDC, I understand why such changes are necessary and the reasons behind them. But I still missed what went before.
This year, SDC debuted a new festival termed the Festival of Wonder. Also featuring acts from around the world, it seems much like the World Fest, yet there is a difference. Coinciding with the performing acts comes food like you have never seen before. But that is not why I am here to speak of, not now. Now, I am speaking of one of the acts currently performing. The Earth Harp Collective.
The Earth Harp was created by William Close in 1999 after he had been studying architecture, in particular the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright had stated at one time that "Architecture is frozen music" and this led to William wondering how he could bring to life this "frozen music". Eventually he spanned a canyon with brass wire, nearly 1,000 feet from one side to the other, creating the first Earth Harp. Over the years, he has utilized buildings and other architecture both man-made and natural to create this unique instrument. And now, he has brought his instrument to Branson.
Together with William are some performers from around the world. Thomas Hjorth is from Copenhagen, Denmark and plays the guitar as well as another instrument created by William termed the Aquitar, which consists of a bass guitar, an electric guitar, and an instrument from India known as a sitar. These instruments are attached to one another and played simultaneously thus creating a quite unique sound experience. Thomas cites performers such as Prince and Lindsey Buckingham (of Fleetwood Mac) as influences upon his art.
Laura Vall is from Barcelona, Spain and has one of the most powerful voices I have ever heard. Swaying on stage to the music, she lets loose with a controlled voice that I can only compare to a young Celine Dion in power and quality. This young lady truly is a phenomenal talent. Once the group returns to LA, she and Thomas will be working on music for various films and TV series.
Ada Pasternak hails from Moscow, Russia and plays the violin for the group. And when I say plays, I mean she creates a sound that is literally straight from Heaven. I have loved fiddle music for most of my life, bluegrass in particular. I have greatly enjoyed some of the classics of Bach and Beethoven which featured this instrument. But listening to Ada is something apart from those and is truly special. My eyes (ears!) have been opened and may never be the same again.
Richard Sherwood comes from Florida and plays the percussion for the group in various forms. First off is a straight forward set of drums, another form is a set of electronic drums. He also plays a William Close created "drum cloud" and the aptly named "drumbrella". His beats push the music, securing its base while merging with the other instruments to create an experience like no other on earth. Richard cites one of his influences as being Keith Moon, that phenomenal drummer of The Who. He also is teaching young students the art of drumming. Way to go Richard!
William pays the Earth Harp, as well as another created instrument he has named the "drum jacket", consisting of multiple sets of electronic drum heads attached to a jacket and worn, thus creating a set of drums I can see children across the world wanting for Christmas. His energy and creativity are a sight to behold as he leads the group through their set of songs.
Together, the Collective is a masterpiece of excellent parts merging as one to become a unique and amazing unit performing music in a manner that is unlike anything I have heard before. For this show here in SDC, they have played music from Bach to Pink Floyd; original music they have written in part with Ralph Fiennes' brother (you know Ralph - he played Voldermort in the Harry Potter films) as well as classic music adapted to a film, then re-adapted to the Earth Harp and its components to become more than it was either time prior.
They also play a piece that has become dear to me over the years, a piece many of you know and love: Amazing Grace. Many years ago I was walking along the Mississippi River in St. Louis after eating breakfast on a paddle wheeler. It was foggy, so foggy one could not even see the river mere feet away. Then from somewhere deep in the fog came a sound. It was a bagpipe. Suddenly a small area cleared in the fog, a hole that showed a man in full Scottish regalia high above the river slowly walking across a bridge leading a funeral procession. As he played Amazing Grace on those pipes, the ashes were released into the mighty Mississippi. The final strains played, then faded as the hole in the fog closed. It was the most unearthly yet stirring moment in music I had ever heard. Until I heard the Earth harp Collective play that same music live.
With strings stretching close to a hundred feet above our heads in the venue, William played Amazing Grace. Tears flowed down my cheeks unchecked. As my position with SDC offers me an opportunity to visit each venue daily to check on how things are going, I have been able to "pop" in multiple times over the month and have heard not only William play, but his wife Sarah Werrin as she fills in for William when he is called away. And I have learned that even on the same instrument, differences in how a song is played comes through: the artist's feelings are on display as they play. William plays a strong, sure hand across the strings creating a sound that soars to new heights with each performance while Sarah allows her feminine side to show in a much more poignant performance that tears at the heart, making the song powerful in a different manner.
As wonderful as the performance of Amazing Grace is (and I love it), another song has captured my attention in this performance. At one point the group plays Hallelujah with Ada leading the way is a soul stirring solo, her violin alternately diving and soaring from note to note, her fingers dancing across the strings in a blur. Following this Laura joins in, her singing a masterful duet to Ada's violin as they create a piece that I cannot keep out of my head. It is perhaps the most beautiful song I have ever heard.
Thomas and Richard play a duet, with Thomas on the aquitar and Richard on the drum cloud, before Richard plays a solo on said drum cloud with ever accelerating hands beating a syncopatic rhythm that draws you in as he plays faster and faster, then stops: leaving you hanging breathless before recovering.
Then there is the drumbrella. This is literally a spinning, whirring combination of a handheld electric drill, several drum heads and a set of very fast hands holding drumsticks. As the drills begins spinning, Richard, accompanied by either William or Sarah, begins to beat a pattern on the drums. His hands a blur, the beat goes faster and faster until with a flourish he strikes the drums a final time and leaves the audience clamoring for more.
Sadly, the Festival of Wonder ends this weekend. The weather is slated to be horrible, thunderstorms and flooding probable thus minimizing the opportunity for people to travel to Branson and see this incredibly gifted collection of artists. It pains me for those who will miss them here, but it pains me more to know that they will be gone shortly, leaving us here to try to remember just how fabulous their music was live. I have recorded them, but playing them on my laptop will pale in comparison to sitting in the theater listening to them as they make minute changes between performances, tweaking this or that to create a nearly impossible improvement over their prior performance.
I have heard them say they are returning to their home base in Los Angeles after Sunday's final show, perhaps to rest or make plans for their next set of shows. Ada is going into the studio to create her debut album which will be met with anticipation from her fans, no doubt.
As for me, I will struggle to recall those notes hit by Laura, the speed and dexterity of Richard striking the drumheads, of Ada's soaring violin, of Thomas' haunting aquitar playing, and Sarah and William playing the incredible instrument that is the Earth Harp. I know I have the concert filmed, but somehow I also know it just will not be the same, and that will be my loss. I fervently pray the they will return next year; I also know the fans and patrons of SDC wish this also. As I speak with the legions of people who have attended this year's festival, the vast majority have used words like amazing, awesome, incredible, unbelievable and returned again and again to see them perform.
If you get the chance, go and witness this collection of talent as they play. You too will become inspired.
8:24 PM April 30, 2017
Well, the Festival of Wonder has ended. I feel just as I did when the It's A Wonderful Life show did, happy yet saddened somehow. Knowing this was the final show, I did my best to be there for it all but fate had other plans. I had set up my video camera to capture the show and received a call on the radio, requesting my assistance. I headed out and returned as fast as I could, but missed about half of the show.
I sat back down to enjoy the remainder. As they reached the portion where Amazing Grace was to be played, Sarah stated "This is for Michael". I wasn't sure just what she meant until afterwards when she confirmed it: the group dedicated Amazing Grace to me just because I loved it so much.
Yes, tears flowed. I couldn't help it. Just a few but enough to let them know just how much that gesture meant to me.
And that is why I both love these performers and hate that their time with us has to end. The festival is over, and they have to move on but we have become, if not true friends then at least friendly enough that everyone, the group, techs, ushers, everyone doesn't want the time to come to an end. We care for one another, all of us. And that is one reason I love this job so much: I get to meet new people, both patrons of the park and performers for the park constantly. They visit, for a day or a month and we make small talk, we exchange ideas, become close in some manner or another.
So to William, Sarah, Richard, Ada, Laura and Thomas I thank you for your time with us, for your friendship and your music, for your obvious dedication and love of your art, and for sharing yourselves with us in Silver Dollar City. I know my life has been changed for the better by experiencing your music, and others have been as well. Take care and hope to see you all again next year.