Silver Dollar City Festival of Wonder 2018: The Return of The Earth Harp Collective
One of the things I love most about Silver Dollar City is that the people working behind the scenes in Entertainment strive to bring in people and acts that most of us would never see or hear if these acts were not to come here to the city. We might see them on television but for the most part, that is it; the acts would never come to this area to perform, preferring to stage their shows in larger venues on a one night stand basis before moving on to the next venue, the next city. And we would never travel to places like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago or New York to see them. But when they come here, and they stay for a week or three we can enjoy an act that is fully worthy of those major cities but we get to stay home, in our little city and still get the privilege of seeing a world class act. And believe me, The Earth Harp Collective is one of those world class acts.
Last year, I wrote a hub detailing The Earth Harp Collective as they played here at SDC during the newly formed Festival of Wonder. Consisting of William Close and his wife Sarah, Thomas Hjorth, Laura Vall, Richard Sherwood and Ada Pasternak, these unique performers combined to play some of the most enjoyable and amazing music I have had the privilege to listen to in my life. My taste in music is rather eclectic, ranging from folk and bluegrass to classic country to classic hard rock and some older pop with a splash of blues and jazz thrown in for good measure, and lest I forget: Celtic. Oh, how I love the Celtic sound! I have generally stayed clear of opera but do enjoy a good musical now and again.
But this, this is something altogether unique and uncommon in my experience. I saw William as he played his first set on America's Got Talent several years ago and was entranced, but that was nothing to seeing he and his friends play live last year. They opened an entire new world to me, one I have not fallen out of love with yet, and I doubt I ever will. Their music was original, alternating between haunting and uplifting last year and once I learned they were returning to our fair city I was excited, to say the least. What would they play this year?
I saw William last Sunday, loading in and setting up his Earth Harp which included stringing the wires that make up the strings of the harp. It is quite an involved setup, and I watched briefly as they would pull a line out across the seating area to the rear of the Red Gold, secure it and then cut it to the appropriate length before moving to the next. William then tunes each wire to the note he needs for his performance, something that will be done virtually every day in order to maintain the perfect sound required. Then comes the sound and light checks, again lengthy and involved. Then, opening day!
This year's group is slightly different than last year's, as Ada is not with them. In her stead William has added Haana Thiem, another incredibly talented singer and violinist of world renown. William, Richard, Laura and Thomas are back, rounding out the Earth Harp Collective. Their song list is different than last year's as well, as they have created a show that will be enjoyed by all: movie and film theme songs. Of course, these are adapted to the Earth Harp and the associated instruments which make each performance unique, to say the least.
To those not fully understanding just what The Earth Harp Collective is, allow me a moment to explain. William plays the Earth Harp, an instrument of his own creation which has strings stretching the length of the theater, thus encapsulating the audience within its sounds. This unique instrument is truly one of a kind and has been set up and played in such unique locations such as a forest primeval, across canyons, inside the Flavian Amphitheatre (Colosseum) in Rome and alongside of skyscrapers. Thomas plays the guitar, both acoustic and electric with a touch that is amazing while Laura plays the electric piano and sings lead with a voice that is both tender and tremendously powerful. Richard is a drummer of rare talent and ability which he uses to accompany William on his various drum inventions. Together, this group of individual talents combine to create a unique and powerful combination that is more than the sum of their parts.
I recognized each and every song they played during their set with a single exception, and that is more due to my lack of experience regarding this music than my failure to know of it. I recognized the title of the show, I simply have never watched it. Now, don't crucify me for saying the name of it; as I said, I know of it and some of my family absolutely love it, I just haven't watched it. What show you ask?
Game of Thrones. Yes I know it is one of the biggest shows in the history of television, and I am a stunted old man not keeping up with the times, but there it is.
One note before I begin: I will not list or include every song they play out of respect for the members of the group and SDC. If you want to fully enjoy this incredible group of performers you need to visit us or see them as they tour. With us, it is free with the price of a ticket to the park; with the tour it could easily be a hundred dollars I would imagine.
The show opens with what most will recognize as perhaps one of, if not the most identifiable movie themes in cinema history. Poignant and evocative, the music starts low and builds to a powerful crescendo, carrying the audience along with it. This, to me, is the perfect opening sequence for an Earth Harp show. Authored by Richard Strauss and termed a tone or symphonic poem, Also sprach Zarathustra draws you in and holds you close as the harp and drums echo across the hall, allowing you to see in your mind the scenes from Stanley Kubrick's 1968 masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey. Behind William on a massive projection screen is a profile of the Earth, turning slowly beneath us as we hover weightless in space, listening to those powerful notes as they fill the air around us. Quite literally, we are transformed.
In 2010 the film was been named the greatest film of all time by The Moving Arts Film Journal and The Earth Harp Collective most assuredly does it justice. I am sure Kubrick would approve.
2001 A Space Odyssey
As the applause fades, the next work is presented. I recognize the notes even before the screen supplies the title: Requiem For a Dream. A haunting yet powerful arrangement of music composed by Clint Mansell with string arrangements by Pulitzer Prize winning composer David Lang, this is another perfect piece for the Earth Harp Collective. Taken from the 2000 psychological thriller of the same name which starred Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto and Jennifer Connelly, this piece is unsettling to a degree yet perfectly meshes with the film. Again, the screen behind the group displays a scene which is well suited to the music and the two combine to create a stunningly effective drama for the eyes and ears. It is here we get our first taste of Haana as she plays the violin, its voice vibrant and powerful while also lending a haunting melody as it melds with the harp being played by William. Then Laura arrives singing notes, not words. This is an incredibly effective method and joins seamlessly with William and Haana to create a totally unique sound. I can easily believe that I am listening to a banshee, wailing about a life lost as the sound is what I would imagine a woman keening would sound like. It is eerie, haunting and singularly powerful as the notes range ever higher and higher, drawing us nearer and nearer while causing the hair on the backs of our necks to stand. These three, combined with Richard's drums, are incredible and the combination is something I will not soon forget.
Requiem For A Dream
Barely a breath is drawn as the final echoes of Requiem fade before a new song begins, one that is immediately recognizable to me. Ranking a close second both in film and song to Ian Fleming's James Bond film Goldfinger, Skyfall begins. Laura takes lead on this song playing the piano and singing the title song. Now, I love Adele but after hearing Laura sing Skyfall I am left wondering, Adele who?
I know, I know; Adele wrote the song along with Paul Epworth and sang it for the 23rd Bond film which featured Daniel Craig in his third time taking on the James Bond character; and I know it was nominated for and won the Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 2012 Academy Awards (the first Bond theme to win); but Laura can sing! She hits every note, carrying the song along to its climax and is every bit as good as Adele. Why this young woman hasn't been snatched up by a major record label is beyond me.
Laura may be the voice of Skyfall but Thomas' guitar playing brings Bond to life right here in the Red Gold Heritage Hall as he plays the ever-so-recognizable guitar solo from the James Bond theme. He attacks this solo, as should be, and I cannot help but smile as the rapid-fire guitar licks echo off the rafters. It is easy to see his joy and talent shining through. Thomas' skill on the guitar is easily as good as some of the best in the business and would make one of those he counts as inspiration, Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac fame proud. Incidentally, during their sound check and warmups this morning Thomas began playing a simple yet elegant song on his acoustic and within a few notes I recognized it: Never Goin' Back Again from the album Fleetwood Mac. I shouted out to him that I recognized it and began singing the chorus to his delight. It was a moment I will long remember.
William introduces his newest creation at this juncture, termed the Drum Orb. This instrument consists of multiple drum heads on a rotating sphere which turns around and around, enticing William and Richard to literally create a different work each and every time they play it as it never rotates the same way twice. Never! I can't imagine the creativity and freedom this creation instills in those who play it. Every time is new, every tempo and beat different from the last.
This is followed by another of William's inventions, the Drum Jacket, a jacket covered with electric drumheads. It allows the wearer to pound out a rhythm upon the arms, shoulders, elbows and chest and is quite unlike anything I have ever heard. William played the drum jacket last year and has taken it to new heights this year as they play the theme from Game of Thrones. Wild, gypsy-like strains pulse through the hall as William dances while flailing his hands and arms across his body driving the beat, Haana incorporates some Irish Step Dance moves while playing her violin with passion and melding with Richard on the drums. Richard's drum playing is something one must experience in person to fully appreciate. He is so much fun to watch! His hands are flying at a speed I would have never thought possible by a human while his head bounces in time to the music and his feet are in constant motion keeping the beat going forward. I can see some Keith Moon influences here!
Game of Thrones
As we catch our breath Lara and Thomas step out on stage and begin to sing one of the more beautiful songs in movie history, The Rose. Originally written by Amanda McBroom in 1977 and performed by Bette Midler for the 1979 film of the same name the song was a number one hit and won the Golden Globe for Best Original Song in 1979. Again, Lara's voice is a thing of beauty as she performs this alternately tender and powerful song accompanied by Thomas and Haana on vocals. The arrangement on this song is perfect, allowing Laura to sing the first verse solo before being joined by Thomas on the second. Following this, Haana has a violin solo that will bring tears to your eyes with its plaintive notes of lost love before the climatic third verse commences in which all three sing together with a single voice before Thomas and Haana fade away to allow Laura to complete that final stanza. This is as perfect as a song could possibly be arranged and performed in my humble opinion. I have long loved this beautiful song for its lyrics and music (especially the second verse) yet hearing it live by these artists, I cannot imagine it being improved upon by anyone. My apologies to the Divine Miss M.
As the finals notes of The Rose fade and the lights dim, members of The Earth Harp Collective make their way offstage, all but for William. He remains, standing motionless in the single remaining spotlight center stage and begins to softly play the opening strains of one of the most famous hymns of all time, Amazing Grace. What began as a poem authored in 1772 by former slave ship captain John Newton has become one of, if not the most recognized hymn in history. If you haven't seen the film Amazing Grace which details the story please find it and watch it.
William plays this song beautifully and as the notes fill the space it is with effort that I pry my eyes from the stage and look at the crowd in the half-light. What I see makes me smile. What I see are hundreds of faces intent on the stage, watching William play the hymn for them. What I see are smiles on those faces as they take in this performance and I know they will carry it with them as I have over the past year. They are moved as am I.
The final song performed by Earth Harp Collective today is the theme song for another James Bond film. For me, the best Bond song of all time is Shirley Bassey's Goldfinger followed by Skyfall. In third place is Carly Simon's Nobody Does It Better from The Spy Who Loved Me, and in fourth place is Sir Paul McCartney's Live And Let Die from the 1973 film of the same name which featured Roger Moore making his debut as James Bond. It was the most successful Bond song to that point making it to number 2 on the charts and was covered by Guns and Roses at one point.
Lara sings lead but it is the staccato beat of the drum by Richard that drives this song to a rousing finale, leaving the audience breathless. Standing ovations, long and fervent applause along with our Ozarkian hoots and hollers let the group know how much we loved their performance.
Live And Let Die
Last year I detailed the members of the group (find that here https://hubpages.com/entertainment/Earth-Harp-Collective-at-Silver-Dollar-City ), telling their influences and the like and you can find this information in my article here on Hubpages (one added item: Richard is now learning to play the piano with an eye towards teaching that as well as drums. Talk about never resting on your laurels!); but as we have a new member this year I would like to take a moment to introduce her to you now. Her name is Haana Thiem and she is an accomplished singer, songwriter, producer, as well as having been a professional photographer. Haana comes from a musical family and plays multiple instruments including the piano, French Horn and violin which is her instrument of choice with the Earth Harp Collective and friends, she is excellent. She is a world traveler who has performed in countries such as Dubai and Barbados while appearing on stage with such notables as the Rolling Stones and Kanye West. Haana is also an Irish Step Dancer and we were given an impromptu example this past week between shows (she is really quite good at this as well) and has taken to including this in her performances here at SDC.
I am going to include one of her videos in this hub which displays her singing ability. We've already heard her violin artistry and this will allow you, gentle reader, to fully enjoy her voice as well which should lead you to finding her YouTube account and listening to more of her works. And if you happen to be in Germany or Portugal this summer, be sure to look her up as she will be performing on these countries beginning in June. As I said, a world traveler.
Please, please find a way to see this amazing group of artists: I promise you will not be disappointed. If possible, come to Silver Dollar City this month (April) and find me; I will be wandering about somewhere! Then we can set down to a concert featuring some incredible movie themes performed by our friends, The Earth Harp Collective.
In closing I will leave you with a video by Thomas and Laura. Enjoy and hope to see you soon!
© 2018 Mr Archer