The prestigious Watson Fellowship benefits the college students who win it to the tune of $25,000, funding a year-long international odyssey of academic and personal discovery. But the trickle-down benefit of the Watson comes to Tacoma audiences next Tuesday night in the form of a free harp concert of world music, given by Watson Fellow Margaret Shelton for the Classical Tuesdays in Old Town series.
Shelton won her Watson in 2011, and spent the next year wandering the world as a traveling harpist. From China to Germany, Ireland to Spain, France and even Paraguay, where the harp is the national instrument, Shelton met local harpists, learned local tunes, played traditional instruments and even learned to make her own small traveling harp to take on the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, playing music at every hostel she stayed at.
Since she returned to Tacoma Shelton has built up a busy professional schedule, playing as the Olympia Symphony’s principal harpist and getting gigs with groups from the Masterworks Chorale to weddings to rock band Spike and the Impalers. (Yes, it’s true. She has a pick-up inside the harp, and says it’s “an absolute blast.”)
Next Tuesday, she’ll take the Classical Tuesdays audience around the world with her, playing everything from Chinese konghou tunes to classical French repertoire to Celtic tunes and Paraguayan folktunes. She’ll also tell the tale of the German Harfenmädchen: wandering German female harpists who traveled the Alps early last century, one of whom she met personally.
“I tried to figure out what I learned from each country,” Shelton says. “I’ll be telling stories, and showing how each piece is indicative of the culture of that place.”
And while she’s performing on her concert pedal harp and handmade harp, she’ll also be trying to reproduce the unique sounds of each country’s traditional harps, from the brassy fingernail pluckings of Paraguay to the slides of the Chinese harps.
Not included on the program are any rock songs, though “Stairway to Heaven” is the audition piece that got her the Spike and the Impalers gig, and she’ll play with them again in a few months time.
“Most people are so shocked because it’s not what they expect,” says Shelton, of her rock status. “But I love it. The harp really fits with the music.”
7 p.m. Oct. 8. Free. Slavonian Hall, 2306 N. 30th St., Tacoma. 253-752-2135, classicaltuesdays.blogspot.com
Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568 email@example.com