Q and A with Amanda Whiting

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Jazz harpist Amanda Whiting is currently working with the United Kingdom Harp Association to help organize Wild Strings, a new jazz and pop harp festival in Manchester, UK. Taking place from Oct. 5–7, 2018, there are a lot of exciting events scheduled for this three–day event, so Harp Column sat down with her to find out more!

Wild Strings is a brand–new harp affair in Manchester, organized by the UKHA. What sets it apart from other harp festivals or concerts?

It is a 21st century festival encompassing modern music, from jazz, pop, and blues to rave and electronica. It’s new, it’s fresh, and it welcomes everybody to come along, let down their hair, and enjoy making music. There will be some amazing harpists showing how versatile the harp is and what is possible. We also have an exhibition focusing on electro and electroacoustic harps and gear. It’s a celebration of our instrument in a modern way.

So how would you describe it in three words?

Fresh, exciting, new

Tell us about some of the program highlights. What are you most excited about?

There are so many highlights, including Park Stickney, Amy Turk, Rachael and the Red Socks, Tara Minton, and Ranagri. We have numerous workshops and performances, talks, jams, and general music making. It’s going to be fantastic. Just being around these people will be an honor, being able to access such great mentors, and actually have a jam with them. It’s hands­-on and it’s close up—the ultimate inspiration.

And you’re performing too! In addition to leading a couple workshops, you’ll be playing a concert of jazz music alongside harpist Tara Minton and her trio. I’d love to know a little bit about your music background, and what led you to jazz music.

Australian harpist and vocalist Tara Minton, who will join Whiting in a jazz concert on Oct. 5, 2018

I’m very excited to be sharing the stage with the talented Tara Minton, especially as we will be duetting as well. She is so much fun and we have such a great time together, so I really hope that will come across.

I got into jazz after being brought up in a classical world. I had reached a point where I was bored and my soul wasn’t being fulfilled. I was finding more fun in playing what wasn’t on the copy than what actually was. My husband suggested I contacted a local teacher to see about getting some jazz lessons (he had started jazz guitar, and I was feeling he knew more than me and was enjoying music more than me… that’s what kicked me into action!). I found a teacher who suggested I joined the master’s course at the Royal Welsh College in Cardiff. So I did. It was a struggle; I didn’t have a clue. The theory was hard, my rhythm was weak, and I didn’t know how to improvise. I was missing my sheet music. But over time it became addictive, and I realized how much I actually loved music and how much more I got out of playing when I became the composer on the spot. All of the years of theory joined together and the pieces of the jigsaw started to slot into place. Now my music is always evolving, and there is always something new to learn.

I read that some of the funding for this event came from a donation in memory of harpist Jean Price, who passed away in 2016. What a lovely way to honor someone’s life. What can you share about her connection to the jazz and pop music scene?

Jean read music at Manchester University and studied the harp at the Royal Northern College of Music with Jean Bell. She worked extensively in West End Shows and with the major London orchestras, including the BBC Big Band, BBC Radio Orchestra and BBC Concert Orchestra. An elegant, essentially private person, Jean approached her work with a deep love of the instrument and a dedication to her professional craft. The UKHA decided to use the donation towards a “lighter” event because of Jean’s past involvement with show music, and so it became the seed for Wild Strings. We are very grateful to the donor, who wishes to remain anonymous.

For those who are maybe visiting Manchester for the first time to attend the festival, can you give us some must–see sites to visit or places to eat?

Manchester is a really vibrant city right now. Two classic venues include Matt and Phreds for jazz and blues and Bridgewater Hall for the Hallé Orchestra and a really broad range of music. There are so many fantastic restaurants in the city that you should just start searching for what you want and go explore! It’s also well worth a visit to the Northern Quarter for interesting shops, galleries, bars and restaurants.

Anything else we should know about Wild Strings?

We hope that this festival will be the first of many. The Wild Strings team, led by Brenda Dor Groot, has worked tirelessly to make this vision happen. It’s a new scene; there’s a whole new audience out there and the perception of the harp is changing.

To mark the occasion, we are putting together a UK jazz and pop harp compilation book, which will include winning entries from our Wild Strings composition competition. We do need all the support we can get though, whether it be bums on seats, feet on the dance floor, or donors! We need it to succeed gloriously so that jazz and pop harp can stand as an equal next to the classical harp we all know and love.

For more information, visit https://www.wildstrings.co.uk/ or click here to buy tickets.

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About Author

Stephanie Gustafson Amfahr is a harpist and teacher based in Houston, TX. Currently principal harpist with Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra, she is also a co-founder of the Houston Youth Harp Ensemble, young artist with Da Camera of Houston and on faculty at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Twin Lake, MI. She started writing for Harp Column in September 2017.

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