The latest of SCoJeC’s very popular series of Creative Thursday events was an evening of harp music performed by harpist Sophie Rocks.
After we fortuitously came across a rave review of her show at the Edinburgh Fringe, we contacted Sophie to ask if she would be interested in performing a programme of music by Jewish composers. Happy to rise to this challenge, Sophie put together an immersive mix of Hollywood classics and ‘classic’ classics, including The Notebook Theme by Aaron Zigman, Graceland by Paul Simon, Somewhere by Leonard Bernstein, Wind Beneath my Wings by Bette Midler, and many more.
Hailing from the West Coast of Scotland, Sophie has been featured as a soloist on BBC Radio 3’s In Tune programme, and is the recipient of the 2018 United Kingdom Harp Association Award. She has just returned from a residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, where she was further developing her critically acclaimed Fringe show, Notes from Shetland to Shanghai, which explores the universally human experience that is migration by fusing live harp music with pre-recorded poetry.
Sophie’s performance spoke to her Scottish style and her mastery of the instrument. Playing a full hour-long set, Sophie interspersed her emotionally moving performance with commentary on the beauty of the composition, to share fun anecdotes about the movies they derive from, and to speak candidly about the performance process.
We had a lovely response from our audience who were keen to ask questions on the practicalities of playing the harp, performance injuries, and even asking for advice on where to purchase music.
One participant said, "Thank you so much for organising this lovely event, I am enjoying it very much.“ and went on to ask, “For the benefit of those of us who are not harpists, it would be so interesting if Sophie could explain a little about how she makes these beautiful sounds.”
Sophie explained that you can think about a harp as an upright piano laid down in octaves, with the low strings down at the bottom, and the very high short strings at the top. She also demonstrated how the mechanics of the pedals and strings work.
On this note, Sophie asked the audience the following question: if a harp has forty-seven strings, seven pedals, two disks per string and some rods, how many moving parts does a harp have? Participants struggled to figure out an answer and settled for "too many". In fact, Sophie told us, the answer is two thousand moving parts!
Another participant commented: "Sophie has been amazing and I greatly enjoyed the diverse set-list – there was definitely something for everyone! Sophie’s commentaries on the composers and the pieces definitely enriched the performances, and brought the music to life even more. A great and relaxing evening."
At the end of the evening, Sophie said: "Thank you so much for tuning in this evening. It really means the world to get the chance to still be performing, even if in a slightly different way to what we’re used to. Thank you Ruby (SCoJeC’s Programme and Outreach Manager) for reaching out and organising this; it’s really been fantastic."