Nanaimo musician Amy Stephen is welcoming the Christmas season like it’s 1399.
Since Dec. 1 the local musician has been on the road with Winter Harp, an eight-person West Coast ensemble dressed in full Renaissance attire that plays medieval, and medieval arrangements of, Christmas carols. The tour’s Vancouver Island leg starts this week, bringing Winter Harp to Nanaimo’s Port Theatre on Saturday, Dec. 8 before wrapping up on the Lower Mainland.
“The combination of music with the show aspects of it is really theatrical, and that’s actually not something that I get to do a lot,” Stephen said.
This is Stephen’s second year playing with the ensemble. She said she first saw the group in concert in Vancouver around 20 years ago and has known director and founder Lori Pappajohn for a long time.
“They’re a pretty unique group. I haven’t done any early music since university, which was a few years ago…” Stephen said. “There are some really familiar carols that people know but they’re not necessarily medieval but the way that we play them gives it that sound, so it’s pretty fun.”
This year Winter Harp marks its 25th anniversary, and while Pappajohn is struck by the passage of time, she is thrilled that the ensemble has become successful.
When she started the project with New Westminster librarian and poet Alan Woodland in the early 80s – before the name Winter Harp existed – they were just doing it for fun and gradually adding more shows when they realized there was a demand.
“Each year we just kept adding venues for about seven years and one day we looked at each other and we said, ‘You know what, I think we’ve got something,’” Pappajohn said.
Looking back, Pappajohn said, “It’s been the most beautiful journey.”
Winter Harp’s medieval arrangements make use of a range of instruments, from the common – flute, harp and violin – to the uncommon – psaltery, organistrum and nyckelharpa.
Stephen will be playing the Celtic harp, accordion, penny whistle as well as some percussion and vocals. But she said the trickiest part of the production is the costume, especially when she has to fit her long sleeves through the straps of her accordion.
“The dresses are gorgeous and they’re made to fit each musician, but they’re velvet and so they’re really heavy. So playing the instruments in the dress actually takes practice…” she said. “But it still feels nice to be wearing them. You feel very special.”
WHAT’S ON … Winter Harp comes to the Port Theatre on Saturday, Dec. 8 at 3:30 p.m. Pre-show talk at 2:45 p.m. Tickets are $40 for adults, $36 for members and $12.50 for youth and students.