Hip harpist returns to Maine roots Grammy nominee Deborah Henson-Conant will bring her theatrical storytelling to Celebration Barn and to PBS


WHAT: “DHC & the Harpbreakers,” a solo show with vignettes by students in

a weeklong performance workshop

WHO: Harpist Deborah Henson-Conant

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, July 14

WHERE: Celebration Barn, 190 Stock Farm Road, Paris

TICKETS: $12, $10 for students and seniors; $8 for children under 12

CALL: 743-8452

PARIS – Deborah Henson-Conant straps on her harp like an electric guitar and strides onto the stage like a rock musician. What comes next are performances that blur the line between concert and theatrical event.

But she wasn’t always this way. It was through her studies with Maine performer Tony Montanaro at the Celebration Barn that Henson-Conant made the move from a more traditional harpist to the revolutionary player she is today.

This summer, Henson-Conant will bring that revolutionary style to a new generation of players when she returns to the Celebration Barn as a teacher. Her weeklong performance workshop, July 9-14, will culminate in a public performance Saturday, July 14.

Henson-Conant’s performances blend music with theatrical storytelling and her quirky brand of humor. The July 14 show will also showcase the talent of her summer workshop students.

Described as a “combination of Leonard Bernstein, Steven Tyler and Xena the Warrior Princess” by the Boston Globe, Henson-Conant has toured with the Boston Pops, opened for Ray Charles at Tanglewood, won awards from NEA and Meet the Composer, and been featured on shows from NBC’s “Today” to NPR’s “Weekend Edition.”

On Thursday, July 19, Henson-Conant’s award-winning recording project, “Invention & Alchemy,” will air at 9 p.m. on the Maine Public Broadcasting Network, WCBB-Channel 10. The television special takes her live solo show and adds a full symphony orchestra. In “Invention & Alchemy,” she reinvents the interplay of soloist and orchestra into a more interactive and theatrical format she dubs “symphonic music theatre.”

As she plays electric harp, Henson-Conant takes listeners into a world where stories meet music, and a whole symphony orchestra transforms from a Mexican street band to a Celtic landscape, to a polka party with the Garbageman, to a time machine.

Henson-Conant has composed musical theater since age 12 – first studying classical harp, then developing her own version of swing and Latin jazz and finally synthesizing all three elements into a unique musical performance.

As a child, Henson-Conant was passionate about music, but disdainful of lessons, and spent her time composing. Her parents tried every instrument they could think of to lead her to serious study. When a rented harp showed up in the living room just as she hit puberty, she grudgingly took a half-dozen lessons and didn’t touch a harp for 10 years,

Then in college, a harpist was needed for the band, and those six lessons made her the resident expert. She studied music by day and played popular harp music in posh dining rooms by night. Then one night, she dragged her 6-foot gilded harp from a Boston hotel restaurant into an adjacent jazz club and asked the bandleader if she could sit in. She started jamming on the blues and has never looked back. She has released more than a dozen recordings from jazz to children’s music.

In 1998, Henson-Conant convinced French harp builder Joel Garnier to create an instrument for her that she could strap on her body. This electric blue, harp-with-the-soul-of-an-electric-guitar is now her signature instrument. With each string individually electrified, the “body harp” enables her to soar over the brass section of an orchestra or play delicate solo passages.