by Janell Lemire
Four years ago, the Brenn family moved from Minnesota to Europe. They were a very active family in LS-STEP (Lake Superior Suzuki Talent Education Program) with five children all playing instruments (harp, cello and violin). Tiffany (the mother) also served as an executive member of the parent board. We were sad to see them move away.
When Tiffany investigated options for her children to continue their Suzuki education, she found a Suzuki program which offered instruction for violin and cello but not harp. After hearing about this, I assured her that Natasja and Sacha would be fine studying with a traditional teacher (yet to be found). In conversation with Tiffany, I suggested, “How about if I give the girls music to work on and then come to Europe to follow up on it?” I was not kidding. Natasja and Sacha did eventually find a harp teacher, Ana Maria Reyes Rojas. She was not a Suzuki teacher but willing to teach from the repertoire. Well, one year passed . . . and then a second year. Finally Tiffany said, “Are you coming???” After many discussions we started actively planning to bring a group of Suzuki harp students to Spain. When things started to fall into place it gave us the encouragement to proceed.
The most difficult part of setting up the trip was finding pedal harps. In June of 2007 I was promised 7 pedal harps for the group. This was awesome! The biggest obstacle had already been overcome. Of course that turned out to be too good to be true. Several months later after numerous emails rerouted to more addresses than you can imagine, I was offered only 3 pedals harps, at a cost of over $4000 for 4 days!! Needless to say, I was feeling defeated and disappointed.
The next step involved finding a translator so we could try to negotiate with the people offering the harps. That reduced the fee a little, but it was still prohibitive. We were starting to panic at this point because the students needed to purchase their plane tickets, but couldn’t until we were sure we had harps!
Transporting harps in Spain
Finally I contacted Lyon & Healy in Chicago and Salt Lake. They spent a great deal of time working out a deal with Salvi harps. At last, I had found the support I was looking for. I am so thankful for ShruDeLi Ownbey of Lyon & Healy West and Marco Ghibaudo, General Manager of Salvi Harps. Because of their work, we were finally offered 3 pedal harps and harp movers!! They are our heroes!
In counting the 4 harps the Brenn family owned (2 lever, 2 pedal) and their teacher’s pedal harp, our group was fully equipped (with a little creativity).
Rehearsal on Madeline Island
Meanwhile, we had been busy preparing for the tour. The planning included exchanging many emails to arrange performance venues and plan the program. In an attempt to develop a complete vision, we met on Madeline Island at the Brenn’s summer home in August of 2007. LS-STEP harpists and a few parents traveled to the island with harps and swimsuits to spend 2 days practicing and figuring out a concert program. We started working early, stayed up late and had a great time doing so.
When we arrived in Spain, all three of the Salvi-provided harps were where we needed them. Theresa & Jesus Suárez were very gracious and accommodating with the instruments, moving not only the ones from their store, but the extra instruments that could not fit into the other vehicles.
We performed two concerts – one in a local School, and the other, in conjunction with the Suzuki School, at a beautiful Cathedral. The concerts went very well. It was extemely motivating to play for audiences who were so attentive and intrigued by our playing. I don’t think anyone even made a sound during the performances! Our audiences had never seen so many harps in one place at one time.
Our Espana program included string accompaniments for several pieces. Tuesday’s program is attached. (The Chanson Dans La Nuit by Carlos Salzedo and the Sonatina by Muzio Clementi with orchestra were accidentally omitted from the written program.)
The students all played so beautifully!
We returned to the United States with a lot of excitement and enthusiasm to do this again. It was a very rewarding experience for all who were involved.
We would like to give our special thanks to:
- The Suzuki Orchestra under the direction of Jose Maria Druet
- Cellists: Ann Heyer; Tiffany, Tatjana and Tobias Brenn
- Central High School musicians: Katie Ozan, clarinet; Trevor Cotter, oboe; Jessica Paul, flute; Erin Maly and Sunny Nguyen, violin; Ann Heyer, cello; and Keenan McIntyre-Talbot, string bass.
- Harpists: Claire Gamble, Azalea Ginete, Grace Heyer, Kailee Lemire, Mia Minkkinen, Katie Sieger, Natasja and Sacha Brenn
- Instructors: Janell Lemire and Ana Maria Reyes Rojas
And lastly – a huge thank you to Tiffany Brenn for helping to make it all happen. The Brenn’s hospitality is like none other. We had an incredible experience!!!