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John Lozier's review of The Singing Tree
What is a Romantic? On the eve of Valentine's Day, it is a timely question. According to my dictionary, a Romantic is an artist or work of art that is "characterized by freedom of form and spirit, emphasis on feeling and originality, and sympathetic interest in primitive nature, medievalism, orientalism, the common man, etc."Two wonderful recent recordings are in this Romantic tradition. The artists are Sharon Thormahlen (The Singing Tree; Original Harp Music by Sharon Thormahlen, available from www.thorharp.com ), and Pamela Bruner (The Gentle Maiden: Music for Celtic Harp, Cello, and Winds, available from www.celticmuse.com/pamela ).

It is risky to mention two performers in the same review. I certainly do not wish to slight one or the other. In this case, there are clear connections between the two artists. Sharon's liner notes thank Pamela for help in planning the album. Pamela's play list includes two tunes written by Sharon. Thus they display a mutual influence and friendship. I like this. At the same time, the charms of each artist and recording are distinctive and unique. Pamela is evidently the more experienced veteran, with half-a-dozen recordings to her credit. "The Gentle Maiden" is hottest off the press, recorded in January, 2003. The two tunes by Sharon Thormahlen are "Gossamer Gate" and "Song for a Whale." This is a sweet, satisfying, and loverly collection for Valentine's Day or any other day.

Sharon Thormahlen's own CD, "The Singing Tree," features 14 original tunes, all performed on solo harp, recorded in 2001. Sharon seems to be acquiring something of a name as a tunesmith. One of the tunes on this record, "After the Garden's been Planted," appeared in Folk Harp Journal a while back, and has become standard repertoire in at least one local harp circle (Morgantown, WV). Other artists, including Pamela Bruner (as mentioned above) are performing and recording Sharon's compositions. Many of the tunes are not technically very difficult, and this harp-only CD is a great opportunity to learn some nice, new, original tunes by ear.

Sharon's tune titles hint at the romantic scope of the material, ranging from the portentous (Act of God, The Last Goodbye) to the whimsical (Pepperoni, Planting Dandelions). The tunes don't always conform to my mental images from the titles. For example, The Wolf at the Big Odell is a kind of a walking tune, not at all furious. On the other hand, Where River Turns to Sky evokes the image with a nice Aeolian mix of murmuring water and calm, expansive grandeur.

The 14 tunes are arranged in various keys and modes, with many simple and surprising turns of melody and harmony. Sharon makes good use of the ninth interval. Some tunes are reminiscent of Turlough O'Carolan, especially on "A Rose in Winter" and "Planting Dandelions." In music, when we compare the work of one or another, it is important to avoid a simplistic ranking. Every musician is unique. We differ in preferences, aspirations, technique, fortune, and countless other ways. In naming these two musicians Romantics, I hope I do not tar them with one brush. I contrast them with Classical in the dictionary sense: "balanced, formal, objective, restrained, regular, etc., generally opposed to Romantic."

Of course, each of us is a mix of both, Romantic and Classical, and some of us are from Mars, and some from Venus, and we need each other to be complete.
John
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John Lozier, Executive Director
Harping for Harmony Foundation
428 Van Gilder Avenue
Morgantown, WV 26505
304-599-8233
www.harpingforharmony.org
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Thormahlen Harps | 1876 SW Brooklane Corvallis, Oregon 97333 | (541) 753-4334 | harps@thorharp.com