Arts Around Terrace for December: Musical interludes at our library

Harp Circle from the Past
The Mountlake Terrace folk harp circle meeting at MLT Library. Courtesy Diane Moss.

Sunday, Dec. 20
2-4:30 p.m.
Puget Sound Harp Society
Mountlake Terrace Library
23300 58th Ave. W.

Imagine you are perusing your favorite book titles at our local library and somewhere in the back of your mind you hear the lilting notes of a harp rising and falling, encircling you in a ribbon of music.

If you are at the Mountlake Terrace Library, that weave of sound is not just your imagination taking you to melodic serenity — there are a couple of elements in play:

It’s most likely the third Sunday of the month and the members of the Puget Sound Folk Harp Society (PSHS) have gathered for an open-to-the public “jam” session.

Once a month for a number of years, the Puget Sound Folk Harp Society has used the Mountlake Terrace library as a gathering place for those who want to meet between musical engagements.

According to reference librarian Jenny Rollett, “although the harpists gather in a closed-door meeting room where they are joined by small audiences, their music does filter out to the library and is very lovely to hear.”

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We were able to sit down with Diane Moss (DM), an active member of the Puget Sound Folk Harp Society  for an exclusive MLTnews (MLTN) interview and we’d like to invite you to pull up a chair and listen in as she tells us about the Society and harp circles:

MLTN: Diane, we were intrigued when we first learned that a harp circle was meeting at the Mountlake Terrace Library and would like to thank you for taking the time to online-chat with MLTnews about the harp circle — and more.

Would you please tell MLTnews readers a bit about the setting?

DM: Certainly. We often have library patrons come in to see and hear the harps, and as I always explain, “this is not like a concert, or a rehearsed performance. We do not even know from month to month who, or how many from the music community will attend!”

We gather in a circle, and after the inevitable period of tuning, go around the circle one by one. Each player may play a solo piece if they wish, or may call a tune for the group to play together.

We all play at our own level; some may only be able to pick out the tune with one hand, others might choose to play just the chords if that is easier for them. Those who know the tune well might play a full arrangement. But all together, it usually sounds great! It is an unusual thing to hear a group of harps playing at one time, and most people find it quite an enchanting sound.

We never require solo playing, but for those who do wish to play solo, we offer a very supportive audience. Many of our attendees have never played in formal situations and suffer from performance jitters. Our group gives people a place to work out those nerves in a non-judgmental, supportive setting.

The Mountlake Terrace harp circle meets the third Sunday of every month (except September when the library hosts the art show). We gather at 2 p.m., and are usually set up and tuned by about 2:15. We play until about 3:30 when we take a short break, and then play again from 3:45 to 4:30 p.m.

We are packed up and out the door by 4:45 p.m. Anyone who wants more information can write to

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MLTN: Just to clarify — one can be a beginning harpist and come to meet the group?

DM: Yes, we’ve had players of all levels attend, from those who just got their first harps the week before to professionals with many CDs to their names. We’ve also had players from the age of 8 to the age of 80 join in. All are welcome!

And listeners are welcome too; we are happy to answer questions from the audience between tunes, or show off the harps during our break.

We harpists enjoy having an audience and for those who want to see the fun process of music-making in a friendly setting, circles are a good example.

– – –

MLTN: Are these concerts, per se? Or maybe recitals?

DM: Actually, those who are expecting a polished professional event won’t find that setting at the library. However, the Society’s online newsletter contains a calendar with listings of harp concerts and recitals in the Puget Sound area where harpists showcase their skill and the stage presence of their harps.

– – –

MLTN: What is the history of the Puget Sound Folk Harp Society?

DM: The Puget Sound Folk Harp Society was officially incorporated in 2004. There has been a very active community of folk harp players in this area since the mid-1980s.

Because our instruments (known as folk harps, Celtic harps, or lever harps) are much less expensive than the large pedal harps seen in classical music and orchestral settings, they are more accessible to the general public. Many folk harp players began as adults after a life-time of “always wanting to play the harp” but not having the means to acquire a harp of their own.

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MLTN: How unique is the Mountlake Terrace harp circle?

DM: Well, there are several other harp circles in the region. All have their own variations, but the main purpose is very similar — to provide a fun and inclusive environment for harp players to gather and make music.

– – –

MLTN: What is the musical career path of most of the members of the circle?

DM: There are numerous players in the Northwest who have achieved professional status with their folk harps, but there are also many who play simply for their own enjoyment. And because our smaller instruments are far more portable than pedal harps (around 25 pounds vs. nearly 100 pounds), we are able to take them out to harp gatherings and play them in groups, just for the pleasure of the music and the company.

– – –

MLTN: Diane, you seem rather active in both the PSHS and your Terrace folk harp circle. What is your involvement?

DM: I’ve been facilitating informal harp circles since the early 90s via the newsletter Reigning Harps, which was originally mailed out quarterly, and is now accessible from our website.

For many years we met in people’s homes, but then one of our “regulars” who was a librarian at Mountlake Terrace told us about the possibility of a room reservation there. We began meeting monthly at the library in 2005 and it has been a wonderful collaboration ever since!

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Diane, it’s been a pleasure having you as a guest of MLTnews. Thank you for your time today.

~ ~ ~

The event page of the Puget Sound Folk Harp Society is at this link.

So, if you are looking for a library “experience” that combines literature, reflection and musical interludes on a winter afternoon, MLTnews suggests the Mountlake Terrace Library when the Puget Sound Harp Society is in residence.

— By Emily Hill

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