If you don’t know what an autoharp is now, there will soon be no excuse, as a whole series of concerts, jams and lessons are set to make up the very first Isle of Man Autoharp Festival, beginning September 21.
To clarify, the autoharp is neither a harp nor automatic, but a type of a chorded zither, a traditional string instrument found throughout Europe and Asia.
Autoharps are often associated with American old time and country music, though recently have found favour with contemporary popular artists such as PJ Harvey and Corinne Bailey Rae, and appear in musical soundscapes as varied as South American dance to Celtic folk.
The jewel in the island’s festival crown is the visit of Britain’s No.1 exponent and performer of the instrument, Mike Fenton.
The only non-American member of the Autoharp Hall of Fame, Fenton became an International Autoharp Champion in 1987, and will be holding a day-long workshop in addition to performances.
Kicking off the festival is Mike in a virtuoso concert with wife Rachel, at Thie ny Gaelgey, St. Judes on Saturday 21. £10 admission, 7pm start. The show will also include presentations featuring jaws harp, mountain dulcimer and various other instruments.
The next day, also at 7pm, is a jam session held by the Manx Autoharpers and friends at the Archibald Knox, Onchan. Admission is free, and other instruments are welcome.
On Monday September 23 is a free one-to-one beginners taster session, for anyone to try out an autoharp at The Bridge Inn, Laxey from 7pm.
On Tuesday 24 is a free singaround at The Manor in Willaston, starting at 8pm, followed on Wednesday by another free one-to-one beginners taster session, this time at The Tickethall Café at Douglas Railway Station between 6pm and 9pm. The Manx Autoharpers and Friends are staging a free concert at Dalby Church Hall on Thursday 26 at 7.30pm, and on Friday is a singaround with autoharps and many other instruments and singers at Reayrt y Chrink in Port St. Mary from 1.30pm.
On Saturday 28 is a workshop with Mike Fenton at the Methodist Hall in St. John’s between 10am and 4.30pm. Admission for the day is £20, including the loan of an autoharp and refreshments, at a workshop is designed for all abilities from the complete beginner up to the intermediate and advanced player, intended as an enjoyable learning experience. Contact Jan Brodie on 817735 or 331743 or firstname.lastname@example.org for further details and a booking form. The following day is a free American old-time, bluegrass and gospel sing and play at the Northern Lights Community Centre in Ramsey, from 2pm. A few weeks later on Saturday October 12 Mike Fenton closes the festival with a concert at the Erin Arts Centre in Port Erin from 7.30pm, with tickets available on the door.