In Search of the Harp Guitar
by John Doan
Produced by Karla Fisher
DVD price $24.97
This is the first and only video of it’s kind about this amazing harp guitar musical instrument. Learn its history, legacy, and meet the players and makers from Europe and America in their workshops and studios and through their concert performances.
“In Search of the Harp Guitar” wasn’t dry or technical at all. Quite the opposite. It was delivered with humor, warmth and clarity. I came away from it feeling substantially enriched! This DVD tells an important story, for it is a wonderful record of the history and nature of the instrument and its performers. It will keep the magic of the harp guitar alive and hopefully inspire many to play and listen to all that she has to offer.”
“The harp guitar is back. Whether its reappearance stems from the amazing, innovative work of Michael Hedges in the 1980s and ’90s or that of the lesser known but no less interesting guitarists John Doan, Stephen Bennett, Muriel Anderson, James Kline, William Eaton, and many others, this peculiar multistringed instrument — part guitar and part harp — has returned in a big way. (See in-depth coverage of harp guitars in Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Three, pp. 178 and 334, originally published in AL#29 and #34.)
In Search of the Harp Guitar premiered at the 3rd International Harp Guitar Gathering in Salem, Oregon in September 2005. The film’s maker John Doan also hosted the gathering, perhaps the largest group of harp guitar enthusiasts ever assembled in one place. Many of the film’s “stars,” both musicians and makers, were in the audience. It was a lot of fun to be there and see these folks — many are no strangers to the GAL. John Doan has been playing, teaching, recording, researching, and generally advocating for the harp guitar since the early 1980s. He’s the perfect person to put together a DVD that champions the instruments, both past and present, the players, the music, and last (and perhaps most for AL readers), the makers. He has teamed up with his wife Dierdra, Karla Fisher, and Michael King (the latter three behind the camera) to produce a 90 minute DVD plus another several minutes of hilarious outtakes.
It’s an ambitious project covering a lot of territory, and it’s held together with the tack of John’s sense of humor and obvious affection for the instruments and his cast of characters as he:
~ presents a historical overview of the harp guitar, (he’s in lecture mode here, a role he’s obviously comfortable with from his many years of teaching privately and at Willamette University in Salem, OR);
~ attends the 2nd International Harp Guitar Gathering in Williamsburg, Virginia in November of 2004 interviewing and recording highlights of performances of many including Stephen Bennett, who organized the first and second international gatherings, and other players including Muriel Anderson, Stacy Hobbs, Andy Wahlberg, and many, many others.
~ visits luthiers in this country and abroad, namely: Fred Carlson, Kerry Char, Mike Doolin, Jeff Elliott and John Sullivan (two for one), Bob and Orville Milburn, Benoit Meulle-Stef in Brussels, Stephen Sedgwick in England, and Michael Sanden, in Sweden;
~ braves LA traffic with water bottle, lap top, and cell phone in hand to visit the extraordinary resource, Gregg Miner’s collection of Vintage, Exotic, & Just Plain Unusual Musical Instruments.
Guitar makers don’t get too many starring roles, so this is the part I was really looking forward to (plus I know some of these guys pretty well). Generally not comedians (Harry Fleishman excepted), luthiers tend to take themselves fairly seriously. John wrote the script, and the builders conformed to varying degrees. It’s corny; it’s goofy; but it’s fun. John has made it so. The luthiers are all in their native habitats with the exception of Jeff Elliott, who is with John Sullivan at his shop, the location where John Doan’s contemporary harp guitar was made in 1986. Builders viewing the DVD can glean a lot about these shops — about tool and work space organization, workbenches, and most interesting, something of the people and thought processes behind the chisels. Of most interest to other builders might be the Mike Doolin sequence. Mike builds a harp guitar in a minute or two while John Doan “watches,” thanks to the marvels of very fast, edited time-lapse photography.
Other high points for me were Michael Sanden’s model-perfect shop in a lovely old building that’s been in use as a woodworking teaching facility since 1880; Kerry Char’s workshop, where every square inch of wall and hanging space appears to be given over to various guitar and harp guitar relics; and Fred Carlson and John Doan in matching hats with ear flaps seriously discussing Fred’s philosophy of building and life (is there a difference?).
Aside from the visits to shops and to the 2004 Harp Guitar Gathering, the visit to Gregg Miner’s collection stands out. Gregg is a player with a deep knowledge of the history of harp guitars. If you are interested in the arcane, weird, convoluted, idiosyncratic, and bizarre in the service of music making, this collection will definitely scratch that itch.
By the way, Gregg will be on hand the 2006 GAL Convention in Tacoma June 21-25 with part of his collection. He’ll also be sharing historical information and participating in a harp guitar concert, as will John Doan and others. And there will be a panel presentation on harp guitars as well. (See p. 5 for the latest Convention information.)
I enjoyed this DVD immensely and recommend it if for no other reason than to have a good laugh. The soundtrack is not always consistent, the pacing sometimes feels “off,” the humor is sometimes a little forced, and, of course, not everyone important to the harp guitar’s resurgence could be included, for example Steve Klein, Del Langejans, or Alan Perlman, to name a few luthiers. However, it’s certainly worth seeing and perhaps purchasing. John’s own words sum it up best: “Overall, this film documents guitar history in the making presented in the spirit of fun and discovery reaching back centuries, across continents, and beyond six strings.’ Cyndy Burton, American Lutherie #85, Spring 2006
Written by Co-Edited by John Doan
Filmed, Produced, Directed, and Edited by Fisher-King Productions
Mike King – Director
Karla Fisher – Producer
Consultation and videography by Deirdra Doan
Lighting and Consultation by Davido Productions (Kerry Char Interview) – David McGinnis
Additional Technical Consultation by David Spangler
Additional Content Consultation – Mason Williams and Leslie Sodaro
DVD Graphic design and artwork – Mike Bellinger (Bellinger Design)
Thanks to the following:
Robert and Carol Hartman
Benoît Mulle-StefStephen Sedgwick Players: Muriel Anderson
Dan LaVoie Andy McKeeGregg Miner Tom Shinness Andy Wahlberg
Orville MilburnBenoit Mulle-Stef
Budding Harp Guitarists at Harp Guitar Gathering 2004:
Karla Fisher (PIA)
Norman LeDonne Jr.
Among others ….
Instrument loans thanks to:
Steve Bissell – Baroque Theorbo and Dyer harp guitar style #8.
Brent Bunker – Knutsen 19-string harp guitar and Dyer harp guitar style #7
Photos of the Larson Brothers, Dyer harp guitar ads and color photos of Larson instruments used by permission of Bob Hartman and are from his book “Larson Creations – Guitars and Mandolins.”
Willamette University Students and extras:
Peter HughesBrent Knowles
Arija LinautsReed Renfrow
Isaac Robb Jenne Schmidt
Heavey Metal Dream Sequence: Jeremy Grogan
One of hundreds of people at the airport: Leslie Sodaro
Abused passenger on airline: Leslie Sodaro
Angered pedestrian on dusty road:Leslie Sodaro
Frightened lady clutching purse – Williamsburg, Virginia: Leslie Sodaro
Set Assistant and General Gofer: Leslie Sodaro
Key Grip: Austen DeBord
Miniature 20-string harp guitar by Pat Podpadec.
Loan of small camera from Scott Kritzer.
Thanks to Willamette University for use of the campus in the opening scene and office where John Doan is Associate Professor of Music and to all students who volunteered to participate in the production
Thanks to all the 2004 Harp Guitar Gathering and concert attendees who participated in the filming.
John Doan performed excerpts from the following:
Main Menu Music: Movin’ On – by John Doan
Movin’ On – by John Doan
Rumores De La Caleta – Isaac Albeniz (classical guitar by Jose Ramirez)
Alman – Robert Johnson (renaissance lute by Daniel Hachez)
Sonata – Sylvius Leopold Weiss (baroque theorbo by Daniel Hachez)
Etude – Edward Light (British Dital Harp by Edward Light ca. 1815)
London, England – On the way to Stephen Sedgwick’s Workshop: Festival – by John Doan (full version recorded on Wayfarer – Hearts O’ Space Records)
Paris, France – Mr. Bissonnet’s Music Shop: Allawetta – French folk song arranged for the harp guitar by John Doan
Brussels, Belgium – Ben’s Guitar Shop: Infant King – medley of Born is Jesus the Infant King and Frere Jacques arranged and performed by John Doan – harp guitar, with Billy Oskay – harmonium, Dagny Regan – oboe from Wrapped In White – Visions of Christmas Past.
Oregon Country scenes on the way to Kerry Char’s Workshop: Movin’ On – by John Doan
Freshening up at Kerry Char’s Workshop: Blues in D – by John Doan
Portland travel to John Sullivan’s Workshop: Movin’ On – by John Doan
Mike Doolin’s time-lapse construction scene: Harpin’ – by John Doan
Mike and John go to Virginia: Movin’ On – by John Doan
Santa Cruz – Arriving at Fred Carlson Workshop: It’s A Sunny Day – by John Doan
Sweet Home, Oregon – Arriving at the Milburn Workshop: You’ve Got Style – by John Doan
Ferry home from Göteborg, Sweden: Water Is Wide – traditional ballad arranged for the harp guitar by John Doan (Full orchestral version recorded on “Songs From the Hills” on Shanachie Records)
Harp Guitar Gathering finale: Water is Wide – Traditional ballad played by the International Harp Guitar Gathering Orchestra
Closing Scene at John Doan’s Home Studio: Farewell – by John Doan (full orchestral version recorded on Eire – Isle of the Saints)
Scenes filmed on location in order of first appearance:
Willamette University, Salem, Oregon
John Doan studio, Salem, Oregon
Portland International Airport, Portland, Oregon
Williamsburg Library, Williamsburg, Virginia
Colonel Waller’s Motel, Williamsburg, Virginia
West Linn Observatory, West Linn, Oregon
Abbey Road, London, England
Stephen Sedgwick Workshop, London England
Mr. Bissonnet’s Music Shop, Paris, France
Paris Railway Station, Paris, France
Ben’s Guitar Shop, Brussels, Belgium
San Diego Freeway, Los Angeles, California
The Miner Museum of Vintage, Exotic and Just Plain Unusual Musical Instruments, Los Angeles, California
Willamette Valley road scenes, Independence, Oregon
Kerry Char Workshop, Portland, Oregon
John Sullivan Workshop, Portland, Oregon
Mike Doolin Workshop, Portland, Oregon
Country road near Gaston, Oregon
Fred Carlson Workshop, Santa Cruz, California
Milburn Workshop, Sweet Home, Oregon
Jeremy Grogan Studio, Salem, Oregon
Ferry to Göteborg, Sweden
Slojdlarave Seminarium, Castle Naas, Göteborg, Sweden
Michael Sanden Workshop, Göteborg, Sweden
Individual artists perform excerpts of their own original compositions. Consult with artist websites for further information. Performances and music used by permission of artists.
To Stephen Bennett for hosting the Harp Guitar Gatherings in Williamsburg, Virginia.
To Gregg Miner for his tremendous work researching, promoting, archiving, collecting, and maintaining the internet presence for the harp guitar. For more information on the harp guitar visit
To John Sullivan and Jeffrey Elliott who built the first modern harp guitar in our times and for that is a world class instrument that I have based my recording and performing career upon as well as has inspired many instruments that have followed.
To Karla Fisher and Mike King for the hundreds of hours of filming and editing of the documentary. It is their gift to me and to all of you.
To Deirdra Doan for sharing the dream and the many travels in search of the harp guitar.
For more information about concerts and booking for John Doan visit:www.johndoan.com or write email@example.com
All selections John Doan Heirloom Serenades (BMI).
© Copyright 2005 Tapestry Productions All rights reserved.
No harp guitars have been harmed or abused in the making of this documentary.
John Doan Music
If you like this album, why not add another John Doan album to your collection:
- A Celtic Pilgrimage - John's Only Solo Harp Guitar Recording
- Departures - The First Ever Harp Guitar Recording.
- Eire - Isle of the Saints - Voted "Best Celtic Album of the Year"
- Harp Guitars Under the Stars - The First Duet Harp Guitar Recording.
- Homage to Sor - Recorded on First Panormo Guitar
- Remembrance - Melodies from a Forgotten Era
- The Lost Music of Fernando Sor - First Ever Recording for Harpolyre
- Wayfarer - Nominated "Best Celtic Album of the Year"
- Wrapped In White - "Editors Choice" Billboard Magazine
John Doan offers Sheet Music for guitar and harp guitar for many of his albums.
DVDs with John Doan
The following DVDs are available for sale featuring John Doan.
- A Celtic Pilgrimage - A Visual and Musical Journey to "Thin Places"
- In Search of the Harp Guitar - It's History, Makers, and Players
- Primal Twang - A Virtual "Who's Who" of the Guitar World
- Victorian Christmas - Emmy Nominated "Best Entertainment Special of the Year"