Jul 21, 2012 - Harpist Becky Nissen Featured this Thursday


            On Thursday, July 26, the South Carolina-based harpist Becky Nissen is set to take the stage at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame’s Jazz Depot, 111 E, First Street, in downtown Tulsa. Prior to her 7:30 p.m. concert, she’s scheduled to participate in a meet-and-greet at 6:30 p.m.,

            Admission is free to both events, which are a part of this year’s Midwest Harp Festival & Concert Series, directed by professional Tulsa-based harpist Lorelei Kaiser Barton, who also teaches harp at Oral Roberts University, the University of Tulsa, and Tulsa Community College.

            “This is our thirteenth year for the festival,” Barton notes, “and it’s all free and open to the public, The daily activities are on the Oral Roberts University campus, which is one of the most harp-friendly places in Tulsa. Then, we have three concerts off-campus and a final one at the Timko-Barton Music Building at ORU.”

            In addition to the Thursday show at the Jazz Depot, concerts are planned for Monday and Tuesday night at Tulsa’s Fellowship Lutheran Church, 6727 S. Sheridan Road, preceding Saturday’s finale on the ORU campus.

            For most people, jazz isn’t the first musical style that comes to mind when considering harp music. According to Barton, however, maybe it should be.

            “You’d be surprised about that,” she says. “I would say that probably half the harpists who play professionally play pop and jazz, and half play classical music. Then there’s the symphony work. We harpists here in town do a little bit of everything. I do improvisation, I do jazz, and for our Thursday night concert I always look for somebody who’s not mainstream.”

            That brings us to Nissen, who began playing the harp at age seven and won a national teen talent search at 13. She’s done a great deal of symphony work and also taught harp; in addition, she’s performed extensively as a soloist in churches, hotels, dinner clubs, and many other venues. For five years, she performed nightly during the Christmas season with country stars the Gatlin Brothers at their Myrtle Beach, S.C. theater that bore their name.

            In 1999, she won top honors in the Lyon & Healy International Jazz and Pop Harp Competition in Nashville, sponsored by the internationally known harp company.

            “That was a big competition, and after she won it, her career really began to flourish,” says Barton.

            Nissen will visit with the audience about that career, which includes a 17-year stretch as principal harpist with South Carolina’s Long Bay Symphony, as part of Thursday’s meet-and-greet, prior to her concert.

            “At 6:30, everyone will have an opportunity to meet Becky,” explains Barton. “Unless there are just too many people for it to be feasible, we’ll be down in front of the stage, and she’ll make a very informal presentation. She’ll talk about herself and her music, answer questions about the harp, and probably do a question-and-answer segment at the end.”

            Then, she’ll take the stage to deliver music that may surprise people who don’t associate the harp with anything but classical music.

            “She’ll do some improvisation on songs from the ‘40s, and she’ll probably play a little country and gospel and what she calls `going to the beach music,’” says Barton. “I’m not allowed to tell you what the selections are, because she wants them to be a surprise, but I can say that there will be some improv with audience participation.”

            Although donations will be accepted, Barton emphasized that there is no admission price to Nissen’s Jazz Depot show, which is sponsored by the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. It’s the second year that the Jazz Hall has hosted a concert in conjunction with the Midwest Harp Festival.

            According to its website, the festival’s mission is “to reinforce and help develop skills while teaching with methods of  high standards.  We provide a relaxed atmosphere, while introducing fresh ideas and motivating the spirit of music, through the harp, within each person.”

            “One of our educational outreaches involves working with musicians and music educators from across the state, and we’re fortunate to be involved, in both outreach and programming, with the Midwest Harp Festival,” says Jason McIntosh, Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame CEO. “ We’ve worked with Lorelei in the past – most recently, she was the harpist in our David Amram show – and we’re glad to be a part of helping people understand the versatility of the harp.”

            The 13th annual Midwest Harp Festival runs July 23-28. For more information, contact Lorelei Kaiser Barton at 918-832-0934 or visit the website

            The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.

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