MOUNT VERNON — Every Community Concert this year has brought unusual weather, and Saturday night’s visit by Bronn and Katherine Journey was no exception. Despite the late winter date on the calendar, the Journeys’ journey to Ohio was cushioned by balmy, spring-like temperatures in Mount Vernon, establishing a sweet, relaxed mood matched by the music on stage at the Memorial Theater. The Seattle-based duo is in the midst of a nationwide tour, bringing music for harp and voice to places it isn’t often heard.
Bronn Journey, a skilled and persuasive player of the modern concert harp, served as good-natured compère for the show, starting the concert by playing the Robert Maxwell chestnut “Ebb Tide.” Journey pointed out that the composer of the song was himself a harpist, and hearing the romantic tune on harp proved that’s exactly where it sounds best. Journey placed the cascading notes with seeming ease, which is surely an illusion, as the harp is widely regarded to be one of the most difficult instruments to master.
Bronn’s wife, Katherine, joined him to sing a medley of numbers from “The Sound of Music,” including the title number, “Do-Re-Mi,” “My Favorite Things,” “Edelweiss,” and “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.” These and several of the other selections heard in the concert showcased Katherine’s stage training, reflected in a change of sparkly dress for each appearance she made throughout the show.
Bronn was quick to acknowledge he knew every concert had a number of men dragged there by their spouses. He made light of it by breaking into the OSU fight song, surely not heard very frequently on the harp. He also promised to play a variety of familiar, relaxing tunes.
“I try to play songs for people who don’t want to hear the harp,” Bronn said.
He said he had a medley which might hold some additional local appeal for those who were a bit dubious about coming to a harp concert. His medley began with Dan Emmett’s immortal “Dixie,” starting out faintly and reflectively, then building up a head of steam and leading to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “America the Beautiful,” before return to leave “Dixie’s” fanfare hanging in the air.
Katherine rejoined her husband, this time playing electronic keyboard for renditions of “Homecoming,” “Music Box Dancer” (which was really a little too fast, obscuring the dainty notes of the melody), a rollicking “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and music from “Chariots of Fire.” Katherine then headed back over to center stage to sing the vocal in a performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” that conveyed much of the number’s warmth, if not the potent vulnerability of Judy Garland’s rendition.
My favorite part of the show came after intermission, where the versatile Katherine joined Bronn on a smaller, Celtic harp. Bronn explained the differences between the Celtic harp and his modern concert harp, which include that the larger instrument has numerous pedals to make pitch adjustments, allowing the concert harp to be almost as versatile as a piano. The Celtic harp is strung to fixed pitches, which restrain the keys in which it can be used. Also, the concert instrument is made out of numerous different pieces of wood, while a true Celtic harp is carved from only one tree trunk.
As the two performed “Brian Boru’s March,” the difference in tone was remarkable. The concert harp spoke elegantly and subtly, with a soft, resonant edge to its sound. The Celtic harp was piercing and insistent. Hearing such tunes on the old-style harp made it easy to imagine sitting around a fire in a wooden hall 1,500 years ago, listening to some traveling bard sing stories of heroes and magic. Myself, I would have enjoyed hearing more music from along those lines, but the only other British folk music was “Greensleeves” and “The Ash Grove.”
Katherine returned to singing for John Denver’s “Perhaps Love” and John Lennon’s “Grow Old With Me,” given with charm and gentleness. Her best performance of the night, oddly enough, started with a miscue, when she forgot a lyric in Cole Porter’s “In the Still of the Night,” but after the restart, she caught the song’s alternate hush and intensity to perfection. She also returned at the end of the program to sing “Think of Me” and, as an encore, “You Raise Me Up.” Before that, however, Bronn took an unexpected turn as singer, performing a satirical number he had written to the tune of “O Christmas Tree,” entitled “Oh, 401K.”
The song was a hilariously tongue-in-cheek lament about financial woes (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are giving me a heart attack), closing with an entreaty to the crowd to “please buy my CD/to stimulate my economy.” He also did a request from the audience for Stephen Sondheim’s poignant “Send in the Clowns,” segueing into “Music of the Night” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” and thence into “Think of Me.”
The audience received the performers warmly, many people standing during the ovation. It made for a pleasant end to a charmingly relaxed concert on a lovely, almost spring night.