September 10 - 13, Bogotá Harp Gathering - Academia Llano y Joropo

Academia Llano y Joropo, Filmaster Productions, Salvi, and Arpas El Padrote


Primer Encuentro Internacional

(First International Gathering)

Maestros Del Arpa

Bogotá D.C. Septiembre 10 – 13,  2014

(Concerts, workshops, discussions)


CONCERTS – 7 PM Friday 9/12, 7 PM Saturday 9/13

with International Guest Musicians





Teatro ECCI  (Cll 17 No 4-64)

Entrance: $30.000 Pesos ($15 US Dollars)


 Also featuring Colombian Musicians



Information: Hildo Ariel,, El Sonido Mágico del Arpa - (1) 3 66 27 13 - (1) 6943266 - +57 310 316 6002 - Bogotá D.C - COLOMBIA

ARPATUR Colombia - harp tourism opportunity

Harplist friends and others,

If you have been following my ARPATUR adventures in Colombia, might you be interested in coming here with me, another time? I'm plotting an affordable 8 -10 day "adventure" tour focused on traditional harp music but also incorporating features of culture, history and sustainable agriculture. Budget: $1000 plus your airfare to Bogota.

Today, on day 34 I'm back in Bogota after 10 days in Arauca, a historic river and town, the cradle of traditional arpa llanera. The sheer numbers of harpists and harp students, of all ages, is astonishing.

In Arauca, I enjoyed impromptu music-making every day on the wide porch at Hotel Las Mercedes, as the guest of owners Luis and Milena Rodriguez. At least a dozen local singers and instrumentalists came to the porch on one or more occasions. I also took observed two private music schools, and took instruction from two excellent harpists and teachers, Nelson Acevedo (in an informal setting) and Milkon Garcia (accompanying a singer here).

While in Arauca, my hosts took me overnight to their farm, where they keep a stable of riding horses as well as cattle. Luis, a veterinarian and former professor, is writing a book on the history of horses since their introduction from Spain almost 600 years ago.

More important, perhaps: Luis is a wonderful singer, as demonstrated on the hotel porch and at an evening bonfire sing-along at the farm.

Earlier, in Bogota I had spent three weeks at Academia Llano y Joropo. Master harpist Hildo Ariel Aguirre Daza established this private music school more than 25 years ago. Here I received an intense introduction into the traditional method, entirely by ear. As I have previously described, students at all skill levels are present, practicing their lessons simultaneously. The teacher moves from one to the next, with short and precise instructions. Cacophonous, but very effective.

My tour would have two parts: in Bogota, a stay with Academia Llano y Joropo; in Arauca, field visits and a stay at Hotel Las Mercedes. Accommodations: simple and inexpensive. Music: a mix of regular folks who happen to make music, as well as professionals - harpists, singers, cuatristas, maraqueros. Shopping and various sight-seeing are optional.

I am planning a trip for sure in September, 2015, when Academia Llano y Joropo will sponsor the second "International Gathering of Harp Masters" (Encuentro Internacional "Maestros del Arpa"), at  Academia Llano y Joropo. However, I can customize a tour whenever you like, with at least 4 participants. (The first such gathering at Academia Llano y Joropo will be September 10-13, 2014, just weeks from now. If you want to go that soon, get in touch with me ASAP.)

I first discovered the harp, as a folk instrument, in Venezuela in 1991, on a field trip with West Virginia University's College of Agriculture. I started Harping for Harmony Foundation in 1995. The first ARPATUR was in 2005. By 2011, I had made five ARPATUR trips, alone or sometimes with a friend or relative as a companion. I tried to promote ARPATUR in Venezuela, but tourism there poses various difficulties. On the other hand, Colombia offers the same musical culture but with better circumstances for travelers. Tourism is a priority, conversion of currency is easy, credit and debit cards work, cell phones work, there is good transportation and security.

This is my first Colombian ARPATUR, and I hope not the last. If you are interested in making the trip, sooner or later, please let me know.

Day 29 in Arauca, Colombia

(Note: this addresses a harplist thread in which people complained of teachers discouraging their students with harsh criticism.)

Harplist friends and others

This thread ("not musical") has a lot of good insights for teachers - establish goals, give encouragement, etc. These values are definitely present in the harp teaching that I have experienced here in Colombia. As I've described elsewhere, a teacher takes several students at the same time, moving from one student to another and offering instrTuction and encouragement.

This week I'm in Arauca, Colombia, with a new teacher, Nelson Acevedo; links here and here

Acevedo has a studio where he offers coaching for one-hour sessions. When I arrived, there were three other harpist practicing. He charges for an hour session in this workshop environment. I'll be with him all week, but I may simultaneously try other teachers.

It is amazing to have a good selection of teachers, in a small town like Arauca. Folks here readily distinguish between a good teacher and a good performer (many fine performers are not good teachers).

Acevedo quickly tested my skill level and then assigned exercises which I was able to quickly learn. After I passed initial scrutiny he begin instructing a song I've been wanting to learn, Alma Llanera. This has been called the second national anthem of Venezuela: examples here by Venezuelan youth orchestra directed by Gustavo Dudamel and as sung by Placido Domingo, and finally a solo version (from Peru of all places, on a Paraguayan style harp!).

(This song references the "Arauca Vibrador," the rushing Arauca river, and because I am here in Arauca, on the banks of the river, my host thinks I should not leave without learning this tune.)

I'm writing this morning to reinforce important ideas about teaching. I have been a teacher at college level and now as substitute in public schools, but I am very far from being a music teacher. With harp I am in the role of student, and far inferior to children 8 and 10 years old here. 

Despite my limited skills, I certainly appreciate the welcoming approach I have received from harp teachers here in Colombia. The group setting provides motivation. I get and give encouragement to others. Without undue disparagement, I am able to rank myself above some, below many others.

I'm impressed with this approach to teaching a musical instrument. I wonder why we do not see it in "continental" music education. Or, am I just not looking in the right place?

Latin Style Harp Music Still Trending Around the World

Harplist friends and others,

Tomorrow I will leave Bogota for 12 days, then return here in early August to catch my flight back to West Virginia on August 7.

Last night I sold my little 26-stringed travel harp to Alejandra, a young woman who will play it on the Trans-Milenio, a network of express busses that travels throughout the city on dedicated lanes. My host, Hildo Ariel, encourages this “busking.” He notes that in such circumstances a woman will often get better tips than a man would, and can make a living working this way for 6 hours a day.

(He uses his two given names - Hildo Ariel - for publicity, leaving off his two surnames: Aguirre from his father, Daza from his mother).

Hildo is devoted to promoting Latin American harp music, and particularly the traditional regional style known as joropo or arpa llanera. I share this devotion, that is why I came here. I still insist that Latin American harp styles are “trending” in the US and around the world. A good example is Japan, where Latin harp styles have been adopted and polished to a high level of performance. Examples:

Yoko Yoshizawa - Pajarillo (joropo style) 

Mika Agematsu – Quirpa (joropo style) 

Mika Agematsu - Moliendo Cafe (Grinding Coffee, a Venezuelan popular song) 

Shinsaku Yokoo - Tren Lechero (“Milk Train”, A Paraguayan “Orange Blossom Special”) 

Rieko Kamiyama - Cascada (Paraguay)

Paraguayan style has penetrated much more widely around the world, but there is room for more diversity. Besides the joropo tradition of Colombia and Venezuela, we need more of the jarocho from Mexico and the huayno from Peru, among others.

Has anyone else on harplist been to Plaza Garibaldi in Mexico City, where musicians display themselves and look for customers? I have. Last night I learned from Hildo that there is such a place in Bogota, called La Playa (the beach). Various styles are offered – joropo, mariachi, vallenato, etc. There is competition for business. Hildo does not go to La Playa. His prestige allows him to command fees for a musical group amounting to US $500 or more. There are good musicians who will work for much less, under $100 for a group of four or five musicians.

Hildo points to a problem that musicians have everywhere: clients are often looking for cheap or free music. When they offer him food and drink, he refuses, saying “I have food at home, and I don't drink!” Here at Academia, students are taught stage presence and grooming for professional appearance, and the business of music.

Hildo's students have been very successful winning competitions in regional festivals throughout the country. As a result, he says, his students are no longer invited in some places where a community wants locals to win.

The regional festivals promote “queen” contests which are more than just beauty contests. In these competitions, the winner must display a range of talents – specifically harp, cuatro, maracas, dance, and singing. Hildo is grooming his niece, Tatiana, for these competitions. Tatiana is especially good with maracas, and good also with dancing and cuatro, but he says that to win she needs more practice with harp and singing. These awards can amount to thousands of dollars.

As I've said before, this centuries-old musical tradition is alive and well; it is not a “revival.” And, I'm determined to say, joropo music is trending once again.

Tomorrow I will go to Arauca, Colombia, in the llanos, the plains, on the border with Venezuela. This is the heart of the region that gives us the joropo, musica llanera, featuring harp, cuatro and maracas. After more than three weeks in Bogota, I'm eager for the change of scenery.

Trending: Harp Music in Latin America

Tatiana, 14, and Sergio Nicolas, 15

Harplist friends and others,

Latin American harp music is “trending” - growing in popularity. I'm convinced.(see Youtube links below for evidence)

I'm in Day 14 here in Bogotá, two weeks into this 5-week adventure. I'm being treated like a king by Hildo Ariel and his family at Academia Llano y Joropo. Each day, DOZENS of musicians filter through the establishment. Young and old (mostly young), all ages and skill levels.

Why do I insist that harp music – specifically, the joropo tradition of Colombia and Venezuela – is solidly grounded and growing?

Well, three examples would be the young people involved. I posted Youtube videos in the last couple of days: eight-year-old Martin Cortés; 10-year-old Juliana Gomez; and the combo of 11-year-old Pablo Enrique Camacho and 13-year-old Juan Zambrano. These are just a few of the dozen or more sub-teens who are already advanced in the tradition. When they grow up, they will make their marks.

In 2013, the Academia celebrated 25 years in operation as a private music school. In that time, Hildo Ariel claims that 4000 students have come and gone. He says that when he started, there were in Bogotá perhaps 15 harpists making a living as musicians; now he thinks there are at least 250. Many of them, perhaps most, got their start, directly or indirectly, at Academia Llano y Joropo.

After 14 days I can glimpse the weekly routine. Each morning, recorded music begins before 8 AM. As morning progresses, family members and visitors begin musical practice, but it remains relatively quiet in that no more than two or three people are playing simultaneously. After almuerzo (a full lunch), it may actually be quiet for an hour of siesta.

Through mid-afternoon and evening, there is a crescendo of activity. After school, after work, the place fills with children and adults. Amid the noise (bulla in Spanish) of everyone playing at once, individuals practice, listening closely to their own instruments. Groups of two or three may clump together. Hildo Ariel rotates among the students, instructing. A relatively isolated space for groups is the garage, which is really just a separate room in the house.

On Friday evening, there is a meeting of Arpas de Colombia, a group made up of a dozen or more harps, several cuatros, and several participants playing maracas. This group is currently rehearsing for a public event set for September. After rehearsal, individuals come forward for performance practice, with the group as an audience. Hildo Ariel instructs them on fine points of a gracious presentation, such as pleasant expression, eye contact and stage position.

Saturday is the busiest day. Parents show up with younger children, who are given special attention by all present. These children are brought by their parents, and in some cases a parent takes the opportunity to begin or to resume instruction as an adult student. There are refreshments for all.

Sunday is a day reserved for family, but of course, it is a musical family so there is always music.

In conclusion, this musical tradition is alive and well. Furthermore, this is no revival, but a continuation and resurgence of a centuries-old tradition. I must wonder why music historians do not pay more attention to Latin American harps. This music clearly has roots in Spanish and Arabic culture of the 16th century. Whereas the harp in Europe was displaced by keyboard and other instruments, in Latin America the tradition has continued unbroken to the present day.

And I'm happy to say, once again, that joropo music is trending.

Day 9 in Bogotá - Herencias Performs at Community Meeting

Tonight I attended a community meeting which featured a musical performance by Herencias, a group of young musicians from Academia Llano y Joropo. The harpist, 15-year-old Sergio, and the maraquista, 14-year-old Tatiana, are the children of Hildo and Marga, my hosts. The cuatrista is 13 years old, the electric bassist, 15, the singer about the same age. I had heard them practicing at ALJ, a couple of nights earlier. At the performance, they were sensational!

The meeting was to promote energy conservation; it was labled Apagon Ambiental, which could be translated as “big turn-off.” The audience was well around 200 people, including many children. It was sponsored by the City of Bogotá and Colombian secretariats of environment and health.

The program was a mix of teaching and entertainment. Much of the program consisted in calling folks up from the audience to answer questions about various environmental and energy issues. For example, one was asked what is the national tree; when they could not answer, they were coached. Another asked about the eucalyptus trees which grow here : where did they come from? Answer: Australia. The default question was “what can you do to save energy” and the standard answer was to turn of lights, etc.

Everyone who was called up was coached, if necessary, and eventually was rewarded with a package of compact fluorescent light bulbs.

Herencias came on stage in full costume, the boys in traditional black jackets, the girls with bright skirts. After two songs, an instrumental joropo began, and folks from the audience were encouraged to dance. Hildo's wife Marga, her sister, and others from Academia were among the dancers.

It is perhaps worth noting that this neighborhood, and the audience, appear to be solidly middle-class. It is not elite, but is situated near a large green space, Bosque San Carlos, where many Bogotanos go to walk, jog, and use exercise machines which have been installed for the public.

With Herencias, and with all musicians at ALJ, the performance standard is extremely high.

(NOTE: I know the picture is wrong, I will try to fix it tomorrow or do better next time.)

String Color, Muscle Memory, and Latin Technique

Turlough O'Carolan was blind. It did not matter the color of his strings. His sightlessness might account for rumored shortcomings as a performer. It did not diminish his talents as a tunesmith and as a gracious guest (or flatterer).

Latin American string coloration came up in recent private correspondence, prompting me to think about string color and muscle memory.

Here are my perceptions (facts from my point of view):

1) Default key per "harplist" standard is C, C's are red, F's are blue.

2) Default key is F in Paraguay (per Nicolas Carter), F's are red, C's are Blue.

3) Default key is D in Colombia (per Hildo Ariel) and ... wait, let's not go there yet.

If the difference between Paraguayan and harplist standards is enough to confuse many of us, I suggest that many of us (myself included) are overly dependent on watching the strings.

Naming of "default keys" does not imply no key changes. It's just that when the key is changed, the harpist must correctly adjust for color pattern changes. The pattern is not simply the individual string color, but its relation to the colors of adjacent strings. 

Assuming key of C, in harplist standard, the tonic is red, the fourth blue. In Paraguayan, the tonic is blue, the fourth is red. Notice, however, that RED marks the "default" root  in both (F in Paraguay, C in harplist standard). But while blue marks the FOURTH (F) in harplist, blue marks the FIFTH (C) in Paraguay. This accounts for some of our difficulties switching the colors.

Now, regarding string coloration in Colombia, Hildo explained that the only general consensus is that the D strings should be DISTINCTIVE FROM THE OTHERS. He adds there is some lesser consensus that the FIFTH interval (NOT the fourth) should be of the SAME COLOR as the tonic; so D and A should be the same color.

Just now at ALJ I surveyed 14 harps, tuned in D, to see whether colors were consistent with these principles. Most strings here are dark colored, red, blue, black and even green, but there are clear, yellow and orange strings here and there, and even VARIEGATED strings. (I could not survey 8 other harps that were in cases.)

To be consistent, the D's and A's SHOULD BE THE SAME COLOR, while other strings may be of any color EXCEPT that color. That distinctive color here at ALJ is YELLOW. 

I could only judge TWO of 14 harps to be entirely consistent. The other 12 are "semi-consistent," showing various deviations. On these other harps it is not hard to see the D's and A's, when you look closely and get familiar with the particular instrument. Often the deviation is not hard to deal with, a wrong-colored D in the low range or clear instead of yellow in mid and higher ranges. 

I could go on about tactics to cope with the situation, to build muscle memory. That might be another post. Here, I would note two points to take away.

1) The Colombian practice in "default" key of D marks tonic and FIFTH (A), not (as in "harplist standard") tonic and FOURTH (F). This is like Paraguayan in that (in "default" key of F) distinctive colors are given to tonic and fifth (not fourth). Habits from harplist standard will not work. 

2) The main string we need to see is the root or tonic. From there, we can (or must) rely on muscle memory to find the other intervals.


A (harplist) reply to Cindy in Austin, further details on harps in Latin America

Cindy, thanks so much for the further info, and your interest.

As you are in Austin, Texas, I strongly encourage you to make contact with Rene Devia, a Colombian harpist now located in San Antonio. Here's a link to a youtube, Cuando el Llano Despierta (when the plains wake up). 

I corresponded with him one time, he replied he would be willing to travel. Maybe other harplisters in that region can read this and take some action to bring him into more public attention. 

You say...

You get an idea here of the difficulties of trying to revive a broken tradition. It's wonderful that the harp tradition in South America is so strong and is not broken, or showing signs of becoming so. Do you know how far back the harp tradition there goes? 
You hit it right on the nose! 

This is a living tradition, no need to revive and wonder what it was really like. I'm not strong on historical inquiry, but from notes by Alfredo Rolando Ortiz in one of his books (Latin American Harps: History, Music and Techniques), I understand harp came with Spaniards in the early 1500's, arriving at ports such as Veracruz, Cartagena, Buenos Aires, and points between.

The harp reached landlocked Paraguay, up river from Buenos Aires, and bloomed into what we have today. I believe some insights might be found in a movie The Mission, set in the 18th century and depicting what was by then a very mature syncretic musical tradition.

From Colombia (Cartagena) the harp spread to Venezuela, splitting in two regional styles. The arpa llanera style developed in the lowland plains of the vaste Orinoco river. A highland style developed in the present Venezuelan state of Miranda, on the river Tuy. I call it Mirandina, but it is also called Tuyera or simply Central. I gather that this style is much less persistent than the arpa llanera style which is prevalent in much more sparsely populate areas. (You can google these various terms to find examples on Youtube.)

The harp entered Mexico through Veracruz, where the Jarocha style is still very strong; and penetrated inland.
Is it a written tradition?
Mostly not written music, but the traditional forms have been written down in recent times or after the fact. Written history, I don't know, but there is a book, in Spanish, called El Arpa en Venezuela, written by a friend of mine, a pedal harpist, Fernando Guerrero. (The book contains some photos I took on a trip with him in 2005).
Do they still play any of the older music and older styles, or have things mostly moved on to modern styles?
This is the greatest news! Although there is evolution, the older music and styles are very much alive. I will probably write more about this. More importantly, I hope OTHER PEOPLE will take an interest in the living history of harps in Latin America, and of course in the music itself.
For Colombia and Venezuela, the most clearly ancient music consists of a couple of dozen fixed forms called joropo; this is the dance music I have mentioned. A form called tonada is gentle, associated with milking and lullaby. In between is a form called pasaje which includes generally romantic songs.
Just for fun, here's a list of ten joropo forms, maybe someone will recognize a term from early Spanish music:
quitapesares, diamantes, cari-cari, kirpa, zumba que zumba, guacharaca, gavilan, cunavichero, mamonales, caracoles
A modern or more evolved approach is called estilizado, "stylized". I first heard this term applied to Carlos Orozco. Among other harpists with modern styles are Edmar Castañeda  and Enki Bello.

Thank you, Cindy, for your interest, it has been a motivator for me to write.


Day 7 in Bogotá: Teaching the harp (maybe applies more broadly)

I slept all night for the first time, woke up and went for a walk. There is a park nearby with walking and jogging paths, exercise machines, and many Bogatanos taking advantage.The high altitude here (8600 feet) has kept me feeling weak till just now.

Hildo and I had further conversations about teaching the harp. He said that a couple of pedal harpists visited here at Academia Llano y Joropo (ALJ), to see how he works. They found it surprising to see one teacher serving the needs of several students at the same time. The visitors were somehow involved in the idea of establishing pedal harp instruction in Villavicencio, a lowland center of the regional harp tradition (arpa llanera).

Hildo recommended that they establish groups of at least three students at the same time. As described elsewhere, the teacher would go from one student to another, allowing each to attempt whatever move was on the program. They might be at the same or different skill levels. Furthermore, they should not be just once a week. That is not enough to sustain motivation. Students at ALJ are encouraged to come five days a week, or even six (but not Sunday). They seem welcome to drop in whenever they can.

Three at a time makes it more economically feasible for teacher and student. A teacher can work up to a larger number. Hildo says he likes to work with ten at a time.

I'm wondering, what do harp teachers on this list think of this idea? I confess my ignorance; is anyone doing anything like this?

In my limited experience, this sort of coaching takes place to some degree at harp conference events and workshops. However, the idea of ALJ is that it should be a sustained practice, not just occasionally, but daily.

Saturdays are special at ALJ, I discovered yesterday. There is a sort of community celebration or gathering. Two adult students appeared; their obligations do not allow the 5-day routine. And there were several sets of parents bringing their younger children who do not manage to appear five days a week. Still, the routine consists of a circuit of teaching, involving Hildo and his son Sergio, and also other more advanced students.

Saturday is also special because there are refreshments, provided in turn by the families or by the students themselves.

Academia Llano y Joropo is an institution the like of which I have never seen or imagined. But I am becoming a believer. (In Venezuela I did see the kind of group teaching that I describe here, but not so fully institutionalized.)

Latin American harp styles, techniques and repertoire are "trending," in the sense of that word as now used. This is a coming phenomenon, I feel certain. I am gathering the names of Latin American harpists in the US, who might be called upon for your local harp event. On my list now are just a handful - Pedro Gaona, Silvio Solis, Abel Rocha, Rene Devia, Enki Bello, Nicolas Castañeda, Nicolas Carter, Daniel Rojas, Vidal Garzon. And of course, Alfredo Rolando Ortiz, but he is already well established. 

Again, Harping for Harmony Foundation will offer financial support for the promotion of such events, wherever you may be, with these or other qualified Latin American harpists. What's more, I will do my best to attend your event, wherever you may be; I would not want to miss it!

From Bogotá, best regards,

Harp and Dance in Bogotá (and a rant about accordions) - posted to harplist

Saturday, I am in my sixth day here at Academia Llano y Joropo in Bogotá. I am working on three new pieces, under close and demanding scrutiny of Hildo Ariel. But the exciting thing this morning was watching a dance lesson.

Tatiana (14) and Sergio (15) are the children of the family, but already so grown-up! Sergio is already an outstanding harpist, and Tati plays maracas like you have never seen.

Anyway, Tati and Sergio had a dance lesson from a young couple that came to the Academia. I will try to post some video somewhere, somehow, but for the moment all I want to do is make a strong point:.


The dance aspect is not entirely lost with Celtic, but I venture that most harpists on this list are not much interested in harp and dance. You all are mostly into sweet, mellow, lyric, soulful, angelic(?!!). Am I right?

This is not to demean the lyric, the sweet, mellow, etc. That aspect is VERY DEFINITELY PRESENT in Latin American styles, as any superficial investigation will show.

Watching the dance lesson was VERY INSTRUCTIVE. They used recorded music, some of the most "raucous" that can be found. It was TOTALLY CHARMING to see these young people so lively and enthusiastic. I mean, c'mon, harpists, the range of musical reactions is wider than is generally acknowledged on this list.

I'm betting Beth Kollé could comment on harp as applied to Scandinavian dancing, and I know I've seen a couple of Irish harpists with dance licks (can't name them right off).

This is becoming a rant, but hey. The accordion has probably edged the harp out of the dance business. Here in Colombia there is an accordion style called Vallenato (go here to hear it, if you dare!).

For some of us, it calls up the Far Side cartoon: "Welcome to heaven, here's your harp; Welcome to hell, here's your accordion.

So, I'm not really against accordion music, I actually played it for a while. But I like the harp better. Just because the accordion is good for dancing, doesn't mean the harp can't or shouldn't also be.

On this rant, I gotta remember the time, many years ago, when I was playing accordion, I mentioned to folk music collector Alan Lomax that I thought the accordion was due for a revival. His reply: "God, I hope not!!

He went on to say that the accordion in Russia and Eastern Europe doomed to extinction all sorts of little string and wind instruments.

On the same line there is a Russian novel (Oblomov, by Ivan Goncharov) in which an effete noble (Oblomov) bemoans the construction of a road leading to his country estate. In essence, he complained that the peasants would "start wearing boots and playing accordions."

OK, can I stir up any blowback? Whatever. I'm just having the time of my life.