Straight from the harp

Photo courtesy of Shannon Adams. Shannon Adams plays her Celtic harp.

As she stepped onto the stage, her fingers danced behind her body. She was excited to be on stage to get an award, but she knew what she wanted. It was the same goal as all of her other competitors. She knew she had played each song flawlessly, yet she was still nervous about whether or not the judges had caught something she had missed.

From the outside, Shannon Adams, a freshman in Castleton University’s early college program, was looking confident and preserving.

But on the inside, she was freaking out. She wanted the title.

As the proctor started saying the order of the awards, her name was not called. Her other competitors were getting 5th place and 4th place and 3rd place.

She knew it was between her and someone else.

Second place was called, and Adams’ name was not called.

She had won the competition for the journeyman’s level, one of the many levels of competing with the Celtic harp. She was overcome with feelings and emotions.

Adams was awarded the first-place medal for the journeyman level at the national competition, meaning she had beaten everyone in the country and won. She knew this was probably one of the biggest awards she had ever received and knew this was a stepping-stone in the right direction.

But as she stood on stage with the crowd going wild, she only cared about living in that one moment.

Adams started playing the Celtic harp around the age of three. Her mother and older sister played it all the time, and it was one of their main hobbies.

“My mother taught me the basics of the instrument and then she had me start taking lessons from a teacher to actually learn how to play when I was six,” Adams said.

Adams started to compete when she was an 8-year-old and realized she really had a liking for competing. She first started to compete at home with her sister and mother and the early on starting to perform on stage with judges. It wasn’t too long after that Adams started to place and even win on some occasions.

“I mainly started in regional competitions and I was finding that I really liked performing so I just continued to play,” Adams said.

Adams mother competes as well, and so as she was practicing for her competitions, Adams was alongside her. Over the years, Adams has caught up to her mother in their levels of competition and by now, they are competing against one another.

“There are five different levels of competition; beginner, novice, apprentice, journeyman, the one that I used to compete in, and master, the new one I just qualified for,” Adams said. “But when you are in each of your levels, nobody compares like a journeyman to a novice because they are in different groups. So, I kind of moved up through these levels as I got older.”

The different levels of competition are for each class of harpists. The beginner level is for anyone first interested, and the novice level is for people who continue on with the harp.

The apprentice level is where you begin to actually compete and have to come to the competitions ready to win.

The journeyman level is where Adams used to compete in. This level is for the advanced students who are starting to understand tough and critical pieces. For this level, you have to show up with three songs memorized, and last summer the style that was required was Scottish tunes.

The master level is the highest level of competition you can receive. For this level, the requirements become extreme.

“You have to know a certain number of pieces in order to compete, so like for the master you have to be able to play 40 pieces by memory in the category of traditional Scottish tunes,” Adams said, with a laugh. “Yeah, it’s a lot, I’m like half-way there. I’m still working on that part.”

Two summers ago, Adams won the open level at the New Hampshire Highlands Games, which is the highest award you can receive at that competition. Last summer, Adams won her most prestigious award yet in Ohio.

Gannon Teunissen, a freshman at Castleton, says that it’s really cool to hear about her experiences and that “it is something that is extremely amazing.”

After coming off of this success, she recently advanced into the Master level, where her mother also competes. This level is where the world’s most popular and influential Celtic harp musicians compete, and now she is classified with them.

“I really don’t think I would have been able to do it without the support of my teacher, Dominique Dodge, who I’ve had for three years and is my favorite teacher ever. Also, my family is really encouraging towards me competing and so that’s just a lot of fun to be a part of,” Adams said.

Something else that Adams mentioned that was a pivotal point to her quick excellence were harp conventions.

“This past summer, the one that I went to was called the Ohio Scottish Harp School where it was like a week-long where you did classes with teachers and learn tunes with other harpists and it was just amazing to be there,” she said.

But one of Adam’s most favorite aspects of the Celtic harp itself is the fact that even when you play a bad note, it still sounds beautiful.

“It’s a really fun instrument, it’s impossible to sound bad on the harp. It’s not like playing the clarinet where when you mess up you squeak and it’s loud and ugly. With the harp you hit two bad notes, nobody notices because it’s still just strings, it sounds pretty,” Adams said with a smile reaching from ear to ear.

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