JULY 30-Aug. 9, 2019
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Thanks for all your hard work and coordination. I had a great Escape! I loved the total immersion experience. It really let me leave the world aside for harp for a few days, something I very much need about now. --Ann, who came from Florida in 2015

I am still always amazed at how you teachers manage to hold up—mid afternoon sat. you’re probably as tired as we are, yet you all manage to keep us up and going so we really DO learn the music! .--Annie, a 2014 Escapee

Thank you for putting 300% into making last weekend so great. I especially appreciated the way you taught to each person's particular needs. And of course having to opportunity to listen to you and the other instructors play Saturday evening was thrilling. .--Kathleen, a 2014 Escapee

I enjoy the times we have with our group learning our new tunes, but I also enjoy the informal gatherings later in the day on Saturday. .--from a 2011 attendee

I look forward to the Escape every year.  There is only one word to describe it- HEAVEN!  ....Can't wait to hear the CD- you choose some of the best celtic music I have ever heard. --from a 2009 attendee

“...it was a wonderful weekend in every way- I loved the people, the teachers, and the learning experience. Thanks for all your efforts. Having the CD to listen to the songs was a great idea. It helped me learn them much more quickly.”

--from a 2003 attendee.

“This was the first I ever played this type of music, first time doing a weekend thing, first time all around. I think I am hooked! You are fabulous.”

--exactly what we like to hear. This feedback from a 2002 participant.

“My favorite workshop was Saturday night when everybody played what they learned and played together. It was inspiring and it boosted my confidence,”

--2002 participant

“ It was a nice mix of playing and learning, as well as time off to relax... I especially enjoyed the session on the porch in the afternoon. It's good to get together with others to learn, ask questions, and hear stories.”

--2005 participant

"It was such a privilege to be in Billy's class. He is a good teacher and very entertaining as well! I loved the tunes he selected and can't get them out of my head," said Laurie in 2015.

"I know my teacher will be grateful for all the drilling we did on chords, inversions and 'shapes'.  Was also fun getting to play with such a large group and check out everyone's harps. " said Amber in 2011.

"I look forward to the Escape every year.  There is only one word to describe it- HEAVEN!  ....Can't wait to hear the CD- you choose some of the best celtic music I have ever heard. "--Nancy

"I think this was probably one of the best workshops I have ever attended."

“This was my 5th year I love it and look forward to it again no matter where you have it.”

The Harpers' Escape is produced by You Gotta Have Harp Productions, 11 Country Lane, Voorhees, NJ 08043. Phone: 856-795-7637.

About the Escape

Playing it by Ear for 24 years!

We structured the entire weekend as one long-running workshop, covering all of the topics listed below, plus anything else that comes up as a result of the formal and informal discussions. Attendees learned at least 2 new pieces in small group sessions; learning a tune by ear, working ornamentations into that and as things progressed, working on chord basics and finally left hand accompaniment. It was a marathon day that was unforgettable to everyone who attended. It was total harp immersion!

Our 2017 Harpers Escape will be the Harp Tour of Ireland. What happens in 2018? There may be a reunion or some other activity. Don't know yet. Kathy says just as long as somebody else is organizing it, she's on board so stay tuned!

Reflections on My Harpers' Escape

by Debbie Brewin-Wilson, co-founder of the Harpers' Escape
on staff from 1993-2016
(Debbie standing among her 2015 beginner group)

I remember very clearly having the idea for the Escape. I was attending a harp weekend and I was in a session where a beginner was not being treated very empathically, shall we say, by the instructor. I heard, as clearly as if someone whispered it in my ear, “You and Kathy could do this. You could do a workshop for beginners.” I even turned around and looked over my shoulder to be sure, but nope—no one was there.

93 groupAs I often try to do when I get these so-clear messages, I tried to dismiss it. But the idea wouldn’t go away. So I called you to float the idea by you, and you mentioned that Dennis knew someone who ran a B&B in Cape May. After you spoke with her, the idea seemed to take off. Dennis and Brad gave logistical support with computers and music-writing programs and child-wrangling so we could work our day jobs and plan our new harp adventure. And before we knew it, there we were, that first night in Cape May at the first Escape, pairing up perfect strangers to go share king-sized beds. And then, we were lying there in our own shared bed, awake most of the night, not knowing the other person was also awake, worrying! But we made it through. We gave a mini-concert in the B&B on Saturday night, and a couple wandered in who had been walking by and heard the music. Afterwards, you and I were wide awake and we walked on the boardwalk, talking about the weekend. We both felt that we were onto something. And so we were.

spring lake concertBut I don’t think I realized what we were onto until we moved the Escape to Spring Lake and set up the first concert at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. Cajoling people to play was difficult, but we did our best to be supportive and encouraging. The audience response was so enthusiastic, I couldn’t believe it. I remember how audience members sort of rushed the “stage” afterward to speak with the harpers and ask them about their harps. I remember how happy the harpers were and some were almost giddy, having played in front of others and received that kind of response.

We also began to see “alumni” showing up in Spring Lake, so the idea of keeping the weekend comfortable for beginners while challenging more experienced players took shape. And that challenged us to grow as teachers and musicians, trying to keep up with the folks who were showing up, expecting to learn from us! It also meant adding more teachers to help keep the group sizes small enough to be effective as our numbers grew.

ocean grove sessionThe years in Ocean Grove are the ones tinged golden in my memory. Clark and Margaret Cate of The Manchester Inn went out of their way to welcome us, feed us, keep us caffeinated, and keep us laughing. They let us take over the inn, move furniture, play until the wee hours—it was great. I think the momentum for the weekend really built there, and I began to realize something else was happening, something I hadn’t expected: We were helping to build a harp community.

Not only were alumni returning, but friendships were forming at every Escape, people were meeting up to play when they returned home, and they began asking for another weekend to be added during the year. We were willing to meet people where they were in their harp journeys and help them figure out where they should go next and how they could get there. While not everyone who has attended an Escape went away happy, I do believe that everyone who was willing to enter into the spirit of the weekend and take a risk by pushing him/herself into unknown territory learned and grew from the experience. And many of them returned, year after year, and they helped to build the community even more, welcoming the “newbies” and offering encouragement.

I went off to seminary, following another clear message I received, and so I stepped back from organizing but loved continuing to teach beginners and be part of the Escape community. Thanks for letting me do that! It’s been an amazing experience and I am so thankful to have been part of it. As a teacher/mentor/cheerleader for beginners over the years, I have found two things extremely gratifying: helping people to find their voices through their harps; and helping to build a supportive harping community.

I believe we’ve helped to put a little more love and connection into the world by taking that chance all those years ago by offering a different harp experience for people through the Harpers’ Escape. I’m so glad we did it!  

--Debbie, October 11, 2016




FHJ page If all our testimonials on these pages aren't enough to convince you to come, read this article in the Folk Harp Journal.

Here's also a link to the written music for the group tune we taught in 2009.



Harper's Circles over the years

Harpers Circle: 7:30pm. We have a "get-to-know you" Harpers Circle. Never done a Harpers Circle? We go around the circle and take turns starting a tune. Everybody gets a chance to play. Introduce yourself. Don't be shy. Even if you have only one piece, we're going to ask you to share it. Completed terrified about doing this? You can take a pass on your turn but we hope you'll share. Non-harping participants and guests are also encouraged to participate.

ocean grove

Above: Lucy Cummin & Maeve Gilchrist share a tune in 2014, with Mary Kay Mann joining in on the tinwhistle.

At left: A Friday night Harper's Circle in 2002 at the Manchester Inn in Ocean Grove.


2010 New Brunswick

At left, the lineup of harps in the Friday night meet & greet Harpers' Circle in 2010.






At right: Cathy Hollen, Laurie Norman and Emily Greenberg share some tunes in a Saturday session in 2013. After coming to the Harpers' Escapes for a few years, players have a lot of tunes in common.


Saturday Workshops

We break out into smaller groups by level for the Saturday morning workshops. Everybody learned the same tune before the first break.

Playing by Ear: We mail all registrants a "listening" CD of the pieces we intend to teach at the Escape at least 2 weeks in advance. All you do is listen to it. Listen to it a lot. This is part of learning to play by ear. Some of the subject topics might change slightly at the weekend, depending on the experience and playing levels of the participants. We keep the class sizes small. The goal is always the same—learn by doing.

At left: Eileen Gannon coaches on left-hand damping technique in an accompaniment workshop in 2013.

Below: Harriet and Leslie get a bit of practice in during a break time in 2014.


billy in concert

Billy Jackson treated us to some tunes on the small pipes in the 2015 teachers concert . 2016 teachers concert.





The Use It or Lose It Sessions: Starting at 9am. Our Sunday morning session is a refresh of the pieces "learned" on Saturday. You'd be surprised how much sank in while you slept. It's an intense practice session, with the goal of cementing everything "in your head and hands".

Above: the Sunday concert at the East Brunswick Public Library in 2014 and the 2013 concert below.

The final Escape concert in 2016 (below), biggest concert group ever!





updated 10/25/16