In 1990 I was a university student, and took a summer job planting trees in Northern Ontario to supplement my scholarships and help pay for my tuition. One evening, after a brutal shift involving mosquitoes, bears, jackpine seedlings and great quantities of northern mud, I was unwinding with some friends playing guitar along with someone’s portable stereo. As I was playing, I became increasingly frustrated at my inability to mimic the musician on the recording: “This girl must have a twelve inch hand-span!” I panted, “No one can make octave stretches on a guitar like that!” The owner of the recording chuckled and responded that the musician wasn’t playing a guitar at all, but a Celtic Harp! It was the first recording of Loreena McKennitt that I was hearing. The moment I realized there were things you could do with a harp that you couldn’t do with a guitar, I realised I had to have one.
However, I was an impoverished student, and couldn’t afford any of the commercially available harps at the time. Unwilling to give the idea up, I decided to try my hand at making a harp. I was a reasonable woodworker, and had access to a shop, and figured it HAD to be possible. I completed my first harp by the end of the summer, and loved the experience of making it almost as much as I enjoyed playing the finished product.
And then something happened that completely surprised me. Someone offered to buy my harp from me. And then someone else did. And then a third person made the same offer. A light-bulb went off in my tuition-centric mind: if I made a few harps every year, I could pay for my schooling!
So I started a little business,making harps based on Stoney End designs. At the same time, I began to spend many hours researching the theory of instrument design with an eye to eventually producing my own unique line of harps. The line was launched a few years later, and I was off and running as a professional harpmaker.
By 1997 I was engaged in Doctoral studies at the University of Western Ontario, specializing in Irish Poetry when I suddenly realized that I enjoyed my part-time jobs as a musician and harpmaker more than the academic career I had been training for throughout my education. I tendered my resignation to the department, purchased a small home by Ipperwash Beach in Southern Ontario with room for a small studio, and set about transforming my part-time business into a full-time obsession.
In 2009, my family leaped at the opportunity to relocate our home and business to the gorgeous Annapolis Valley region of Nova Scotia. Our new house is perched on a hill with a clear view of the entire valley laid out before us all the way to the feet of the majestic North Mountain which guards the shores of the Bay of Fundy. Our new shop will be roughly double the size of our Ipperwash studio, and construction is slated to begin in August!
Timothy Harps has become an established cornerstone of the the international harp community. I divide my time between making harps, performing as a professional harpist and songwriter, and spending time with my family in this lovely corner of the world. We have harps on every continent in the hands of professional and aspiring musicians (well, except for Antarctica, as penguins lack the requisite opposable thumbs). I feel unbelievably blessed to have been given the opportunity to live as a luthier and musician. I love my job! I love producing these fascinating instruments, and touching the lives of the musicians who adopt them. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to our success as a company and our happiness as a family. Wishing you all blessings and music.