On July 23, 2015 Sylvia Woods received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Somerset Folk Harp Festival in Parsippany, New Jersey, for her contributions to the harp world.
Photo: Sylvia Woods and Festival Director, Kathy DeAngelo
This is the March 2015 announcement of the award from the Somerset Folk Harp Festival Website.
You most likely have her best-selling "Teach Yourself Harp" book on your music shelf. Probably a couple of her records or CDs too. We're so lucky that Sylvia got that Celtic harp in Ireland in the early 70s, started playing with Robin Williamson and his Merry Band and then toured all over the world. Finding that it would be tough to have more harp players without there being more harps available for them to play, Sylvia was instrumental (pun intended) in promoting the nascent harpbuilding industry. Did you know that she was the first president of the International Society of Folk Harpers & Craftsmen? Wanting to build up the harp world led Sylvia to write and publish myriad number of harp music books. She created an entire catalog business and the Sylvia Woods Harp Center, brick-and-mortar and then on-line. We owe her a debt of gratitude in paving the way for the harp marketplace that has developed. Most harpers today can probably do a Kevin Bacon-like 6 degrees of separation for harp which would all link back to Sylvia Woods.You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in our harp community who has not been influenced by her, directly or indirectly.
The award will be presented at the festival's Thursday concert, in which Sylvia will also perform.
Sue and Ray Mooers of Dusty Strings Harp wrote the following testimonial in the Festival Program Guide.
In early 1985 we were searching for a harp method to include with a new harp we were developing, and as the first step-by-step instruction book written exclusively for folk harp, Sylvia's eternally-popular book, Teach Yourself to Play the Folk Harp, was the obvious choice. That's how we came to know Sylvia. With more than 50,000 copies in print since its 1978 release, most of you probably already have this book, whose far-reaching effects were graphically illustrated at the Folk Harp Society conference in 1998 in Galveston, Texas. Sylvia was pulled up in front of a 300-person audience to receive a surprise award for the 20th anniversary of her book. The presenter asked the audience to stand up if this book had been an important part of their harp-learning experience, and almost as one, about 90% of the people in the room rose, clapping and cheering.
Besides this notable achievement, Sylvia's illustrious career is studded with many other shining accomplishments. In 1980, she became the second American ever to win the senior All-Ireland harp championship. She played on numerous movie soundtracks, including Dead Poets Society, and wrote and recorded the gorgeous Harp of Brandiswhiere suite, which won several awards and helped to catapult the folk harp into the public eye. And, of course, she founded and still runs the iconic Sylvia Woods Harp Center, boundless source of all things harp.
As with many things of this nature, the whole of Sylvia's influence on the folk harp world is greater than the sum of her individual accomplishments. She fell in love with the folk harp at a time when there wasn't much to be found in the U.S. in the way of instruments, music or recordings, and she took up the banner with tireless enthusiasm and dedication. In 1976 she toured for 3 years with Robin Williamson and His Merry Band, and then began teaching harp, then writing, and then selling harps, and in the process of doing what she loved, she turned countless others on to the harp and helped nourish their interest. She is fun, unflappable, down-to-earth, and one of the hardest-working business persons that we have ever met. As a teacher, performer, composer, arranger, retailer and promoter of folk harps and harp music, Sylvia has inspired, encouraged, advised, guided and, yes, enabled more harpists and builders than we can ever know.
In fact, if it weren't for Sylvia Woods, Dusty Strings harps may never have gotten very far. In 1985, we'd been building hammered dulcimers for a few years, and more and more people (no doubt inspired by Sylvia) were asking us if we could make harps as well. So we did some research, built a couple of prototypes, and took our first 25-string harp down to California to show it off to Sylvia to hopefully hear how great it was. When she asked why it only went down to a D, Ray replied, "Well, we play a lot of tunes in the key of D on the hammered dulcimer." Sylvia laughed and with the directness and tact that are a large part of why she is so trusted an advisor, proceeded to give him our first two useful pieces of harp advice: 1) Harpists like having a low C string, and 2) Using wound strings in the bass makes them feel less like rubber bands. She sent Ray packing--back to the workshop for some more design refinements.
Since those early days, Sylvia has been a steadfast friend, mentor and sounding board, encouraging and inspiring us in our harp-building endeavors and tirelessly critiquing our instruction manuals so everything is accessible to the non-technical among those in the harp community. Over the years, her advice and support have been invaluable. By the end of 1999, Sylvia was so well established as a leader in the harp community that she was honored by the Harp Column Magazine as being among the "Most Influential Harp Forces of the Twentieth Century". High praise indeed. Many, many people have benefited from Sylvia's contributions to the folk harp world. Indeed, the mission statement of The International Society of Folk Harpers and Craftsmen, of which Sylvia was the first president, neatly sums up her life's artistic goals to "educate, cultivate, promote, foster, sponsor, and develop among members and the general public an appreciation of the folk harp as a musical instrument and living cultural tradition; to develop and improve the quality of the instrument itself and of its related components by educating harp makers and encouraging communication between them; to encourage the composition and performance of music for the folk harp; and through education to improve the quality of performance of harpers."
Sylvia has done and continues to do all these things and more and so we thank her with all our hearts and congratulate her on receiving this Lifetime Achievement Award.
– Sue and Ray Mooers, Dusty Strings
Photo: Ray Mooers of Dusty Strings, Sylvia Woods, Kathy DeAngelo (Festival Director)
David Kolacny, President of the International Society of Folk Harpers and Craftsmen wrote this "Note from the President" in the Fall 2015 issue of the Folk Harp Journal.
Thank You Sylvia
I am writing this just before I leave for the 2015 Somerset Folk Harp Festival. One of the highlights of this year's festival will be the presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award to Sylvia Woods. I can't think of anyone who deserves this award more. The harp world we know and love would be totally different if there had never been a Sylvia Woods.
Those of you who only know Sylvia from the cover of Teach Yourself to Play the Folk Harp are missing out. She taught us all by example how to make a living as a performer, arranger, composer, and publisher. Sylvia set the standard for running a mail order harp business and later transferred the entire thing into a booming retail store. Getting one of your pieces accepted into Sylvia's catalog was a sign of "making it" for lots of young composers.
Readers of this magazine should know that Sylvia was a Founding Director of the International Society of Folk Harpers and Craftsmen. The ISFHC publishes the Folk Harp Journal and put on folk harp conferences for many years. Sylvia always ran the best booth at any conference she attended. Luckily for those attending, this year Sylvia will have a booth at Somerset after being absent for a few years.
The first time I met Sylvia was in the mid 80's. Robert Bunker (who had not started making Loveland Sharping levers yet) and Dave Woodworth (who was still decades away from making harps from carbon fiber) and I were attending the Folk Harp Conference in Logan, Utah. We were all in awe of Sylvia. She was this legendary figure that we were all afraid to talk to. One of the festival's dinners was a cook out in the mountains. We found ourselves sitting at a picnic table with Sylvia. One of the boys said something incredibly funny just as I took a big swig of beer. I started laughing and spit the beer several feet, just missing Sylvia. I sat in total terror, knowing that my harp career was over before it had begun. "Oh no," I thought "I almost gave Sylvia Woods a beer shower!" Luckily, she started to laugh and we have been good friends ever since. She is a wonderful, warm, funny and caring person and we should all feel honored to share a love of the harp with her.
Getting a lifetime achievement award might make some people assume that the recipient is at the end of their career. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sylvia lives in Hawaii now instead of California and she has changed her focus. But I am glad to say she is still going strong.
-- David Kolacny, ISFHC President
Photo: wording on award