Account of the 21st North American Jew’s Harp Festival 3rd to 5th of August 2012.

By Harm Linsen


The North American Jew's Harp Festival (NAJHF) is an annual retreat held for and by musicians to celebrate and preserve the art of making and playing the small instrument. Unusual instruments of all types are also welcomed and featured.  The two day event draws musical pilgrims from around the continent and the world.

NAJHF 2012 - Sales table
photographer Paige Pemberton 

More information on the history of the festival may be found at:


This year I decided, after turning down several invitations over the years, to attend the North American Jew’s Harp Festival (NAJHF) in Bay City, Oregon. Not to miss anything due to possible troubles in transit (which didn’t occur) I arrived in Bay City two days early. This gave me the opportunity to attend the Festival warm-up party the evening before the start of the NAJHF at Denise Harrington's house. Great food and several jam sessions and comparing instruments in a relaxed atmosphere gave a good start to this festival. Next day I volunteered in putting up the signs down highway 101 that showed the way to the festival together with Bruce Hodges and Ralph Christensen.

 The rest of that day is a bit of a blur in my memory, I know that I talked to a lot of people checked out the market and the Jew’s Harp Guild stand and I saw fragments of the workshops. Ralph showed a slideshow of the International Festival in Yakutia. I was invited by Wayland Harman to play a blues with him on my nose whistle, he heard me play the evening before. Deirde put me on the list of performers even though I said I had no repertoire (“none of us has” she said)

The dinner cooked by the Bay City Arts Centre volunteers was something to attend the festival for.

So that evening I opened the Friday Night concert with my impersonation of Dizzy Gillespie’s Jew’s harp playing style on a homebuilt megaphonic trump (jewsaphone). Right after that Wayland and I improvised a blues for nose whistle and Jew’s harps, which we practiced earlier.

The evening ended with an open mic where everyone that felt like it could step up and play something. In the end everybody was gathering in small groups and jammed until the early hours.

 Saturday began with an interactive museum where everyone could show their collection of instruments. Only two people attended, meanwhile Neptune Chapotin was giving a workshop of Indian Morchang techniques that I was following as well.

After that it was my turn and I held a presentation about 19 century Jew’s harp playing Zulu girls. At the moment an article about this is being prepared for the Journal of the International Jew’s Harp Society.

As I was preparing something to donate to the raffle that was to be held the next day, people could sign up for a band scramble. The concept is very nice, people sign up and the names of the attendees are shuffled and divided into several groups, these groups are the occasional bands for the afternoon and get an hour to practice their performance. Later that afternoon all the bands are invited to show what they’ve cooked up.

Talking about cooking, Saturday is the fish day at Bay City Arts Centre which was prepared during the day by the Bay City Arts Centre volunteers (and Paige) under the lead of Charley. Although I dislike seafood altogether this was prepared so well that I as a true seafood skeptic came back for a second plate.

 The Saturday Night concert was very special this year. It started with a performance of Ken Dean’s Albrechtsberger Project. Unlike the Austrian performances of this piece, Ken doesn’t change Jew’s harps to be able to play the melody, we talked about this before the concert and during the concert I could see his point, later he was so kind to show me the scores of the music.

After that we saw the performances of Bruce Hodges, Deirdre Morgan, Neptune Chapotin and four promising youngsters from Portland (I think) one that played didgeridoo and Jew’s harp and the other three beat-boxing. There were more but I can’t recall all of their names.

Sunday was the annual meeting of the Jew’s Harp Guild where was decided on the future of the festival. As I am not a Jew’s Harp Guild member I went to the Blue Herron and the Tillamook Cheese factory for some tastings and some fantastic ice-cream with the lovely companion of Paige Pemberton.

As we came back it was decided that there will be a festival next year, so everybody mark these dates in your agenda September 13 to 15, 2013 and visit this unique festival.

 Later I disassembled the road signs with Bruce and put them in storage at Denise's house.

Special thanks to Charley who let me use the Arts Centre shower in the week following the festival and thanks to Paige who convinced me to join in Saturdays dinner and became a dear friend in these days.