30 June 2011

( our harpist in the hills )

our harpist in the hills
by jennifer hetrick

a cleveland transplant to boyertown’s earl township, betsy scott chapman wears many proverbial job-hats in her life, but one that makes her a unique and seasoned asset to the area is her musical role of harpist.

chapman relocated to bally in 1983 and bought her home in boyertown just six years later.

in 1988 is when she took up the harp as an adult, having wanted to learn it as a child but knowing she would be seriously limited in finding a harp and also an instructor in her hometown back in the 1960s.

“i thought the sound was beautiful, and you don’t have to be really good but can still sound good when you play it,” chapman says with amusement.

“secondarily, i’m a big fan of fantasy and science fiction books, and harps are always in them,” chapman adds. “in those books, harps usually have magical powers, and they’re always in tune—in real life, they go out of tune every time you move them.”

she ordered her first-ever harp from a mail order catalog and found a teacher in wyomissing, and there her studying began.

chapman currently owns five harps; each one is all its own for her different purposes, or at least that’s what she says she tells herself to rationalize having such a number of them. a few months ago, she had six but sold one.

“the earliest sort of pictures that we have of a harp-like instrument are from about 3,000 b.c. from the egyptians in tombs and caves,” chapman elaborates. “we know it started from something like a hunting bow— the old ones were c-shaped with one string, and some then had two or three strings.”

but in contrast, “harps taking on the triangular shape better known today showed up in celtic countries a few thousand years later, able to hold more strings and with greater tension,” she says.

chapman has performed harp music in a variety of countries in different parts of europe, living in france and studying the practice of the instrument there in a conservatory in the early 1990s.

a history buff on the harp through and through, chapman also plays the piano, clarinet, flute, and guitar. she dabbles in percussion and sound effects as well while working at the tri-county performing arts center & village productions in pottstown.

“my dad used to play piano; he could play anything you wanted to hear, but only by ear,” chapman notes. “he never took lessons until after he retired at the age of 62, and he played the piano and organ up to right before he died.”

“i think everybody's a musician,” chapman says. “you just have to find how.”

figuring harpists are few and far between in this area is a bit of a throw-off too, as chapman can name six others in a 10-mile radius who either consider themselves performers or play the harp for themselves and their families.

an unexpected gem of a shop for harp enthusiasts is harp planet in macungie, where chapman is a patron and says the owners are internationally renowned for their dedication to all things harp.

today, chapman holds a heartfelt affinity for celtic harp music and considers it something genetic, as her ancestors are from scotland. a lot of her original pieces often end up sounding celtic, and sometimes she wondered if she was writing already existing music, but her teacher assured her that the sounds were new and uniquely hers.

“when i write music,” chapman says, “it comes to me almost fully formed.”

( photograph by amy strauss )

while she’s at cocktails parties where guests behave stuffily, she’s known to jolt their senses a bit by straying from her regular batch of tunes, instead breaking into song with led zeppelin’s “stairway to heaven.”

she also incorporates radio hits from the past few decades sometimes, including firehouse’s  “love of a lifetime,” aerosmith’s “don’t want to miss a thing,” and coldplay’s “clocks.”

“i like to have fun and not necessarily be the harpist people expect,” chapman reveals with a laugh. 

she even has a cup that says, “it’s not all curls and chiffon,” an ode to seeing value in the harp well beyond antiquated stereotypes.

“in england in 1603, harps were banned because they were felt to be dangerous,” chapman explains. “it was believed that they were inciting the people to rebel, which is not really the vision we have of the harpist today.”

one component of her harp-playing that is invaluable on the local level is her hospice work.

chapman is often brought into the rooms of those who are dying and struggling to let go amidst their fears in nearing the end of the life they’re used to calling their own.

“it's clear—there's a lot of scientific evidence that harp music helps to reduce pain,” chapman says. “it helps to increase oxygenation levels in blood and control blood pressure.”   

chapman plays harp persuasions at the pottstown memorial medical center two mornings each week and is on-call for hospice needs, serving an important and much-needed role in the population for those who are suffering and dying; in this, she says she is grateful to be able to help people pass over more peacefully than if they were without the gift of a harp’s ways on tired souls.

“i hope that people start thinking of the harp in the larger sense, besides looking at it just as pretty background music,” chapman concludes.

to find out more about chapman and hear samplings of her music, visit her website at www.betsychapman.com.

( artisan breads by the oley baker or how to travel to europe without crossing the ocean )

artisan breads by the oley baker
how to travel to europe without crossing the ocean
by marian wolbers

take a bite. close your eyes, and you’ll swear on your great-grandmother’s apron that you’re not in pennsylvania anymore but somewhere out in the countryside of france—or germany or holland or slovakia. first, that hearth-and-home scent. then the slight-sweet crusts. teeth tear into grainy fibers, the stomach saying, aha ! you do love me ! (if tummies could talk...)
it’s a proustian pleasure every time: whether it’s a slice of rustic multigrain, traditional rye, or  sesame-flaxseed bread, it doesn’t seem to matter. with tom kopel’s bread on the cutting board, you’ve got a ticket to the old country flavors of breads and times gone by.

yup, life is still good. in these loaves, there are no preservatives, no additives. no need to worry either—because these satisfying breads quickly mate with cheese and wine, or soup, or eggs; or they find themselves sandwiching greens and turkey and what have you.

“i try to bake the way people baked 500 years ago—or 1,500 years ago,” kopel laughs as he explains his m.o. (modus operandus). an avid student of all things bread-y, the oley baker can talk from here to tomorrow about grains, ancient and modern, and why wheat and rye keep company with each other on the smartest farmers’ fields (they keep grain-damaging pests away from each other). for kopel’s kneads, he delights in scouring the planet to find sources for the world’s finest seeds for each particular type of bread; he reverences not only dough but the highly protected starter yeasts belonging to the oldest, most delicious breads—and he has even created his own wild yeast, using the springtime air (“when the trees are in bloom”) and water right here in southeastern pennsylvania. he’ll tell you that by tasting a morsel of amazing bread, you can know what’s in the water, the soil, and much, much, much more.

back to the yummy basics: indeed, kopel is truly an artisan baker, a term that technically is what small bakers call themselves but which actually “gives you the license to make what you want,” affirms kopel. at a time in his lifespan when he ought to be taking cruises to bermuda, this former navy-man, aviator, and corporate exec is spending six days a week pounding dough with big strong hands, tending ovens, lifting loaves, and handing his products out the door of his oley home to distributors across the region (oh, and, he was a textile industry exec and financial advisor, too).

“it’s a job. it’s work,” he says practically. he claims that he bakes not because it’s his life’s passion but because in 2002 his sister-in-law, from leipzig (germany) told him flat out, “you make bread as good as anyone in europe.” though he’d been baking homemade breads since the 70s, once he rose up as “the bread guy” at skippack’s outdoor market, his specialty loaves literally flew off of the stand.

popular offerings include:

sesame-flaxseed, crafted with dark flax seeds and unhulled, unbleached sesame seeds;

flaxseed original, ladies love it;

rustic multigrain, with whole grain wheat flour, whole grain rye flour, bulgur, and spices;
kc rye, so named after the kimberton cafĂ©, which uses this “very traditional” rye bread for sandwiches;

black russian, a dark rye with the signature flavor and color of roasted barley; and genuine sourdough which tastes “cheddar-esque,” kopel says—though no cheese is used in the baking.

other mouthwaterers are marble rye, speltberry bread (by special order), sunflower whole wheat, and genoise cakes.

finally, an addiction caveat: once you’ve realized how completely cool it is to eat bread made by a guy who used to fly b-52s and phantom jets, don’t be surprised when all store-bought breads pale and stale by comparison. hooked !

where: tom kopel is the oley baker, whose artisan breads (yeast breads) are available at such area markets as weaver’s orchard market, morgantown; kimberton whole foods (all stores); merrymead farm market, lansdale; and fisher’s farm fresh produce stand on memorial highway in oley. tel. 1.800.782.6953. also search “the oley baker” on facebook for more information.

news, not blues volume twenty-three is out.

happy day before july begins ! news, not blues volume twenty-three is out ! it involves a former fighter pilot baking bread, along with harp-speak.

scoop up your copy soon !

08 June 2011

buy a bar of soap to help support the abrahams !

we are selling amber hills herbs & gifts' soaps to help out the abrahams after their house fire may 29. thank you to prout's jollyview farm for selling the soaps at their strawberry jam festival this past weekend, and thank you also to all of those who purchased sniff-happy soaps to support the abrahams. here is a list of soaps currently available, salvaged from the fire. they are $5 each. please e-mail us at newsnotblues@gmail.com right away to reserve a soap, if you would like one, as some we only have a few bars of in the batch. 

  • pure
  • sleepy time
  • cucumber & melon
  • cherry blossom
  • patchouli
  • kisses
  • today's the day
  • be happy
  • dragon's blood
  • cotton blossom
  • honeysuckle blossom
  • nag champa
  • blackberry amber
  • fresh snow
  • love
  • carribean nights

01 June 2011

please help an oley valley family ! pass this along.

the able-hearted abrahams: after the fire

sunday the 29th of may marked a devastating day for tammy and skip abraham, residents of 105 fisher mill road in oley, just past the bridge near glick’s greenhouse. as a soap-maker set on making each bar as naturally as possible, inspired by the better and more whimsical ways of nature invigorating the mind, body, and spirit, tammy ran her shop out of her converted garage, under the name amber hills herbs & gifts. she planned to start an herb garden and had several plants inside under grow-lights, before they were ready to be put into the soil outside. with the room’s door shut, a decades old fan overheated and started a fire that took most of her family’s belongings with it. but very fortunately, tammy, skip, and their four dogs survived.

the two are staying with skip’s sister while the dogs are in the care of another relative. but in this, i feel it’s important that the people of the oley valley learn who these kind-hearted locals are because they’ve both become a wonderful part of my life, and it aches to know what they are going through. i want to do anything i can to help them pick up the pieces of their life, to start over one day at a time, the best they can. and with the oley valley being such a tight-knit, supportive, and giving community, i am confident that any of you who hear their story and learn who they are as people will want to do your part in helping them, whether it be through a small cash donation or any other way you can give, to be there for them in their time of need. drop-off sites in oley for donations are glick's greenhouse along with prout's jollyview farm during its strawberry festival. tammy's soaps will also be available for sale for $5 a bar at the strawberry festival, with the raised funds joining in with other cash donations for the abrahams.

the abrahams have voiced to me that they cannot believe already how kind people have been to them since the fire; this is so touching to me because it’s exactly how it should be—help and hugs reaching across a community when part of the whole is in need after a tragedy. monetary donations are of course something the abrahams will greatly  and humbly appreciate, i know, but i also want people to realize that there are other ways of giving too, and i know any assistance at all will move their hearts more than we could imagine. for example, the owner of pampered paws on route 562 in boyertown has compassionately agreed to donate four pet grooming sessions for the abrahams’ four fur kids. help and effort from the heart is something so open-ended, and the possibilities are what you make of them.

as a writer in the area, i penned a feature about tammy’s soap shop in the boyertown area times a year ago, and this is when her heart became glued in part, to mine. last july, i started a positive-only local news publication called news, not blues. just a few weeks ago, my latest contributing writer whipped up a wonderful feature on tammy’s soap shop, and in it, you can see tammy’s  spirit and the joy she takes in making her soaps, lotions, body butters, lip balms, and more—all one at a time, all with care. we are incredibly lucky to have such an artful, nature-inspired soap-maker right in our hometown. i never thought much of bar soap till i met tammy, and now i am the crazy woman buying six (or twelve ?) at a time, stocking up, as it’s always a downer when i run out my cherished soaps that, as i say, stink up my house the good way, with their scents flowing mood-perkingly from room to room. please also check out amber hills herbs & gifts on facebook—i run the page for tammy and have plenty of pictures up of her scent-happy samplings.

tammy is by far one of the nicest, most thoughtful, caring people i have ever met. i would say that any day, and i’m all the more happy to say it now in hopes that you will want to learn to know her too, along with her kind husband skip who would often gives me a handful of freshly finished beef jerky when i visited for soap. i am of the mindset in recent years to look at life as gratefully as i can, valuing how lucky i am to have met genuinely good people in my community, which makes me value it all the more. i am reaching out to you here in hopes that you might be willing to help the abrahams too. together, our efforts can make a big impact on bringing their life back to what it once was. we are very lucky to live in such a beautiful place, and i know the abrahams’ gratitude will be immeasurable to anyone who amiably lends a hand as a neighbor.

all cash donations received will be given directly to the abrahams. if you have any questions about how you can help, or if you have ideas for ways to assist them, please e-mail me: newsnotblues@gmail.com.

jennifer hetrick
boyertown, pennsylvania