Last weekend was the 17th (!) Harp Guitar Gathering. Jaci and I had a lot more time to relax this year, as we continued the transition towards others taking over the work (more on this in 2020). Of course, this just then gave me more time and freedom to wallow in the emotional grief of the “elephant not in the room” – the loss of our dear friend Hirokatsu Takai last December. Despite my best efforts to get through the weekend (I do tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve), I was privately a basket case much of the weekend.

We (the hosts and helpers) had to remind ourselves that there were new HGG attendees there for the first time, and others who may have only briefly experienced Hiro at past Gatherings – and they all deserved our full attention and their best festival experience. And they got it. In fact, everyone became part of the emotional experience when they participated in the segment “Please Listen” – Stephen Bennett’s heartfelt tribute to Hiro that he orchestrated for the participants.

Above, Stephen introduces the piece. On a lighter note – if you’re having trouble parsing this photo, it’s for good reason. SB shaved off his mustache for the first time since 1983 (at the suggestion of his son, Will, not his wife Nancy!). When he stepped out of the elevator, I did what is known in the comedy business as a “quintuple take.” By the end of the weekend, I kinda liked it!

There were several Group leaders who had the music well in advance (I led “Group 1 Melody Support”); the other Gathering attendees got theirs in the last few weeks and days as we drafted them into one group or another. On late Saturday afternoon, we then split up into our groups for a 15 minute crash course in getting through our parts.


Andy Wahlberg rehearses his group.

Martin Pleass preps his volunteers.

The groups assemble.

My own motley crew still cramming for the exam.

Besides the 5 different harp guitar sections, Stephen had arranged for violin, cello, harp, mandolin, super-trebles and eBow guitar (amplified on stage). To the right, Linda Morgan’s slide show ran during the music.


This video captures the third and final attempt. An incredible, and incredibly moving, musical event.


No one got a good look at the images, as most were buried in their music. But in the Saturday night concert, host Randall Sprinkle’s group Musically Yours performed Stephen’s quartet arrangement, and we – and the public – saw the slide show accompanied by what had now become a heart wrenching soundtrack. Not too many dry eyes in the house; I was overcome.

Stephen’s not-to-be-missed solo harp guitar arrangement of the piece can additionally be heard on his latest album, Passages

While Stephen spent a good part of his year on his tribute, Frank Doucette and I were spending the year on our own project. After the first month of shock, with no catharsis forthcoming, we decided to explore the option of a CD compilation. With the help of professional translators, we received the blessing of Hiro’s family, formulated the project and contracts, and spent most of our year on it. Our goal: Collect the best of Hiro’s koto harp guitar compositions and performances, “produce” each track and the whole assemblage as a new album, optimizing fidelity and technical complications to make as cohesive and professional a release as possible. We believe we succeeded, creating a permanent, archival testament to the unique talent of a truly one of a kind artist.

We announced it during the Gathering’s Friday night raffle, and, while not exactly a festive “release party,” it was a celebration. And I think our “harp guitar family” became closer and stronger through this particular weekend.

For those of you who never had the opportunity to experience Hiro in person or who have yet to hear his music, I would urge you to “please listen.” Hirokatsu Takai: Master of the Koto Harp Guitar is now available for purchase here.

Just after we got back from the Gathering, we received a wonderful book from Hiro’s wife Masami (shown here with the CD); it includes photos and remembrances (several of us contributed entries) of the man, his music, his life and his lasting inspiration.

Until next time…