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Pumehana Wadsworth Gently Rocks

When local harpist Pumehana Davis Wadsworth speaks about her two great musical loves – the harp and classic rock – the excitement is palpable. So much so, she puts both hands up in front of her as if she’s pulling invisible strings with her fingers and soloing an air harp. Granted, it’s a sight you don’t see every day: Yet to her, it makes perfect sense.

Wadsworth discovered the harp at the age of 5. At the time, her sister Momi was a student. As a child, she would crawl up the base as her sister practiced, catching a few bass strings here and there. So it was natural for her to follow in her sibling’s footsteps, switching her study from piano to harp.

“When my sister moved out, my mom wanted to give her harp away,” she recalls. “But I quickly committed to taking lessons, and she figured that if I could sit and play piano uninterrupted for two to three hours a day, I could play harp. And, best of all, it got me out of doing household chores.”

During her teens, she started getting symphonic work on O’ahu and Maui. But, as she remembers it, she didn’t much care for the experience. There were too many rules, too much structure for her. Somehow, she didn’t feel like she belonged. And, when she got paid, she wanted to give the check back. She hadn’t done well and didn’t feel like she deserved it. But that’s when an idea struck.

“I went to the local music store and found piano sheet music for some contemporary songs. And that was it,” Wadsworth says.

By combining her passion for harp with her love for the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Doors and even Aerosmith, she had found a perfect way to express herself-and relate to others.

Nowadays, (after a newfound appreciation for symphonic works) she relishes adding classic rock covers to her repertoire along with the usual suspects: classical, Hawaiian, love ballads, jazz and Broadway. She’s performed worldwide for an array of weddings and special events, at restaurants and hotels, as well as cocktail parties, dinners and conventions. Highlights include performances for “The Donald” Trump and former HRH Princess Sayako of Japan.

For her, mixing it up while she’s playing keeps it fun and fresh, and helps connect her to an audience. And, even though she has a quiver of harps, she favors a 60-pound, blue electro-acoustic harp named Elvis.

“When I’m playing a gig I like to find one person in the room and play for them. I pick a song, like Stairway to Heaven, and see their reaction. If they like what I’m playing, it can really change the energy in the room. Make it more upbeat. And that’s fun and rewarding.” u

Visit www.harphawaii.com to learn more, listen to audio clips and book Pumehana Davis Wadsworth.