Harriet Frost performs at Jacob’s Ladder Festival in Israel last May. (photo from Harriet Frost)
How best to describe Harriet Frost’s music? “Impressionistic poetry, witty wordplay, music that is intimate and universal,” is what CBC Radio had to say. “Folk rock with a jazz funk twist,” read another recent write-up ahead of a performance at the renowned Jacob’s Ladder Festival in Israel this May.
“My music explores personal, topical, political and spiritual landscapes. They can be humorous, joyful, painful, ironic, beautiful and not so beautiful. It’s poetry, folk, jazz, rock, spoken word, ancient and postmodern,” she says in her own words.
What is not open to interpretation is that the Vancouver singer, songwriter and musician has had a busy spring and summer. In addition to her Israeli performance, she has been organizing local house concerts in town and working on a new album.
Music is an integral part of what she does outside of being on stage or in a studio, as well. Her work at the Louis Brier Home and Hospital has shown the therapeutic effects music has on people regardless of their age. “You can reach people, even those in deep states of dementia, through music,” she said. Frost also teaches Judaic studies, trains youth and adults to chant from Torah, and has been exploring cantorial music.
The Israel connection
Jacob’s Ladder is more than a music festival to Frost – it is the title of a song she wrote and dedicated to her father, who escaped Nazi Germany for Palestine in 1939. He witnessed the birth of the Israeli state in his decade living there. The song is featured in the Lucy McCauly documentary film Facing the Nazi Era.
Canada ultimately became home for the Frost family, yet the connection with Israel remained. When it was time for university, Harriet chose four years at Hebrew University in Jerusalem – a student by day and a musician playing in the cafés at night. She was the musical director of the groundbreaking theatre troupe, the Gypsies, made up of Palestinian, Israeli and North American artists who performed peace-themed musicals for Israeli and Palestinian youth. Her personal musical biography is so resonant with Israeli content that when a friend told her last year about Jacob’s Ladder and urged her to look into it, she couldn’t resist. The invitation from its organizers came a few months later.
Founded in 1976, Jacob’s Ladder is the longest and most established music festival in Israel, featuring a wide selection of folk genres and international music presented each spring and fall. Located in the north, on the Sea of Galilee, Frost said her first feeling upon arrival was like being at the Vancouver Folk Festival at Jericho Beach Park, due to the proximity to the water.
“It was 45 degrees,” she recalled. “I had no idea what to expect. When I was first introduced as a Vancouverite and the only Canadian performing at the festival this year, people started cheering. It was so welcoming and fantastic.”
She played in an air-conditioned 250-seat hall filled to capacity with an audience comprised of Americans, Israelis, Europeans, Canadians and fellow musicians “of all ages,” she said, “teenagers, families with kids, millennials, a full arc of generations.”
At the Ginosar Kibbutz and Hotel, which hosts the famous event, she met numerous performers who had come to the festival and were playing music in the hotel lobby between their own sets. It was an extraordinary opportunity to connect with some of the country’s most notable folk musicians, she said.
Concerts and album
Through November and beyond, along with other venues, Frost is organizing a series of house concerts, given the positive response to one she held in April in advance of her Jacob’s Ladder appearance. As the name suggests these are concerts hosted in someone’s home, where, according to Frost, “musicians have an opportunity to present their original material in a concert situation, unlike in a café or club where folks may be eating, drinking and socializing.
“There is an intimate concert vibe that is created in the home. You have the freedom to play a full night’s worth of material and really connect with a small audience (between 30 and 50). People attend specifically to listen to new music.” Currently, Frost has been collaborating at these concerts with Vancouver multi-instrumentalist Martin Gotfrit.
And a new album is in the works. Working title: Jacob’s Ladder.
For more information about the album and upcoming concerts, visit harrietfrost.com.
Sam Margolis has written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.