Dozens of harps playing in unison sounds pretty heavenly — and New Brunswickers can enjoy an ethereal music experience at the Grand Manan Harpers Retreat.

The inaugural gathering for players of the stringed instrument will be held on the island from Sept. 5 to 9.

Almost 20 players will gather at the Marathon Inn for the five-day getaway, hosted by veteran harpist Sharon Johnston.

"I'm a classically-trained pianist, but putting a harp in my arms changed my life," says Johnston.

"In some ways, it's a very easy instrument to learn, because the very first note that you play on a harp will sound beautiful. You really can't make a bad sound on a harp."

Attendees will learn to play songs by ear at a two-hour class each morning, Johnston says.

Once that is over, they have the rest of the day to enjoy "hiking, beach-combing, birding, whale watching, practicing, and relaxing" on Grand Manan.

Celtic harps popular

Wee harp

The retreat will be attended mainly by players of the Celtic, or Irish harp (pictured), which run much smaller than the 6-foot concert harps often depicted in films and on TV. (Wikipedia)

Johnston, who runs a harp school in Goderich, Ont., and summers on the island, says the retreat is geared toward enthusiasts of the Celtic, or Irish, harp.

These harps tend to run much smaller than the six-foot concert harps often depicted in films and on television.

"The harps that we play are usually about four to five feet tall when they're standing on the floor," says Johnston, "and are used mainly for folk and traditional music."

Almost 20 harpists, local fiddlers, guitarists, flautists and cellists are expected to take part at a community concert Friday evening.

'Absolutely glorious' sound

As for what it sounds like when that many harps are raised in song, Johnston calls the music "absolutely glorious."

"We have people of all different levels playing from beginners playing one note at a time, to accomplished musicians with their fingers flying around the strings," she says.

Johnston added the venue of Grand Manan's old, wooden community hall adds to the acoustic experience.

The retreat starts Monday. The public concert is at Grand Manan's Covert Hall on Sept. 9.

With files from Information Morning Saint John