Montreal

Quebec City harpist mixes music and yoga for a Celtic performance

The yogi and lifelong musician plans to follow her Celtic concert with a guided meditation, which she hopes will leave people feeling “refreshed, renewed and hopeful.”

After a St. Patrick’s Day concert, Johanne McInnis will lead a guided meditation session

Harpist and yogi Johanne McInnis says her instrument and mindfulness go hand-in-hand and are therapeutic. (Spencer Van Dyk/CBC)

A Quebec City harpist plans to meld music and yoga for a therapeutic local performance in celebration of St. Patrick's Day.

The yogi and lifelong musician plans to follow her Celtic concert with a guided meditation, which she hopes will leave people feeling "refreshed, renewed and hopeful."

Johanne McInnis uses the harp as a form of therapy, and envisions her concerts as healing for both the body and soul.

"People seem to be attracted to the Celtic world and the Celtic repertoire," McInnis said. "That music is so old but so fresh at the same time. It brings out the history within us."

After completing an undergraduate degree 25 years ago in music, focusing on piano and guitar, McInnis got a teaching degree.

That's when she discovered the harp.

Johanne McInnis started playing the harp 25 years ago and plays in a jazz trio. She performs in Celtic pubs, spas and at the Chateau Frontenac. (Spencer Van Dyk/CBC)

McInnis, along with her partner at the time, went to Mount Desert Island off the coast of Maine to unwind after a stressful year of teaching, and discovered a place that made harps.

"I spent most of my time during vacation there, and [my partner] too started to build harps, and I started to play them instead of going to the beach every day," McInnis said.

"The harp is one of the oldest instruments in the world, so people have no choice but to slow down when they hear it."

The pair moved to Nova Scotia, where they lived for 15 years, and McInnis spent a lot of time with Celtic musicians and learning the repertoire in Irish pubs.  

"Ireland, the joy of the music … the music can bring serenity but also it can be extremely happy," McInnis said. "It takes a lot of velocity to play Celtic pieces."

A mid-life introduction to yoga

After years of playing the harp daily, by the time McInnis was in her mid-40s, she was looking for a way to ease the tension in her back — a pedal harp weighs about 36 kilograms.

She discovered yoga was not only a good remedy for her back pain, but it also boosted her mental clarity.

That's when she had a bold idea: to play the harp in yoga classes. 

"All I had on my mind was to play the harp on the beach and have a yoga teacher do her seance of yoga," she said.

So McInnis started the Harp and Yoga Festival on a beach in Nova Scotia, which will be in its third year this summer.

"When you see the impact it has on peoples' lives in a stressful world, it makes me feel really happy to see that I'm helping people to reconnect with themselves through the music they hear," she said.

McInnis is now back in Quebec City, practising hours every day in a small studio on the fourth floor of the Faculty of Music at Université Laval, and studying with the Quebec symphony harpist.

She also plays in spas and, for two years, she plucked the strings every Friday night at the renowned Chateau Frontenac.

Bringing music and meditation together

The musician will bring music and meditation together again this weekend at her Quebec City performance, where her concert will be followed by a yoga session.

McInnis says she will focus on the themes of transformation and the seasons of life.

For instance, she says her song After the rain, beautiful weather — which she adapted from an existing Celtic piece called The Swan — evokes the calm after a thunderous storm.

"I love the instrument because it resonates with me," she said. "It is an extension of who I am; I have found my purpose in life."


Johanne McInnis is performing at St. Michael's Anglican Church in Quebec City on March 16 at 7:30 p.m.

About the Author

Spencer Van Dyk

Journalist

Spencer Van Dyk is a journalist with CBC Quebec City. Follow her on Twitter @spencerlynne.

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