Harptallica pulls emotion to connect classical, metal music

otaylor@thestate.comSeptember 28, 2007 

HERE'S A RIDDLE: What's the hardest music for two classically trained harpists to play? Hint: It's not Bach, Debussy or Mozart. Answer: Metallica. (Get it? The hardest music to play?)

That aside, Harptallica, the harp duo performing Saturday night at Hunter-Gatherer, has soothed Metallica's harsh, chugging tones into beautiful harp sonnets.

Harptallica was started early last year by Ashley Toman, then a student at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. She arranged "Fade to Black" for two harps. The second harpist was Patricia Kline, a friend and former classmate.

The result of their collaboration? A 10- song self-titled CD featuring memorable Metallica songs from albums such as "... And Justice For All," "Ride the Lightning," "Master of Puppets" and "Metallica." (The CD can be purchased at www.harptallica.com or at the show.)

Toman and Kline's grand pedal harps give Metallica's music a pristine incandescence.

"But I had to take some liberties and work my way around some things," Toman said of the arrangements.

"One," about a soldier's struggle, is made delicate without losing its helplessness. Ferocity is obviously lost, but one can still feel the painful heft of the chorus: "Hold my breath as I wish for death / Oh, please God, wake me."

"The Unforgiven," one of the songs that made Metallica an MTV and Billboard charttopper, gets its pop smirk knocked off by Harptallica, who render it as funereal prose. And "Master of Puppets" sounds as if it were originally composed for harp.

"There's a little desperation" in the music, Kline said. "The theme that translates well and really relates classical and metal music is emotion."

Toman and Kline are on their first national tour and admit to performance nerves. "A little bit because we're not quite sure how it's going to go over," Toman said.

The duo is traveling like a rock band: in a minivan. Toman's husband, who introduced her to metal, is the roadie. Like rock musicians, Toman hopes to avoid cabin fever.

"Hopefully, Patty and I won't kill each other," she said.

Metallica isn't the easiest band to cover, and not all the reasons involve chord progressions.

Metallica, led by drummer Lars Ulrich, went after file-sharing services such as Napster in the courts and the media. In 2000, Ulrich testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee because Metallica's entire catalog was available on Napster for free.

More than 300,000 users were banned from the service, and Ulrich emerged as more of a pariah than the file sharers. Toman hasn't spoken to the band about Harptallica, but she has sealed herself from possible litigation.

"I'm not 100 percent sure they're aware," she said. "The rights to the music didn't go through them. It went through the publisher."

It won't be easy to spot Toman and Kline before their set. They won't be in the formal attire seen on harpists in orchestras or philharmonics.

"For Metallica, we go kind of laid back in jeans," Kline said.

"We pretty much look like Metallica," Toman added. "We're not in the ball gowns."

Reach Taylor at (803) 771-8362.

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