Jerry Bauer didn’t mean to become Crescent City’s token harp player. He simply wanted to play his harp.
But when you pluck the strings to a peaceful melody in front of a sunlit ocean, you’re bound to attract attention.
“I don’t really want to be that ‘harp guy,’ but by the same token, I like going out by the ocean and playing harp,” Bauer said.
Bauer is a local harp player and teacher, cultivating a love for the ancient instrument in Crescent City. On occasional weekend nights, one can find him playing at Tolowa Point off Pebble Beach Drive as the sun sets.
And people do find him. In fact, he’s attracted a regular crowd that attends his informal recitals. Those coming to see the sunset, or on an evening walk, often stop when they hear the harp’s soft melodies.
These impromptu gigs are part of a larger movement - “random acts of harping” - which encourages harpists to present their music in public. The official random harp performing day usually takes place in early June, according to Bauer.
When a fellow harpist friend came to visit him, he asked if she wanted to join him in a “random act of harping,” so they settled down on a bench on Tolowa Point and played as the sun lowered to the ocean.
He enjoyed practicing his harp there so much that he decided to go again after his friend left … then went again and again until it became a regular occurrence.
“It becomes [a] meditative, calming, spiritual kind of thing,” he said. “Playing harp at sunset, it’s just so pretty.”
After hearing him play, people began to ask him to let them know the next time he would be playing. So Bauer now makes Facebook events. For those without Facebooks, he sends email announcements.
Every few weeks, he’ll check the weather forecast for the coming weekend. Weather allowing, he’ll schedule his recitals. He calls them “semi-random acts of harping.”
These are not concerts, per se – Bauer is quick to make that distinction, because he hates performing for others. He gets nervous and worries he will butcher the pieces.
“It’s not performing, it’s just playing. Getting up on stage and up in front of people and getting all this - you know, it’s self-generated - but it’s pressure. I’d be sitting there playing and I’d be thinking, don’t screw it up, don’t screw it up, don’t screw it up,” Bauer said.
For these sunset serenades, he brings no set list. Rather, he plays and improvises with whatever tunes fit the mood.
“I just go out and play. And while I’m playing one thing, I’m thinking, ‘Oh, I could play this next. I could play that,’” Bauer said. “It’s very ad hoc, informal.
“That’s one of the things I like about it. It’s not a concert, even though there are people there listening. I would do it even if they weren’t there.”
He also has performed for certain functions, such as a Christmas performance at the Del Norte Library, but those performances are few and far between.
Before becoming the sunset serenader, Bauer worked as a software engineer in Silicon Valley. He discovered his love of harp in 2003 when he began taking lessons, soon joining a community of harpists called “Harpers Hall,” a combination social and musical club.
He looked for a similar community in Crescent City after he retired here in 2014, saying he “missed the harp community camaraderie.” He did not find a group locally, so he thought he would create one.
He approached the Pacific Music Guild with the intention of starting a harp class. His first class was held at the Methodist Church in Crescent City, with 10 students.
Since then, he has hosted a couple of classes and has found a few other local harpists to collaborate with. He says his only purpose in harp teaching and playing is to share the instrument and create a community of musicians.
“I don’t do this for the money,” he said. “It’s not for a living or anything. I do it for the joy of it.”