Diana Stork plays harp with her nails, and Cheryl Ann Fulton strums with fingerpads. When they play together, you can hear the difference.
"It's subtle," Stork said. "The harp isn't like one of those brazen instruments. It has a nice, quiet tone."
Stork and Fulton, best friends, have been playing together as Twin Harps since 1988.
They're on their third Southeast Alaska tour and will perform Thursday, Sept. 11, at the Presbyterian Church in Skagway; Friday, Sept. 12, at the Chilkat Center in Haines; 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 13, at Northern Light United Church downtown; and 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 14, at Chapel by the Lake near Auke Bay.
Fulton is considered America's best historical harp player, according to Harp Spectrum, a nonprofit group dedicated to harp education. She's a Fulbright scholar who has recorded seven albums and performed around the world on Welsh triple-strung, medieval and concert harps.
Stork has played with the world-fusion group Geist and founded the Celtic folk group A Blessing in Disguise when she lived in Juneau in the early 1980s. She said she was the first non-Native to perform at the Tlingit Tribal House in Klukwan Village and the first solo harpist to tour Alaska, according to her biography.
"Cheryl has a nice clear analytical mind, and I have a strong heart for folk music and a lot of popular music," Stork said. "I've learned a lot more medieval music playing with Cheryl, and she's learned some ethnic styles playing with me."
Stork and Fulton will play on two pairs of harps.
Their identical medieval gothic harps are small enough to fit in a lap. Those harps weigh about 10 pounds and fit in specially designed backpack harp cases.
They also play birdseye maple lever harps - 4-foot tall harps with more strings, a wider range and a deeper bass sound. Their birdseye harps weigh about 60 pounds and were designed by Robert Bunker, an American master harp builder. Four exist in the world.
Fulton and Stork open each half of their program with medieval pieces, then move into a variety of traditional Celtic and Irish pieces. They play a few pieces written by Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th-century writer, composer, herbaliser and mystic. They also have two Alaska-themed selections.
Fulton composed "Native Spirit" after Twin Harps visited Haines on their first Alaska tour in 1991. She looked out over the Chilkat River and saw two eagles circling.
"The theme came from that," Fulton said. "It shows the experience of being in Haines. I saw a moose, I saw some elk, so there's this section that has this large animal feel."
"Native Spirit" has been played on National Public Radio.
Stork wrote "Tlingit Faces" after visiting Southeast and observing the use of spirit animals in Native art around the world, not just in Southeast.
"It's my take on the way I see different stylized animals," Stork said. "When you see the lion, it's not just fierce. Some people can see it as noble. There are different themes. One theme is more dramatic, another would be a little more serious and one would be a little more bright."
Fulton and Stork will also premiere "Dark Horse," a piece Stork wrote after watching the first two "Lord of the Rings" movies. Stork plays the role of Aragon, the stoic ranger skilled in tracking foes through Middle Earth. Fulton portrays Legolas, the blond elf and master archer.
"She fell in love with Aragon," Fulton said. "I'm more elf-like. She wrote that part with me in mind. I do things that imitate the bow, and Legolas releasing the arrow."
Like Legolas, Fulton rides a horse - an Arabian steed named Fazon. She's played harp on horseback once, at a Renaissance fair in California. Fazon will not make the trip to Alaska.
Korry Keeker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.