...a somewhat long and quite silly biography.
On to the mything...
In an effort to tire her out, Leigh's mother enrolled her in a creative modern dance class at the age of three. It didn't work. It did, however, hook Leigh on the performing arts. (She announced to her parents a couple of years later that she knew that eventually there would be a plaque on their house as her birthplace.) She continued to train as a dancer, joining her first professional company at fifteen. Simultaneously, she began exploring a whole host of other performing arts disciplines.
She completed a perfectly arcane degree at Penn State in literature, history, and performance with a focus on the poetry of 13th Century Provençal women. While in college, she continued to dance professionally, performed in a variety of theatre productions, and sang with a series of bands, ranging from music from the thirties and forties, to blues, rock, folk and country, for which she won regional honors in the True Value Country Music Showdown. She was a PM drive disc jockey and program director at a country music radio station for a while (ask her sometime about her rodeo stories).
In the midst of all this, she discovered the harp. She studied folk and classical harp with one of Marcel Grandjany's protegees and became the associate conductor of the Penn State Harp Ensemble. She quickly found herself performing on the harp around Pennsylvania, live in concert and as a featured performer on PBS Television. But she didn't want to be the little harp lady with the bun, so she shoved her harp in the corner and looked in other directions.
She founded her own theatre company, creating, producing, and performing several original works, with grant support from Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. She performed with a number of theatre companies in Philadelphia, including national and international touring with Mum Puppettheatre, an internationally acclaimed theatre/puppetry/mask company. She served as a teaching artist specializing in creative relaxation and conflict resolution in schools, universities, and festivals around the US and abroad, and studied poetry and playwrighting by invitation with Nobel Poet Laureate Derek Walcott.
But she still wasn't satisfied. One day she gazed at her harp languishing in the corner, dusted it off and had an epiphany: she could play whatever she wanted. Two years, a lot of writing, and a pair of thigh-high boots later, she got dubbed "Harpwench" by a fan and figured she was on to something. Mixing the archetypal image of the harp with the wide-flung influences of the modern singer/songwriter into something uniquely hers, she performed throughout the Midwest and on the East Coast. She independently released her debut recording, Touch The Green in 1997, reaching the top forty folk lists nationally in June of 1998.
Next, together with an education systems specialist and a Hollywood film editor, she created The Lyra System of Relaxation®, a unique combination of audio, video, and textual elements, released in 1999, and utilized as a leisure studies text for incoming freshman at the University of Northern Illinois. She spent several months doing her impression of a showgirl while harping for Spirit of the Dance, an Irish dance and music show in Reno, NV, whereupon she discovered a penchant for big hair and glitter; and several months as harpist in residence at the Von Trapp Family Lodge in Vermont, resisting the urge to gallop through the fields singing "The Hills are Alive."
Upon her return home, she headed a project to save an abandoned local elementary school, bringing together over a dozen non-profit and governmental agencies and overseeing several million dollars of fundraising and grant-writing efforts to create a Family Resource Center, offering social service, arts, and sports programming to her community in the Ojai Valley, California. She took a break from this for a month one summer when she wandered to Italy to direct La Serva Padrona, an 18th Century comic opera, for the Adriatic Chamber Music Festival.
In addition, Leigh has served in management and consulting capacities for over fifteen years for over nonprofit and corporate clients in visioning, strategic planning, consortium building, public relations, marketing, and development. She is currently working with science institutions and educators such as the Museum of Science, Boston; the New England Aquarium; Boston Public Schools; and Chicago Educational Publishing Company. Additionally, she serves on the Academic Advisory Board for Spring: A Journal of Archetype and Culture and was a member of the California Invasive Species Advisory Committee.
As an educator, Leigh has served as an artist in residence and taught conflict resolution in public schools around the US, worked with the Annenberg Center for Arts in Education in one of the nation's first lateral learning training programs with preschool and elementary school teachers, and served as the program director of the University of California Santa Barbara's MultiCultural Center.
Last year, she and her husband packed all their belongings (including dogs, horses, cats, and harps) and made the trek back across country to land on a farm in the Catskill Mountains, where they are discovering the land of dragons and unfolding the next chapter of their lives. She is having a blast chairing a new organization, Andes Works!, as the group re-imagines how the community can build its own economy.
As she's been dancing in these various directions, Leigh earned a Ph.D. in Cultural Mythology and Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute. In her dissertation, The Pointless Revolution: Frivolity and the Serious Business of Subversive Creatvity, she argues frivolity as a curative to 21st Century blues from both a philosophical, theoretical standpoint (especially enjoying the inherent frivolousness of Kant), and through a completely impractical Handbook for the Pointless Revolution. She is currently adapting this tome as an actual book that people other than her mother might want to read, complete with imperative cartoons on the adventures of the Queen of Frivolity as she battles the evil Lord Blah and his forces of sameness and organization. The pointless revolution has begun...
(And she's still waiting for the plaque.)