Meet the Buskers: Halley the Harper


As part of an on-going project, PDXBusk will be interviewing buskers around the city and showcasing their profiles. If you are interested in having your act profiled, please feel free to contact us!


Halley playing at the park blocks

Name: Halley the Harper AKA “The Harp Lady”
Website: A Busker’s Life

Are you originally from Portland?
I moved here in 2008, but I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and am excited to be back in this corner of the world.

Do you have any recordings available? Do you promote yourself? Do you play elsewhere?
I think I am jinxed when it comes to recording. I’ve attempted a CD three different times with varying catastrophic results. I promote like crazy, though. Never perform without a stack of business cards nearby. In addition to busking, I perform mostly at weddings and senior centers.

What is your musical background? What instruments do you play? What style of music do you play? Do you have any influences?
I took lessons from world renowned double-strung harpist, Laurie Riley when I was first beginning to play harp. I also was a part of Washington state’s high school honor choir program and have been singing since elementary school. I also play guitar, used to play steel drums and am currently dabbling in the mandolin. I play traditional folksy music, but all my influences are little Irish pub bands that no one’s ever heard of.

Do you have a different job or go to school? Do you support yourself completely through music?
I have proven that I can support myself entirely through busking and performance in the past. However, when the weather starts to turn, I always get a little worried that there will be fewer and fewer busking opportunities and that I will have to rely completely on getting gigs. I had been working off and on with a homeless transitional program and recently moved into a full-time position for the winter.

What inspires you to do what you do? How long have you been busking? What initially brought you to street performance?
I’ve been busking since 2004. Originally I was taking to the streets as a living statue in Boston and then Salt Lake City. Since I already played the harp, it was a simple (but not so obvious transition to me) to start dragging it out to the corners. I love art, music and providing a little bit of whimsy to the every day.

What is your biggest obstacle as a street performer? Do you have any main concerns or troubles?
I often transport my harp by bicycle with a rather long trailer so I have to pick my corners carefully so I can park without blocking the sidewalk. Weather has always been my biggest obstacle. Other than that, the few issues that I have had with law enforcement have been my own fault.

What is the worst thing that has happened to you while performing on the street? The best?
I tipped my bike trailer once when turning too sharply and bent two tuning pegs. It made me absolutely sick. One morning it went from blue skies to buckets of rain in less than five minutes. I had to literally run to a coffee shop to hole up with a sopping wet harp case and wait to get rescued by a friend with a car. The best? I’m easily cheered by little things. Generous tipping. Enchanted little kids. Often times it’s just a friend (or frequent listener) bringing me coffee on a cold morning.

How do you feel music effects you and the world around you?
A friend who recently saw me play for the first time told me, “I have never seen you happier or more alive.” They’re right – when I am performing, I forget all my stresses and am entirely focused on sharing this part of myself. If I can stop one person on the street that’s having a crummy day and help them forget it for a moment, then I’ve done what I set out to do.


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