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Harp in the Public School Curriculum

  • Diane
    Diane Michaels

    Moving this puppy to its own thread...  but first, a digression of its own.

    Growing up along with "women's lib," I learned at an early age to be sensitive to how women were viewed in society.  It seemed that any number of qualities a woman exhibited (emotional, intellectual, with regards to ambition, medical) were met with some form of condescension.  I interepreted that reaction as fear on the part of the person (so often a male person) seeing a woman actually place herself in the foreground rather than fading into the background..  It didn't take long in the world of harp for me to see a similar reaction to the harp.  People don't know what to do with a harp, the same way they don't know what to do with a woman.  I never wanted to be seen with such eyes, as either a woman or a harpist.

    The harp is special to harpists, yes.  But why does it need to be special in that other way to the rest of the world?  The harp in the school curriculum is an obvious place to examine this conundrum.

    In my elementary school, there was a choir teacher and there was an instrumental teacher.  He was a trumpeter, but taught all instruments used in the band and orchestra except for the harp.  He probably wasn't great at playing or teaching technique on most of the instruments, but he was an awesome teacher of music.  Of course we'd like to see the harp taught well by every teacher, but that's not the reality for most public school music teachers on instruments other than their own principal instrument.  A student who wants more in depth instruction takes lessons privately.  Isn't this the basic model for school musical instruction?

    So, when someone is studying music education, why can't the harp be one more instrument they learn to teach?  Is it really that much more special that it can't be taught by a non-harpist for the earlier stages?  And what of all of those harpists who get music ed degrees?  Shouldn't all of them be the perfect ambassadors to bringing the harp into the curriculum?  My hero Robbin Gordon-Cartier has a classroom filled with harps - lots of harps.  And harp students.

    I think fears of the cost of a harp, of its maintenance, of a lack of proficiency of a general music teacher teaching harp are excuses, not reasons, for keeping the harp out of public schools.  These excuses are reactions of fear to this different thing that they've not had to interact with previously.  Lets not be the ones coddling this instrument, protecting it from being a part of the mainstream.

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    replies to "Harp in the Public School Curriculum"
    • Vince
      Vince Pierce

      you bring up a very interesting point, and one that I've thought a lot about, especially since I am a music education major (though harp is not my major instrument). I come from a place where there are no harpists, no harp teachers, no harps. I had to wait until I got to college to learn, and I've had to 'catch up' in a sense. I wish I could have had more exposure to the harp earlier on. I know of a teacher (I can't recall her name), who has a very large harp program in the Odessa, TX schools. She starts younger students on lever harp, and the older students move up to pedal harp. She works for the school district, I believe. They own several harps, and I have heard their high school harp ensemble play. There are many school districts who will hire private teachers like her, especially in Texas.

      When it comes to music education students learning harp and learning to teach it, I think it is a completely different situation. I took up harp because I wanted to, and I love it and would change my major if I could! But, as instrumental music education  majors, we (wind and percussion) are already required to take 6-7 methods classes, in which we learn basics about all instruments (high brass, low brass, double reed, clarinet, flute, saxophone, percussion, strings). String music ed majors at my school take one of the wind/percussion courses, and four string methods courses (different from the course wind/percussion players take). I think for the non-string players, there is so much to learn to teach band, it is almost too much to learn string instruments, much less harp. But, I think it would really make sense for string music education majors to learn about harp, as they would be best suited to teaching it.

      One of my future goals is to start a harp program in a school district, and make good use of my music education degree. It would be great to help make the harp a less mysterious and more appreciated instrument, and I think the public school system is a good venue to make that happen. So if string students learn to teach basic harp, that could definitely help. But, in the same way I don't want to teach beginning trumpet (clarinet is my main instrument), I don't think most bassoonists or trombonists would want to try to teach harp, either. I hope I make sense - I really agree with you, and I think harp should be as common in public schools as violin or flute (well, maybe not with that many harpists, that could be complicated!).

      And I think women and harps are just not well understood, and a woman who takes charge is intimidating to some people, so they don't know what to do. I think the same can be said of harp, because people feel intimidated (though also usually fascinated) by it, and by harpists, who seem to have this other-worldly ability. Just imagine being a male harpist - some people don't know what to think about us! Some day I'm going to make a poster with all the famous male harpists and teachers and show that to people who ask, 'Do guys play the harp?', even though I've only been asked that once. I hope you don't encounter that kind of chauvinist attitude very often.

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    • Jennifer
      Jennifer Buehler

      Holy Cow Vince!  What school do you go to?  I only had to take four methods classes:  Strings, brass, woodwinds and percussion.  Oh yeah, I had to take a vocal methods class too but it wasn't to teach me how to teach singing so I'm not sure what the point was. 

      I do agree that music majors do have a lot on their plate to begin with.  I used to be so jealous of the business majors.  They had so much time to mess around.  I don't think a harp methods class would hurt though.  Not so much so that people could teach harp but so that it wouldn't be so mysterious and strange to them.  As a music major, I had only one experience with harp until I transfered to a school with a harpist. 

      I do think that purchase and maintainence is an issue.  Sure, some of it is knee jerk response but how many facilities have we been in with poorly tuned and maintained pianos?   (If you haven't, you're lucky)  Pianos are also highly expensive instruments and I've been places where one of the first budget cuts is piano tuning and repair!

      The school district here in my town does have a harp.  It hasn't been touched since that last student used it close to ten years ago.  When the harp students here moved into middle school they were told they couldn't use the harp!  One student was able to find a petite that he can take to school.  The other student had to go through a lot of beauracracy and raise a lot of stink but I think they are finally willing to let her use it.

      Jennifer

       

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    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      Great topic Diane.

      It's a dilemma. Sometimes I wonder if the frilly image of the harp is held against it. I was asked to play a concerto not so long ago with a local orchestra and in choosing repertoire the conductor was quite restrictive and would not accept any modern repertoire. As "people do not want to hear ugly music on the harp" they want "feminine and beautiful" music. So, romantics only. He also stipulated that I had to leave my harp on stage before and after I played, uncovered, so people could oggle it, as mostly  people love to "see" the harp (in his opinion). He has also encouraged me to use my semi grand (curliness, a 17) instead of my concert grand (100, plain, but more projection)

      I suspect that when the word "harp" is mentioned to administrators and tutors, the image of a gurly swooning behind the harp comes to mind. Not that the occassional swoon and gurly attire is bad in my opinion.....but it is only one aspect that seems to dominate in peoples minds.

      There is huge resistance in schools to buying a harp, and I think it is mostly the frilly image (not a real instrument) and thinking it is a "limited" instrument. They simply do not realise the many uses the harp can be put to...the extent of the repertoire that kids can benefit from playing if they have a harp about. As yes, they buy pianos and loads of percussion equipment, that is just as expensive or worse, but they kind of curl their lip in disbelief when you say "harp".

      One reason I'm putting together an education project, and doing so much work in schools with choirs  and ensembles, concert band etc is to try and counter this image of the harp as "limited"...and in working with harp hopefully some of the educators and parents and kids will see that the harp is a useful addition to the music program.

      I also agree that when schools do get a harp, it is  not put to its full use and it falls into neglect. There was a harp in one school I know of that had a guitarist teaching on it, who had some harp experience...and the kids never really did much or continue with it. I assume due to frustration, and not being taught well.

      So, I do think you need someone with a fair amount of training on any instrument to teach it well and give kids enough skill to feel they are getting somewhere and want to continue. You also need someone that understands the repertoire and is innovative and creative in how harp can be integrated into the music and arts community. How that would play out in the current education system I don't  know.

      I am interested to read that you do not have specialist music teachers that go into public schools? In this part of the world, we have casual teachers that go in to teach specialist instruments and one usually takes a cut rate to teach a number of students on the school campus. Some also have the occassional group lesson to make it more workable. I think the kids parents normally pay for it, not the school.

      And bravo to Vince! Go for it!

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    • Briggsie B.
      Briggsie B. Peawiggle, Esq.

      Good luck Vince. I'm still working on getting elementary series books (we have the teacher's kits -- but no books for the kids), some Orff instruments at one of the schools and some other basic equipment I need. The thought of getting harps is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay out there somewhere.

      I am going to get a lightweight, easy to carry harp to take around with me though.

      Briggsie (Woof)

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    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      The lightweight harp that you take around with you to teach is such an excellent idea! I do think that experiencing harps in every day settings will really help, make it less of a rarity and more of a possibility for kids too.

      Good on ya Briggs!

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    • Briggsie B.
      Briggsie B. Peawiggle, Esq.

      Thanks, Sixie. Mostly I just can't stand to be sans harp all day....so there is a method to my madness.....but the kids will get to learn about the harp a little, and who knows....maybe I'll pick up a few students here and there. It could happen. I don't particularly want a slew of private harp students, but I DO want people to learn the harp, so I'll take them.

      Also, I seriously believe that singing acapella with little ones makes them sing more in tune, and I think the gentleness of a small harp would aid in that too.

      Briggsie B. Peawiggle, Esq.

       

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    • Patricia
      Patricia Jaeger

      Diane, in 2006 the American String Teachers Association published "A Harp in the School: A Guide for School Ensemble Directors and Harpists." It's a 75 page spiral-bound book edited by Chelcy Bowles, PhD.,with chapters contributed by  eight well known American harp teachers. It is designed to help any school music director do a much better job with any harpist he/she finds who would like to be in ensembles, whether in middle school, high school, or college. I wish it were part of the required literature for the Public School Music degree at colleges and conservatories. You can order it on the web at www.astaweb.com. Those teachers already out there teaching may not know about the book, but if harpists who teach privately can somehow let the music departments know, those administrators may get the book and realize that would give their music teachers the edge to integrate harpists quite successfully into their ensembles.Take a look.

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    • Jennifer
      Jennifer Buehler

      Does it include lists of literature that's age appropriate?  I know that someone has compiled or is compiling a list of thats appropriate for Middle school, etc.  I would think the fact that very few, if any, intermediate orchestral harp parts are being written would be a huge obstacle.

      Also, for those of you who are teaching or will be teaching in the public schools, what do you see as the purpose of public school music ed?  I just think we need to be very careful in how we articulate that.

      As far as music specialists in schools, the Omaha school district here does hire a harp teacher.  The Lincoln Schools have "strings specialists" and "wind specialists" but once you get out of the urban areas it's not practical or possible to have specialists in the schools.  Music Ed (at least in Nebraska) is a K-12 endorsement.  In the smaller schools, a teacher may have to teach general music and lead the high school choir and band. 

      Jennifer

       

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    • Jennifer
      Jennifer Buehler

      My friend Karen Conoan who teaches in the Omaha Public Schools wanted to post this but was having trouble posting.


      Here's a site, partially 'under construction' being compiled to give
      information and invite dialog about teaching harp in public schools:
      http://www.harpeducation.com/12722/12085.html

      "Budget" is one challenge. The harps owned by the Omaha Public Schools
      (four LH style 15 pedal harps and four lever harps)are in good
      condition. All the pedal harps could use new strings and regulation and
      the three of the lever harps would benefit from reconditioning. The
      cost of this is beyond the budget. I do as much maintenance as possible
      and a few simple repairs, and change strings, especially the third
      octave (because we use middle C and surrounding strings the most with
      the beginners).

      My original certification was K-12 vocal and instrumental and I have
      taught marching band, et.al. Often I arrange parts for the harp to
      play with various ensembles. The most advanced harp ensemble I have at
      present is four sixth graders. They are able to play at the advanced
      beginner level.

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    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      Sara Cutler once taught a course at Teacher's College of Columbia University for music teachers to learn harp basics with lever harps. It is more possible now than ever before, perhaps. It certainly must be done, just as we must liberate the harp from parochial, ignorant preconceptions of its imaginary limitations.

      I think we need to have a national conference for planning and discussion of this broad topic of harp in the schools. So many people are trying to do the same work without information from each other. It is also likely that public schools are simply not suitable places for harp instruction, but music schools are, yet few have harp programs. In a public school, funding must be maintained, the instruments cared for and not neglected or harmed, but these problems seem inevitable, without endowed programs. Some districts are successful, and others are not. Philadelphia owns several harps, but has not had a staff teacher for many years, and will not, even if funding were provided, as long as they have other positions unfilled. (And it's not budget, it's that no-one seems to want to work in the Philadelphia school system.) When I was in high school, back in the 1870s, Minneapolis had one beat-up harp, I think it was a Washburn, painted brown on the sound-board, and green on the back-I mean locker green. It was hideous and barely playable, with horrendously bad tone. Most of the pedals worked. I'm amazed we could even string it. At least they had it. Probably stored upside down in an attic. That's a school system to me.

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    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      Thanks Jennifer for your comments and also those by Karen. It has given me much food for thought, being a performer that is only now beginning to help out in the school system.

      I am very grateful for the links listed on this thread.

      Ta muchly!

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    • Jennifer
      Jennifer Buehler

      Thank you.  I'm not a teacher (Ichanged my major to music therapy) but I'm really passionate about public school music.  My parents weren't able to afford private lessons for me.  The only way I was able to participate was through the public schools.

      Jennifer

       

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    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      Hi Jennifer,

      There are so many challenges, but I'm trying to get harp out there more! I just think that there is so much untapped talent out there. Kids that will not encounter a harp any other way, but probably have oodles of talent and passion. I'm still formulating what I think of it all, and how I can best help out, and what approach to use to get them to buy harps!

      So advice from gurls like you all, is much appreciated. Say thanks to Karen for me,

      Ro.

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    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      oopss...when I say getting "them" to buy harps, the them I mean is the school...so few kids and their parents can afford them these days.

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    • Tacye
      Tacye Phillipson

      Do I understand the US system correctly that the instrumental instruction being discussed is similar to an orchestral/band/whatever rehearsal where the conductor is simultaneously trying to teach everyone how to play their instruments?

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    • Allison
      Allison Stewart

      In the elementary school I attended we could take an instrument in 4th grade.  We had weekly lessons in small groups by instrument.  There were two concerts per year.  As they approached we had one or two practice sessions with the entire band, then two concerts the next day. 

      I didn't play an instrument in high school, my sister did.  She had an individual lesson if she needed one, but they were rare.  Someone began a new instrument.  She had individual lessons on a regular basis, but she had to leave a 'normal' class to get the lesson.  The whole band met once per week and practiced whatever songs they planned to play for the concerts as a group. 

      I have heard of individual instrument lessons in high schools were a more advanced student teaching the beginning students.  I don't know how common that is. 

      Allison

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    • Leigh
      Leigh Griffith

      I grew up in Massachusetts, where beginning in 5th grade we had small
      group lessons on our instrument once a week. We were encouraged to
      continue with private lessons at our parent's expense once in Jr. High.
      My parents never paid for any lessons beyond the free school lessons in
      5th and 6th grade. In high school, the band met three times a week for
      the last period of the day until 4 or 4:30 pm and 9 am to noon on
      Saturday. I think my parent's attitude was, "When would you take
      lessons, you're always in band anyway"!

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    • Patricia
      Patricia Jaeger

      Response to 9:

      Jennifer, yes, in A Harp in the School, on page 29, I quote: "AHS Education Project 2000 ( published by the American Harp Society): This is a listing of pieces of published music for school ensembles (grades 1 through 12) that include harp parts. The music listed includes string ensembles, orchestral works,as well as selections for band and choir. The listing includes publisher information,  orchestration, and a level for both the ensemble and the harp part. These levels correspond to the levels listed in this chapter"(of that book).Phone 203 966 7616 or go to www.harpsociety.org/resources/education2000.html. There are periodic updates. Also, most of the listings in the Lyon and Healy Online Catalog include levels. Many of us private teachers who are not employed by public schools, have done arrangements gratis for years, so that our students can participate in ensembles at school. We just make time in our busy day, but it would be wonderful if the conductors of those ensembles would educate themselves about harp and appropriate music, by getting this book!!

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    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      I think a lot depends on the school districts budget and priorities as to what instruments can be bought and what teaching programs can be had. The string teacher in our district has to wait 3 yrs until she can purchase another violin. Music teacher's budgets were completely taken away, and used for athletic equipment. The main auditorium would not be available for recitals and musical programs due to athlectic events that were being held. There would be a hazordous situation if 2 programs were run at the same time, therefore, no Holiday programs would go on. The music department found a way to have them any way, just not at that building. No music is being bought or instruments. The reason being, school board has said that families can purchase their own music, instruments and private lessons. We live in an economically depressed area, and there are many, many families that can not buy music, rent or buy an instrument, or afford private lessons.  Teachers will buy the books for the students in the instrumental program, lend instruments out, and give free private lessons. It doesn't matter that the State has mandated a certain level of musical programs schools have to have. Our school board will take the fines instead, it is cheaper than providing an adequate music program in the schools. It's a no win situation, especially with the no-child left behind program, and the local support of athelectic events. I could go on and on, but I won't. It's a very, very story here.

      Peace, Cynthia

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    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      Correction needed: very, very sad story here.

      It's such an emotional subject here, and it's difficult to think straight.

      Cynthia

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