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With a name synonymous with the rich tradition of the French harp school, Marie-Claire Jamet shares her stories and thoughts about her life at the harp.
— interview by Myriam Serfass; translation by Elizabeth Jaxon Wijnalda
Marie-Claire Jamet has the quintessential harp pedigree. She was born into a musical family: both of her parents taught at the Paris Conservatory—the epicenter of the French musical tradition. Her father, Pierre Jamet, was a harpist, having studied with Alphonse Hasselmans, and her mother Renée Jamet was a cellist and composer. Marie-Claire followed in her father’s footsteps, earning diplomas in harp performance and chamber music from the Paris Conservatory, and later went on to teach there herself. Her performing career was as prolific as her teaching. She has given more than 2,000 concerts around the world as a soloist and chamber musician. Jamet also served as principal harpist of the Philharmonic Orchestra of France and then the French Radio National Orchestra. Though her talent and achievements are without question, the price Jamet paid for her training was steep. She shares it all with Harp Column in this candid interview conducted by French harpist Myriam Serfass on an October day in Flayosc, Provence.
Harp Column: Would you tell us about your childhood?
Marie-Claire Jamet: My childhood was rather turbulent, since I grew up during the Second World War. It was difficult, but my parents always took good care of me. They made me practice a lot—way too much I think. When I would come home from school, they would say, “Go practice the piano, practice your solfège, practice the harp,” while my sister, who was five years younger, got to play with her dolls. That annoyed me enormously.
HC: How old were you when you started playing the harp?
MCJ: Around 5 or 6 years old. At that time, there were no lever harps, so I started on a smaller size pedal harp, and I couldn’t reach the pedals. I really started practicing seriously when I was, let’s say, 8 years old, and at the age of 12, I entered the Conservatory.
HC: So, that was after the war, at the Paris Conservatory of Music.
MCJ: Yes, after the war, in 1946, with Marcel Tournier.
HC: Who first taught you to play the harp?
MCJ: Well, I started out with my father, but it was mostly my aunt, Thérèse Hansen. She was the harp teacher in Reims. When we would go on vacation to Reims, to visit my grandparents, my aunt would teach me to practice the right way. I knew exactly what I needed to do, and she wasn’t easy on me, but she was very nice. One day, she had told me to play some scales and exercises, but I secretly opened a book on my stand and read it while I played. When she found out she was not very happy! [Laughs]
Of course, I practiced with my father, but during the two years I was at the Paris Conservatory, he didn’t want to interfere, so I studied only with Marcel Tournier.