From beginner to pro, our need to practice unites us
If there is one element of being a harpist that unites us all, it is practice. We may play different music, have different goals, or use different types of harps, but we all practice.
No one is born knowing how to play a clean crossunder or an evenly rolled chord. Even when a performance of a piece looks and sounds effortless, it is undoubtedly the result of countless hours of practice. The 10-year-old’s first harp recital where she nailed all the notes? She practiced. The stunning gold-medal performance at the USA International Harp Competition? She practiced. The adult student who performed a masterful Bach prelude for his friends? He practiced. The orchestral harpist who hit every exposed harmonic in the concert? He practiced.
All of us—young and old, beginner and master, amateur and professional—need practice in order to make better music. The need for practice is almost as universal as our reluctance or even avoidance of it altogether.
Practice is hard. It involves a lot of failure and reminds us about all the things we cannot do and we have not mastered. There is no instant gratification in harp practice. It is usually a long, tedious, frustrating process with little to show at the end of the day. Much like physical growth that you don’t notice until Aunt Mabel pinches your cheeks at Thanksgiving and tells you how big you’ve gotten, you don’t see musical growth as it is happening. But then, one day you realize that you can finally play that one tricky passage without any buzzes.
In the hierarchy of practicing, we tend to devote most of our practice time to repertoire—the pieces we need to work on for our next lesson, the bride’s request for that new song we need to learn, the orchestra part that needs to be ready for rehearsal next week. It makes sense to practice for the looming deadline first. Next in the hierarchy, is usually etudes or exercises. We know we’re supposed to do them. Maybe your teacher assigned an etude. Maybe you warm up with them each time you practice. But they don’t get the same practice love that your repertoire gets. At the bottom of the practice hierarchy is usually technique. Sure, you might practice a technical element here or there in your repertoire or etudes, but dedicated, deliberate, thoughtful technique practice tends to fall pretty low on the priority list—somewhere between alphabetizing your spice cabinet and changing your bass wires.
Given this generally less-than-enthusiastic attitude about technique practice, we were pretty surprised here at Harp Column when over 600 harpists took our 30 Day Practice Challenge to work on technique 20 minutes a day for the month of January. We thought we might get 50, maybe 100 motivated types to accept our challenge to drill down on technique for a month. But the enthusiastic response we got overwhelmed even our highest expectations. “It was like we were given permission to put aside repertoire and work on technique,” said one participant. “This has put us back in the habit of the daily experience of what the harp can teach us and we are again loving the harp!”
If you missed our online challenge in January or took the challenge but want to do it again on your own, check out our “30 Day Practice Challenge Redux” on pg. 36. We gathered the best of the month of technique practice in one place. So grab a practice buddy and see what happens when you move technique to the top of your practice priorities. We think you’ll be pretty happy with the results. •
Alison Reese is editor of Harp Column. She is a freelance performer and teacher in West Michigan. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where will you pitch your tent this summer?
Between the frigid winter temperatures and post-holiday exhale, it’s hard to believe that it is already time to start thinking about summer. That’s right, the calendar says January, but now is the time to start preparing for what you’ll be doing in July.
Our “Summer Harp Camp Roundup” is the eighth time in the last 12 years we’ve compiled our summer camp directory, and it’s our biggest yet. We found over 60 festivals, camps, retreats, seminars, and workshops across the United States and beyond where harpists can sharpen their skills and expand their musical horizons this summer.
It’s interesting to see how the number of opportunities for harpists to improve their playing over the summer has exploded in the last 12 years. When we put together our first summer harp camp roundup back in 2005, there were fewer than 20 programs available for harpists in the United States. Today the number has more than tripled, and for anyone who has been to a summer harp camp, it’s easy to see why.
A summer program can drastically improve your harp playing and musical skills in a very short period of time—if you are willing to do your part. A summer camp takes you out of your nice, comfy musical comfort zone and drops you into an intense, focused environment where all you really have to do is harp. It’s the same reason language immersion programs are so successful in quickly teaching students to speak a second language—in a highly focused environment, learning and growth can happen more rapidly than a traditional environment where you have so many other demands and distractions.
But summer camps aren’t all work and no play. Quite the opposite, in fact. The other major reason a summer harp program can be so transformative is the relationships you form with the other participants and the instructors. Again, that short but intense environment of summer camp speeds up the traditional development of relationships. A fellow harpist you spend two weeks with at camp can end up being a friend for life, and a teacher you study with just a handful of times can turn out to be influential in your musical development.
Camps aren’t just for kids anymore. There is, quite literally, something for everyone. Adult beginner looking for a summer retreat? There’s a program for that. High-schooler looking for a rustic camp experience? There’s a program for that. College student looking for pre-professional training? There’s a program for that. Ten-year-old kid looking for a good first learning experience away from home? There’s a camp for that. And because we know our readers’ needs are so diverse and time so limited, we’ve even given you a chart that shows you all 60-plus programs at a glance so you can easily highlight the ones that might meet your needs.
One additional program that didn’t make our list because it is held every other year (we only list annual programs in our roundup), but should be on your radar nonetheless is the American Harp Society’s Summer Institute, June 25–28, at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. It’s another chance to stretch yourself this summer.
As you make your summer plans, don’t forget to check our online directory of summer camps at www.harp
column.com for the latest updates to the programs listed in this issue. Enjoy your summer! •
(Click any photo to enlarge and view slide show.)
When the father-son team of William and Garen Rees came up with their idea for the tiny, colorful Harpsicle harp, they said they had no idea how successful it would be
Even on the busiest street in the small, sleepy town of Rising Sun, Ind., there doesn’t appear to be much going on. But behind the doors of 222 Main Street, there is an explosion happening that is over a decade in the making. In a little shop in a little town on the Ohio River, Rees Harps is churning out hundreds of its wildly popular little Harpsicle harps each year. William Rees started building instruments several decades ago, eventually making his way to harps. Eventually his son Garen joined the family harp-making business, and they built a reputation for well-made traditional instruments.
In 2003, the father-son team came up with an idea that would change their business completely. They came up with a design for a tiny, compact, affordable harp that was so portable you could stick it in an airplane’s overhead compartment. The idea caught on immediately and their harp-making business became a Harpsicle-making business as the little, colorful instruments quickly became the bulk of their production. We sat down with William and Garen Rees in their old turn-of-the-century storefront-turned-factory to find out how they created one of the world’s most popular harps.
Harp Column: One thing that has struck me after seeing your operation here today and seeing you at different harp conferences and festivals, is you guys really seem to enjoy what you do. You seem to have a lot of fun building harps.
William Rees: Yeah, we do! [Laughs]
Garen Rees: Oh yeah, but I think the biggest enjoyment is seeing what people are doing with our instruments. That’s the biggest enjoyment. Seeing the out-of-the-box things people are doing all over the world. It’s really cool to see harps getting into the hands of people who would never normally be able to touch harps, and to see people doing new styles with them…it just blows my mind. That makes me happy. And seeing how people are helping other people with our harp—that’s the biggest drive for me.
HC: Now, I had heard about your harps long before the Harpsicle—you’ve been making harps for a long time. Tell us a little bit about how long you’ve been making harps and how you got started making harps.
WR: I think the first harp we made was maybe 35 or 40 years ago. But that was back when I was making harpsichords, violins, guitars, etcetera. We just went on until finally I couldn’t build all the instruments for other people, so we just started doing harps. One thing we did that’s quite a bit different is that we didn’t follow the rules. I mean, I did follow the rules for quite some time, but from my experience building so many other instruments, I asked, “Why is the harp this way when we could actually do this?” And it’s those sort of things that we started changing and using totally different materials. Like we don’t use sitka spruce soundboards anymore. We used to, but I couldn’t get the sound I wanted out of them. But when we went to the poplar soundboards, the harps gave me what the spruce wouldn’t. We’ve learned all sorts of things like that. So we use totally different designs, and apparently it’s worked for our harps.
Strings break. It is a fact of life for harpists.
Sometimes you see it coming, but most of the time strings break without warning, and gut strings break more often than nylon, synthetic, and wire strings. If you play the harp for any length of time, you come to accept and expect a certain level of breakage and unpredictability from your gut strings.
But in the last several years, many harpists who use Bow Brand strings have noticed an alarming increase in the frequency of broken gut strings and a change in how they are breaking.
Heading back to harp lessons with new habits and goals
Autumn is my favorite season. The leaves turn brilliant colors, the air becomes crisp, the chunky sweaters come out of the closet, and all things pumpkin-spice are on the menu.
The best part of fall, though, is that it’s time to head back to school and back to harp lessons. While summer lessons are intermittent at best because of vacations, camps, and festivals, fall lessons are sure and steady—a time to recommit yourself and set goals for your playing. A new school year brings excitement and optimism about what’s possible to accomplish this year. It doesn’t matter how badly the spring recital went or how little you practiced on vacation (not that I’m speaking from personal experience), you start the school year with a clean slate, and anything seems possible.
We have a terrific article in this issue to help you get off on the right foot this fall (see “Gold Star Student” on pg. 38). Whether you’re a student or a teacher, you will want to take Anne Sullivan’s five key habits for student success and plaster them on your wall. As we all eventually come to understand, being a good student doesn’t just happen. “Most of us are not born students.,” Sullivan says. “We develop habits that either propel us forward or keep us circling around success without ever reaching it.”
Sullivan’s suggestions for developing the right habits to move you in a positive direction are spot-on for anyone who wants to be more intentional about becoming a model student. I’ll definitely be using her ideas with my students this fall.
Now, being a gold-star student doesn’t guarantee that you will make it to the top of your field, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone at the top who hasn’t honed those good-student habits. In our cover interview, we talk with Katherine Siochi, the 22-year-old American harpist who won the prestigious USA International Harp Competition in June. Siochi is the quintessential model student. The Iowa native appeared on NPR’s From the Top program, went to Juilliard, won the American Harp Society’s Concert Artist award, and took home the gold medal at the USA Competition all within the space of about six years. Siochi talks a lot about her preparation for the USA contest in our conversation with her, and it’s clear she has developed every one of Sullivan’s five key habits of model students.
What is interesting, though, is that Siochi, a self-described perfectionist when she was younger, says she has come to value the intangible, less quantifiable aspects of music making over technical precision.
“When I was 12, I definitely valued certain things more than I do now, in terms of all of the aspects that go into a performance,” she says. “[Now] I think I more value phrasing, expression, doing something unique over accuracy. Not that I don’t value accuracy, but I would rather listen to a performance that I think has character or really conveys just what the composer is trying to express in a piece over a note-perfect performance that doesn’t say anything unique.”
This perspective reflects Sullivan’s fifth key habit of good students—personal accountability. “The music you play will be the expression of your personal creativity and the result of your efforts,” says Sullivan.
We might not all be world-class harpists like Katherine Siochi, but we can all be model students like Katherine Siochi. And that’s a great goal to set for the new school year. •
Several weeks ago, while I was anxiously awaiting the livestream of the USA International Harp Competition (IHC) finals on the internet, a friend (a non-musician) asked, “So this is like the Superbowl of harp?”
Well, yes, sort of. It’s one of our biggest competitions with some of our best young talents. But it’s also nothing like the Superbowl. This is music and artistry judged subjectively by a jury, not a sport where the winner is determined by an objective number of points scored. It got me thinking about how incongruous the two pursuits of competition and music can be, yet how intertwined the two are in our training and in our society.
We’ve managed to make a competition out of just about everything these days—largely thanks to reality television. From remodeling houses to singing to baking cupcakes (really, Food Network, Cupcake Wars?), there is a reality show competition for just about every hobby, skill, and party trick out there.
I suppose we should count ourselves lucky that reality TV hasn’t come knocking on the harp world’s door. So far, the TV competition factory has left classical music relatively untouched. Evidently there’s not much of a market for America’s Next Top Harpist hosted by Tyra Banks.
Though harp competitions aren’t on the pop media’s radar, they play a big role in the our little world. And there is good reason for their prevalance in the music world. Preparing and performing carefully selected required repertoire at a high level can help a harpist grow in ways no other experience can.
Don’t take my word for it, though. Some of the harpists in this year’s USA IHC told us their reasons for dedicating two years of their lives to train and compete in one of the harp world’s most elite contests in Behind the Scenes.
Competitions can test your limits. “I think that we all prepare for this competition in order to know where we could arrive, what we are able to do, and to surpass what we think are our capacities and abilities,” said Italian harpist Arianna Rossi.
Competitions can improve your skills. “Preparing for such a renowned competition also pushes you in so many ways, whatever it be, in terms of memory, stamina, discipline, or mental strength,” noted British harpist Elizabeth Bass.
Competitions can be the realization of a long sought-after goal. “It was always my dream to compete in the USA IHC,” said Lithuanian harpist Aisté Baliunyté.
Competitions are hard, and doing something because it’s difficult is a simple, but powerful motivator (think climbing Mount Everest). Russian harpist Maria Mikhaylovskaya said she decided to compete simply because “…it is the most difficult and interesting competition.”
With as many worthwhile reasons as there are to compete, there are just as many bad reasons. Competing solely for the money or prizes or fame or recognition will usually leave you unsatisfied and can even blind you to all of the positive intrinsic rewards that can come out of the experience. And it’s not just the people finishing in second place and lower that can feel this way. If you are competing for the wrong reasons, you can be left with disappointment even after winning. Again, don’t take my word for it, ask Emmanuel Ceysson, the 2004 winner of the USA IHC and 2006 ARD Munich competition. In our interview with him, Met his Match, Ceysson cautions aspiring competitors.
“[Competing] can be good motivation…but at some point in life it also becomes destructive. It took me years and several competitions to realize that because I always thought that competition would open the door to a huge international career as a soloist,” he said. “As much as we would like to believe in this dream, it’s not very true, unfortunately.” But he went on to point out, “It does not mean that it’s not good to take part in the competitions, you just need to take them for the good reasons.”
Now that’s some winning advice. •
As you might have noticed by now, this issue of Harp Column looks a little different. The magazine’s design, which has served us well for 13 years, was in need of a little makeover.
I know feel like that from time to time—need to clean out the closet, update the wardrobe a bit, and maybe try a fresh new hairstyle. We didn’t do anything too dramatic with Harp Column’s look; we’re not talking cosmetic surgery and purple hair here. We just tried to update our look and tidy up around the edges.
If you put this issue next to one of our first editions back in 1993, you’d see a dramatic difference. Printed on heavy paper, newsletter style, our first few years were an experiment in the capabilities of the latest desktop publishing tools of the early ’90s. In 1995 we upgraded to glossy paper and ditched the column that adorned our cover in the first couple years, followed up in 1996 by a full-fledged redesign of the magazine. We upgraded the look of the magazine with new fonts and made the most of the strides in advances in graphic design with more art in the magazine.
As the world moved into a new millennium, we figured we should move into the future too. We updated our look again in 2000, saying goodbye to the “the” in our name, becoming simply Harp Column. We tweaked the magazine’s appearance once more in 2003, and kept that design until this year.
While our look has changed, our content and commitment to providing practical news for practical harpists remains the same as always. We are absolutely thrilled to have America’s great ambassador of the harp, Susann McDonald, grace the first cover of our redesigned magazine. In a wide-ranging interview, McDonald regaled us with fascinating stories from her life at the top of the harp world and shared her opinions on issues young harpists face today. This is, quite simply, a must-read conversation with one of our national treasures.
Don’t stop reading there, though. We have a variety of opinions, reviews, and feature articles in this issue, including one that many harpists will find useful. Raise your hand if this scenario sounds familiar: you want to give back to your community, so you try to start harp program at an underserved school or maybe get some concerts going at a local homeless shelter. But despite your best efforts, nothing ever seems to get off the ground. What went wrong? Why did such a well-meaning project never gain any traction? In our feature story “Get Engaged” on pg. 28, author Jennifer R. Ellis unlocks the mystery of failed service projects and gives us seven practical strategies to build community engagement programs that actually work. It is an eye-opening perspective for anyone who has struggled in this arena.
We think you’ll enjoy what we’ve got in store for you in this issue of Harp Column. As always, we want to know what you think. Email us, talk to use on social media, or maybe even write us a good, old-fashioned letter. We’re all ears! •
Through the Years
Harp Column’s evolving look over more than two decades:
Overcoming instrument isolation through other harpists’ stories.
Growing up in my small hometown, I was one of only two harpists. I was a kid, just starting lessons, and she was a nurse who played weddings and other gigs on the side. We had nothing in common beyond the harp, but I remember always being thrilled when I got to see her because she was the only one I knew who got this whole harp thing. She knew the struggles and the thrills, and she would come through with an extra third-octave E string in a pinch. The nearest harp teacher was at least a half hour away, and the only time I ever saw kids my age play the harp was at my teacher’s studio recital.
The harp is uncommon, as instruments go. That’s probably part of what draws some of us to it—harps aren’t a dime a dozen, and there is simply nothing like their sound. However, the instrument’s uniqueness also has its drawbacks.
Playing the harp can be a pretty lonesome endeavor. We spend most of our time practicing alone, and connecting with other harpists is tough when they are so few and far between. That’s where Harp Column comes in. In each issue of the magazine, we try to include something for every harpist out there. Whether you are a professional freelancer or an adult beginner, urban or rural, lever or pedal, we try to give you practical information you can use to help your harp life and maybe even make you feel like you’re not the only one struggling with how to play cross-unders or knowing how much to charge for a wedding gig. No matter where you fall on the harp spectrum, we try to make sure each issue has a nugget or two that has you saying “Why didn’t I think of that!” or “So that’s how you do it!” or even “See, it’s not just me!”
Now, I’m the first to admit that we are more successful at achieving this goal in some issues than in others, but I think every harpist out there will find something for them in this edition of Harp Column—and you might find it where you least expect it.
Take, for example, our interviews with the winner and runner-up of the International Harp Contest in Israel, YuYing Chen and Anaëlle Tourret on pgs. 20 and 23. They just took top honors at one of the world’s most prestigious harp competitions, which puts them in the top one percent of harpists on the planet right now. You might think there wouldn’t be much the other 99 percent of us could relate to, but they were surprisingly candid about issues we all deal with—how to balance harp with the rest of your life, dreaming big and falling short, and especially stagefright. I know, right? Stagefright.
From afar, world-class artists can seem almost superhuman, so the admission of performance anxiety or missed notes gives us a human element we can relate to. But what is fascinating about YuYing and Anaëlle is how each of them has successfully dealt with their weaknesses. I won’t spoil it for you, you can read their interviews and find out for yourself, but suffice it to say, the stages we play on might be different, but the struggles are the same.
Also in this issue, we take a look at the harp therapy movement. Again, you might think this is not your cup of tea, but this field has exploded in popularity in recent years, and you might be surprised to find out what it looks like today.
Don’t stop there, though. We’ve got Jaymee Haefner showing you how to find balance in your practicing (who doesn’t need that?), the logistics of a 143-harp concert, a fascinating conversation with Joanna Newsom, a perfect 10 in the CD review, exciting new fundamental books in the music review, and tax tips for harpists. We hope you’ll find something for you, and maybe even a little more. •
Joanna Newsom might be the best-known harpist playing today. Her latest album, Divers, was released to critical acclaim in October with both NPR and The Guardian naming it to their lists of best albums of 2015. Harp Column CD review editor Alison Young called it “storytelling in sound and color” and praised its “words burnished with artfully meticulous mixes of orchestral splashes.” Newsom’s unique sound has found appeal beyond the indie music scene where she first gained popularity. She took time between tour stops to talk with us about her new album, songwriting, and harp moving.
Harp Column: Congratulations on your new album, Divers.
Joanna Newsom: Thank you so much!
HC: The harp is kind of woven in and out of the tracks on the album. It’s foundational to all the music, yet it’s not overwhelming—it’s one of many textures in the music. How do you like to use the harp in your music? How do you think it’s most effective musically?
JN: I don’t think there’s any one set way in which the harp is most effective.Its character shifts, based on the desired “chromatic” palette—I mean, in the sense of tonal coloration, not in the non-diatonic sense—of a specific song, based on the desired mood of a specific record, or based on whatever harmonic or percussive or textural material seems necessary to build the particular little world of an album. I don’t really think there’s a limit on what the harp can do. For those people lucky enough to play and compose with the harp for a long lifetime, I don’t think it ever stops revealing new shades of character or miracles of patterning. I almost always write on the harp, even if I later rearrange the harp parts for piano or keyboard. My ideas are all rooted in the harp; the musical part of my brain is oriented and organized around the structure and sonic properties of the harp.
HC: In your song-writing process, what comes first—the lyrics or the melodic or harmonic line?
JN: Usually the first thing I’ll hear is a bare melodic line running over a blocky version of the chords—just the skeleton of the song. Every once in awhile, the melodic line will arrive with some words already attached. But usually the melodies start out as a string of nonsense syllables that only resolve into lyrics over time.
HC: If you were not making music, what would you do for a living?
After a busy season, reward yourself with something new.Did you hear that rush of air? It was the collective exhale of harpists everywhere as they collapsed on their sofas following the last gig of the holiday season. After the last Nutcracker chord has been rolled, the last holiday party has been entertained, and the last harp schlepped through snowy, slushy sidewalks, we can all sit back, put our feet up, and revel in knowing how much holiday cheer we spread, and also knowing that we don’t have to play this music for another year.
For most of us the first couple months of the new year show a little less ink on the calendar and present us with some a much needed break. So kick off your harp shoes, make a cup of tea, and consider a few of our ideas for spending your time over the next couple months.
Back to the Basics: We are thrilled to launch a new series by Jaymee Haefner in this issue, which delves into the fundamentals of harp playing (see “Harmonic Curve” on pg. 12). This series will help you no matter what your level of playing. Haefner uses her years of experience teaching harp at the University of North Texas to help you examine your skills from a new perspective. Her first installment—finding enough time to practice without actually increasing your practice time—is just what I needed to read after a month of note-cramming. Her fresh perspective is a great way to reassess your harp habits in the New Year.
Have a Listen: For all of you podcast fans out there, we’ve got something new to add to your queue: the Harp Column podcast! We are only a few episodes in, so mass consumption isn’t a possibility (yet), but we think you’re going to enjoy something new to listen to as you are driving to your next gig. Our podcast host Kristina Finch goes behind the scenes of the articles in each issue of the magazine to give you the story behind the story. Our podcast is available directly from our website (www.harpcolumn.com) and can be downloaded from iTunes.
Improve your Improv: One of my yoga instructors likes to say, “If there is a pose you don’t like, then it’s probably a pose your body needs.” At the risk of sounding like that annoying person who relates everything in life to yoga, this same observation could be applied to your harp playing—if there is an aspect of playing that you don’t enjoy and avoid at all costs, well, it’s likely an area that needs some extra attention. If improvisation is that area of avoidance for you as it is for me, then you need Megan Metheney’s article in this issue (see “Improv for One and All” on pg. 34).
Try these Tunes: Want to turn your harp perspective on its head? Alison Young reviews two unique albums in this issue (see “CD Review” on pg. 42). Divers, Joanna Newsom’s latest release, is like nothing you’ve ever heard from a harpist, and her one-of-a-kind style has made her the darling of indie rock fans everywhere. Young also reviews the newest offering from Park Stickney, All Harp—Globe Live. Park is a household name in the harp world, but listening to his masterful fusion of jazz and classical elements never gets old. Finally, we’ve got a special treat for you—you can listen to a few tracks from the cast recording of the epically popular Broadway musical Hamilton free on www.harpcolumn.com. Laura Sherman recorded the harp part for the album and after reading about her experience (see “Sounding Board” on pg. 10), you will want to hear what all the buzz is about.
Enjoy these moments of winter solitude for yourself. The next wave of weddings will be here before you know it. •
There is no such thing as overnight success in the harp world.Be prepared. Sometimes I think this official motto of the Boy Scouts should be the unofficial motto of harpists. Most of the work we do as harpists can be summed up by that one driving principal: be prepared. We arrive at gigs before everyone else to be prepared for show time. We practice etudes to be prepared with solid technique for any part thrown our way. We pack our gig bag with everything but the kitchen sink to be prepared for every conceivable contingency.
Kela Walton takes a long look at preparation in this issue in her article “Fitting In” on pg. 22. Walton examines the unique role of a sub or a second harpist and which skills are essential to do the job successfully. First on her list? Be prepared.
Anyone who has spent any time working as a sub or second is nodding their head in agreement. Most of what it takes to fit into an ensemble’s sound happens before we even arrive at the gig. Learning the music beforehand is a given—being a well-prepared harpist goes so much deeper. It means listening to recordings, studying different scores, marking your part thoroughly, practicing with different recordings at different tempos. I love one particular quote from harpist Catherine Case in the article: “I use as many tools and tricks as I can in my preparation so I have a lot to draw on,” she says. All of the work we do before the gig prepares us to be as flexible and responsive as possible at the gig.
If we really think about it, though, our preparation starts long before we even get that call for the gig. The bulk of our preparation for any gig we play happens when we are learning to play the instrument. It happens when we are students.
I remember reading a Harp Column interview with Nancy Allen, principal harpist with the New York Philharmonic and teacher at Juilliard, years ago where she was asked how she balanced a demanding career and raising her young daughter. “Treasure your practice years…afterwards you find out what kind of foundation you’ve built,” she advised. “If you’ve built a strong one, then you’ll be fine.” Allen went on to say she was able to maintain her career through life’s challenges because of “all those years of incredible work” she had already done.
Allen is not the only one at the top of her field to espouse the importance of preparation. One of Allen’s colleagues, Kathleen Bride, gives us a similar perspective in our interview with her in this issue (see “A Lasting Impression” on pg. 16). Her best advice from over four decades teaching at the collegiate level, first at the Manhattan School of Music and currently at the Eastman School of Music? Work hard and focus when you are a student because you won’t have the luxury of time to do that when you are out in the real world. “The four to six compressed years of undergraduate and graduate study are the most important of your professional life,” she says.
Essentially, we spend our entire lives in preparation—first, going deep to lay a foundation of technique, repertoire, and historical perspective, and then going wide to develop the diverse tools and skills we need to be successful in a rapidly evolving music world. You know, I think we could teach the Boy Scouts a thing or two about being prepared. •
Alison Reese is editor of Harp Column. She is a freelance performer and teacher in West Michigan. Email her at email@example.com.
October 6, 2015 in Featured Videos
You’ve never heard Bach like this—harpist Bridget Kibbey and mandolinist Avi Avital join creative forces to reimagine Bach’s Sonata in E-Flat major in their new music video. We might be a little biased, but we think if old Johann Sebastian had heard the sound of this duo, he would have been blown away.
Harp Column readers might remember Bridget from her 2005 interview. She’s been busy since then—recording, performing, teaching, and working with composers to create some incredible new music. Bridget just launched her official Facebook page, so go on over and take a look and show her some harp love!
Katryna Tan sees things. A harp musical. A career where people said there was no work. A sleek, modern harp center where her students could come to study and rehearse.
What makes Katryna different is that she doesn’t just see things, she does things, and she does them well. She quit her job as a successful architect to pursue the harp and hasn’t looked back. In the last 15 years she has built a vibrant career full to the brim with performing, teaching, and collaborating.
Katryna is not a household name outside of her corner of the world in Singapore, but when you hear what she is doing, you want to know more—and she’s always got something new cooking. I met Katryna back when I was an undergrad and she was getting her master’s degree in harp. Her unique combination of artistry, design, and drive make her a force to be reckoned with, though you would never know it by her short stature and disarmingly kind personality.
Katryna and I bridged the 12-hour time difference with a Skype conversation back in May. She was gearing up for the Singapore Harp Festival (held Sept. 4–6) and keeping up her usual break-neck pace of performing and teaching.
Harp Column: Tell us how you started playing the harp and your career path, because it’s not typical of most harpists.
Katryna Tan: That’s a long story! [Laughs] I started music when I was around 4 years old, I think on the piano first and then on the violin, and harp was my third instrument that I picked up around 9 years old. In between I played some Chinese instruments. My parents liked to expose us to art exhibitions and they loved music, so we were very fortunate, my sisters and I. We were having a holiday and we saw a harp and they decided to let us learn. I come from Malaysia originally, and at that time there were no harp teachers there. So I had to travel to Singapore, which at that time by older roads was six hours away by car. So when we started it was more like a hobby, just another instrument, and I liked it very much.
In the quest for balance, one size does not fit all.“If I really want to do music, I have to do it now. So I quit my job and I went for it.”
Sounds like the age-old romantic tale of a starry-eyed idealist choosing heart over head to pursue a long-held dream to be a musician.
You probably know how the story ends. After a potent dose of the real world, the young romantic resorts to waiting tables to make ends meet while her harp gathers dust in the corner of her apartment. Except this story has a different ending.
Meet the story’s real-life heroine, Katryna Tan. Katryna was a successful young architect living in Singapore. She had played the harp since she was a child, and her love for music never waned, even after launching a career in an unrelated field. She flirted with freelancing to get her harp fix, but that wasn’t enough. She needed to go all in. And she did.
How does Katryna’s story end? Well, you’ll have to find out for yourself in our interview with her in this issue (see “The Sky Is the Limit,” pg. 16). But let’s just say that how ever idealistic or romantic her visions of a harp career were, they were matched by her resolute determination, work ethic, and top-notch musicianship.
Now I’m not going to sit here and say that all harp stories work out this way. We all know plenty of stories of unmet expectations and dreams never realized. What’s inspiring about Katryna’s story is that it is real. The music world didn’t bow down at her feet and pave an easy path to a successful harp career for her. She worked and worked and worked for it. She planted her flag in a place where there were virtually no jobs for harpists, saw a vision for what she could do, and put her nose to the grindstone. Fifteen years later Katryna has a thriving career as a performer and teacher and has built vibrant community of harpists in a part of the world that was virtually void of harpists a generation ago.
I think music is like a uniquely shaped piece in the jigsaw puzzle of a person’s life. Each person has to figure out where it fits in his or her life. Most of us try to fit the piece into the wrong spot of the puzzle a few times before we find the right fit. For some people, like Katryna, music is that all-important corner piece, the driving force for everything they do in their career. For others, music is a connection to others, a link to their heritage, a fun hobby, or simply a paycheck.
For Inge Wiekenkamp, music is an escape—a way for her to relax and release all the stress from her job as a scientist. It wasn’t always this way, Inge writes in this issue’s Sounding Board article (see “Water Music” on pg. 10). As a talented young harpist growing up in The Netherlands, she was put on the fast track to a traditional classical music career as a soloist or an orchestral musician. After years of trying to force her piece into the wrong spot, Inge walked away from the harp. She chose a different career path. It was only after stepping away from the puzzle that she was able to see clearly where music fit in her life. Finding the right fit has brought happiness and balance to her life where there was only stress and frustration before.
Where does the harp piece fit in your puzzle? The answer might surprise you. But when you find the right spot, you’ll know. •
July 31, 2015 in Q-and-A
With Marco Salvi as its new President, Lyon & Healy has just appointed Janet Harrell as its Chief Executive Officer (read more). Harpists may remember Harrell from her time with the company between 1984–1999 where she served various roles, ultimately becoming its President. We caught up with Janet to find out what she’s been up to since then, and her plans for the future at L&H.
So, what brings you back to the harp world?
I was actually content in my position at the time, but when Marco Salvi reached out to me about returning to Lyon & Healy, he had the same enthusiasm and passion for the harp that his father did – which is contagious! That enthusiasm reminded me of the dedication to the instrument that was always present at Lyon & Healy and the next thing you know…here I am.
Many harpists will remember you from your previous days with Lyon & Healy, but can you tell those harpists who don’t know you a little more about yourself to help them get to know you?
I very much have a team approach to managing. I like to empower everyone with knowledge about the entire organization, so they understand what they are responsible for and how their contribution impacts our goals. I encourage new ideas and am not afraid to initiate changes as needed.
Tell us a little bit about your harp background. Are you a harpist yourself? How did you first get into the harp world?
I am not a harpist; I actually joined the finance department of Lyon & Healy when they were owned by CBS. As the company changed ownership over the following years, I was promoted several times until Mr. Victor Salvi named me President.
What you are looking forward to in your new role at Lyon & Healy?
One of the best aspects of my role is that I get to work closely with the harpmakers who build the instruments, and also interact regularly with the artists that play them—it is so unique and rewarding.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to travel and spend time with my family. Anything outdoors including golf, biking and running. I plan on trying surfing for the first time this winter on a family holiday trip. Several members of my family are avid surfers and I’m thinking to give it a try.
What do you hope to accomplish in your new position at Lyon & Healy?
Making customer service our primary core value. Obviously, to continue the building of the Lyon & Healy harp at its high standard. And further, to take that passion that Victor had for the harp and work with Marco and the team to see what we can do to promote the instrument — and harpists — into the future.
Since coming back to harp building, what do you think has changed the most and what has stayed the same during your time away from the industry?
The business was much more retail-focused, now we have a global wholesale network as the harp has grown worldwide. I am happy to see that the steps of harpbuilding itself at Lyon & Healy has not changed very much with the exception of stronger materials and better equipment—one of my primary initiatives is to ensure that the apprenticeship program that Lyon & Healy has always been proud of is still being closely followed.
Finish this sentence: “Lyon & Healy harps are…
…fantastic and continue to amaze me with their consistency of sound.”
Read more about Lyon & Healy at h www.lyonhealy.com.
Nearly every harpist knows the name “Sylvia Woods,” either from playing her arrangements or ordering harp gear from the Sylvia Woods Harp Center. We featured Sylvia on the cover of Harp Column back in 1998, and more recently she wrote a fascinating Sounding Board article about her move from Southern California to Hawaii. We caught up with Sylvia at the Somerset Folk Harp Festival last week where she received its Lifetime Achievement Award.
Congratulations on winning the Lifetime Achievement Award here at Somerset. What was your reaction to hearing the news?
I was so excited! It was really cool because I’ve never gotten a lifetime achievement award. [Laughs] I really appreciated the thought, and I feel very honored.
Over the years you’ve contributed so much to the harp community. What contribution are you most proud of?
I think my Teach Yourself How to Play the Harp book because it has gotten so many people started. That and the fact that I was at the right place at the right time and was able to help create the whole industry—getting harp makers going and getting music available for people—because those were the two biggest stumbling blocks for people. There were no instruments and no music specifically for the lever harp. So that’s what I’m most proud of.
What do you enjoy about harp gatherings like Somerset?
“First of all, I think Somerset is one of the best. If people are going to go to one, I always tell them to go to Somerset because I think it’s so well-run, and they have the best workshops, and they have the best presenters, and concerts. Also, I like that everyone brings their harps, and so there are so many harps, as opposed to the pedal harp conventions because they can’t all truck their harps there. So the pedal harp conventions are much more lecture oriented, whereas this is hands-on for any level with anything you want to find. I really like that about this festival. And what I like about [harp gathers]in general is that you get to meet all these new people. It’s fun for me because I know a lot of their names from their orders, and they email me all the time to ask me questions, so to be able to see the people is fun. Plus I get to see all my old friends.
Despite receiving this lifetime achievement award, we know you are far from done. So what’s new and what’s on the horizon for you?
It’s great, now that I’m in Hawaii. I’m definitely not retired, but my life has slowed down enough that I can actually get back into arranging, which is what I really love to do and people love it. People are always emailing me with what they want, and I love that because it helps me figure out which ones to do next. So I’ve gotten out seven arrangements in the last two months: “Everything” and “It’s a Beautiful Day” by Michael Buble “Marry Me” by Train, “Lava” from the Disney Pixar short before Inside Out, “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, and “Stay With Me,” by Sam Smith.
Whoa! You’re on fire!
Yeah, it’s been really good. So that’s what I hope to continue to do is get a couple out a month or something. I love it when I get suggestions—I’ve even got a couple this weekend, so I wrote them down on my list. The list is very long, and I always tell people, “Just because it’s on the list doesn’t mean I’m going to do it,” but that’s the way I figure it out. For instance the piece that I got the most requests for was “Hallelujah,” so that’s one that just came out, and the only reason I did it was because 10 people asked for it, so I figured I had better do it.
Can you give us an inkling as to what your next arrangement will be?
Well, the other highest-rated request is “Imagine,” and I’ve been trying to get permission for “Imagine” for years, and I was finally able to get it. It’s challenging because the accompaniment pattern is very chromatic. So I’m trying various ways of getting around that, but that should be out by the end of the year.
July 14, 2015 in Q-and-A
Fresh out of grad school, Welsh harpist Anne Denholm landed a dream job—official harpist to HRH the Prince of Wales. Only a couple months into her career, Denholm has a title to top all titles on her resume, “Royal Harpist.” She’s the fifth harpist to hold the title since Prince Charles resurrected the position that had last been filled in 1871. Catrin Finch, Jemima Philips, Claire Jones, and most recently Hannah Stone have all held the Royal Harpist title in the 21st century. We couldn’t wait to hear more from the newest Royal Harpist, and Denholm was gracious enough to answer a few questions for her fellow harpists.
Tell us how you learned about your appointment as official harpist to HRH the Prince of Wales and what your reaction was.
Initially I found out by telephone and was taken aback but of course extremely happy! I subsequently received the news by official letters.
What was the process like to get the appointment? Was there an audition or interview?
There is a nominations process, followed by audition and interview.
Tell us about your background—where did you grow up? How long have you played the harp? Who have you studied with?
I am from Carmarthen in South West Wales and grew up there until I moved to study at the Purcell School in Watford. I started playing the harp when I was eight as part of an instrumental lesson scheme that existed at my primary school. I started almost by accident (!) but I loved it from the start. I was already playing the violin and the piano, but by thirteen I knew that I wanted to focus primarily on the harp. I have been extremely lucky to study with wonderful teachers, beginning with Marian O’Toole, then with Eluned Pierce and Eleri Darkins at the Junior Department of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and with Charlotte Seale at the Purcell School. During my time at the Royal Academy of Music and Cambridge University I studied with Karen Vaughan, my current teacher.
How much work does the position entail? Have you played any official engagements yet?
It is hard to say at this point how much work will be entailed by the position, but there will be regular engagements for the royal family. I gave my first performances in the role last week as part of HRH The Prince of Wales and HRH The Duchess of Cornwall’s annual visit to Wales.
Have you met Prince Charles or any other members of the royal family yet?
I was honored to meet both The Prince of Wales and The Duchess during last week’s engagements.
What has been the reaction of your friends and family to the news of your appointment?
My family and friends have been delighted and very excited about the news – I have received so many congratulations and warm wishes, for which I am extremely grateful.
What does your harp career look like outside of the royal appointment? Are you able to keep up what you were doing previously?
I have just graduated with my master’s from the Royal Academy of Music in London and am therefore at the beginning of my freelance career proper. I am pursuing projects in a variety of fields, from solo and chamber playing to orchestral and education work. I am a founding member of contemporary experimental quartet, The Hermes Experiment, who commission new music and arrangements as well as perform live free improvisation, and we perform regularly in venues across London. I have also been doing some work with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, and am looking forward to some orchestral work this summer. I have some solo and chamber recitals coming up in Wales over the summer which is a lovely excuse to go home!
Any perks of the job?
As part of the position I will play The Prince of Wales’ harp, given to The Prince in 2006 by the Victor Salvi Foundation. It is a beautiful instrument in both sound and appearance and I feel incredibly privileged to play it. The design incorporates elements from The Prince of Wales’ crest, as well as symbols of Welsh national identity, including daffodils and dragons. In addition to playing The Prince’s harp, I wear an official badge of office which has been passed along the chain of royal harpists, of which I am now the fifth since the post was reinstated in 2000.
How does it feel to follow in the footsteps of historic legends like John Thomas?
I feel very honored, but I also feel the responsibility that this position holds, and I intend to do my utmost to fulfil the role to the very best of my abilities.
Anything else you want to tell the harp world?
Our wonderful instrument is one of the most powerful and versatile – let’s keep working hard to broaden its boundaries and play it to the world!
Anne Denholm is the new Royal Harpist to HRH the Prince of Wales. Denholm recently graduated with her master’s degree from the Royal Academy of Music in London. She is the fifth harpist to be appointed to the post since it was reinstated in 2000. Prior to that the last Royal Harpist was appointed in 1871. Catrin Finch was the first harpist to hold the post in the modern era. She was followed by Jemima Philips, Claire Jones, and most recently Hannah Stone.
Previously, English harpist John Chatterton (1805-1871) served as Royal Harpist, as did his student, Welsh harpist John Thomas (1826-1913) who was appointed in 1871 as Royal Harpist to Queen Victoria and continued as King Edward’s harpist until his death in 1913.
You can read Harp Column’s interview with former Royal Harpist Claire Jones in our July/August 2011 issue where she talks about her tenure and her experience playing for the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
Madonna. Prince. Cher. Beyoncé.
The pop music world has a handful of stars that need only a single name to be universally recognized.
The harp world has one. Sunita.
Sunita (Staneslow, if you really need to know her last name) has the one-of-a-kind personality and career befitting of a single-name performer. This Minnesota-raisedharpist with a Bengali first name and a Lithuanian surname makes her home in Israel. Sunita is equally at home busking in the town square or performing a concert with a chamber music partner. She is in demand at harp conferences all over the world for her teaching and performing and spends several days each week working with patients at a local children’s hospital. For the last 15 years Sunita has been Harp Column’s eyes and ears at the prestigious International Harp Competition in Israel. How does someone build such a successful and versatile career? We asked Sunita when we talked to her via Skype from her kitchen in her home, just outside Tel Aviv.
Harp Column: We want to fill in our readers on your background and your training, because what fascinates me about you is that if there’s a script for a classically trained harpist, you kind of rewrote it, and you’ve really charted your own path.
Sunita Staneslow: I grew up in the suburbs of St. Paul. My parents were professionals. My mom was a teacher, my dad was a professor at the university—he taught Hindi. People always ask me, where did you get that name? Sunita is an Indian name. I was in second grade and I can remember having dinner over at a neighbor’s house down the street. She played the flute with the Minnesota Orchestra, and I remember thinking, “I want to play the flute.” They took out the flute and said that my fingers were too small and arms too short and I would have to wait. So then the flutist said, “Why don’t you play harp like my daughter Leah.” So then I told my mom, “I want to play the harp like Leah.” My mom said, “Yeah right, you’ll get over it.” But I said, “No, I really want to play the harp.” So finally she agreed to get me a few lessons, thinking I’d get over it, but I didn’t. It started to feel fun and special because flute’s just melody for the most part and harp has melody and chords and this beautiful sound. It was good because I have good classical and technical background that has served me well.