Close up, none of us really fit the stereotype of a harpist.
Raise your hand if you’ve heard someone say to you at a gig, “Oh, you look just like a harpist!” It was likely uttered as you played some glissandos while donning a flowing gown. Maybe you’ve heard the opposite (ah hem, gentlemen), “Why, you look nothing like I thought a harpist would look,” likely said with a tinge of astonishment at the absence of dream-sequence glisses and your lack of flowing gown.
We all roll our eyes at these stereotypes of how harpists should look and groan at these preconceived notions of how the harp should sound. Even within the harp world, though, we can be prone to pigeonholing other harpists based on the type of music they play, or the arrangements they write, or the way they teach. It’s easy to listen to someone’s CD, look at their publicity photo, or read their bio and fill in the space between the lines with our narrative for their life. I know I am guilty of this more than I care to admit.
Each of us knows we are much more than the two-dimensional harpist we may appear to be from afar. Each of us chose to play the harp for our own reasons and also chose (more than once for most of us) not to toss the harp to the curb when we were tempted. What each of us does with the harp is formed by a unique set of circumstances and influences that are not always obvious to the casual observer.
Digging deeper than the casual observer, getting to know the three-dimensional person behind the harpist I see in a bio or headshot—this is my favorite part of Harp Column. It may sound corny—no I’m sure it sounds corny—but it is true: the remarkable harpists who we interview and who write articles for the magazine continually fascinate me.
The saying goes that it takes all types to make the world go ’round, and that is certainly true for the harp world. Take two harpists we feature in this issue, for example. On one hand there’s Motoshi Kosako (see “Asian Fusion” on pg. 16). Motoshi is a talented jazz harpist doing really cool and creative things with the instrument. You’ve likely never heard of him (but you will if you are going to the American Harp Society or World Harp Congress gatherings this summer where he’ll be performing). He lives in the Sierra foothills of California with his family where he raises animals, grows vegetables in his garden, practices martial arts, and plays the harp. For Motoshi, music and the harp serve a purpose in his life, but are not the purpose in his life. “In the big picture, I think I am using music as one of many activities to make myself a better person, both spiritually and physically,” he says. “I don’t see myself as a guy who dedicated himself to music completely.”
On the other hand, there is Jessica Siegel. Jessica also lives in California, not far from Motoshi, in fact. Jessica owns Harps Etc., a harp retail store in Walnut Creek, Calif., outside of San Francisco. Jessica has a self-admitted obsession with the harp that she writes about in this issue’s Sounding Board column on pg. 10. For her, the harp is an all-consuming passion, and she is not afraid to admit it. In fact, she embraces it. “My obsession has enriched my life and hopefully the lives of others with whom I have been fortunate enough to share it,” she writes. “My obsession propels me out of bed each morning. It has been my life for decades.”
Motoshi and Jessica each bring unique perspectives to the harp. And no matter if your approach to the harp falls more in line with Motoshi or Jessica, or somewhere in between, it doesn’t matter. I’m just glad that we have such a broad spectrum of voices out there playing the harp. •
Alison Reese is editor of Harp Column. She is a freelance performer and teacher in West Michigan. email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.