Want to truly bring those notes on the page to life? Try talking to the composer who put them there. Find out why working with composers leads to better music for everyone.

Between nothing and something, between silence and sound, between a finger poised on a string and the burst of vibration at its release, lies the miracle of musical creation.

You wield this primitive magic every time you play your instrument. The fulfillment it brings is probably the underlying reason you started playing the harp in the first place. But how much of the process do you truly own? What exactly is going on in that stillness before the notes ripple through the air? If you want to know the full story behind a piece, you must turn to its composer. Unless you happen to compose your own music, the roles of composer and musician are divided between two separate people. You are not on your own; you are part of a collaboration. But you and your collaboration partner may be separated from each other by vast amounts of time and space, with nothing more connecting you than a message written in notes and markings on a sheet of music paper.

You may not be able to phone Debussy to ask him about his Trio Sonata or text Salzedo with your fingering questions, but there are plenty of living composers—both harpists and non-harpists—who are not only accessible, but eager to help strengthen that collaboration between performer and composer. To explore the composer’s point of view, we talked to some familiar composers in the harp world—David S. Lefkowitz, Robert Paterson, and Paul Patterson—as well as harpist-composers Caroline Lizotte, Stephanie Curcio, and Julia Kay Jamieson. You don’t have to be a composer yourself to make music, but when you take the time to listen to what composers have to say from the other side of the score, your partnership is strengthened, and the music that reaches your listener’s ears will be richer for it.

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About Author

Elizabeth Jaxon has been writing for the Harp Column since 2010. As a freelance professional harpist based in Utrecht, the Netherlands, she not only performs and teaches, but is involved in a variety of projects including managing the competition of the Dutch Harp Festival. She holds music performance degrees from the University of Illinois and the École Normale de Musique de Paris.

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