Making harp life a little better for all
Harp Column founder and web editor Kimberly Rowe and print editor Alison Reese sit down to talk about 25 years of covering the harp world.
KIMBERLY ROWE: Alison, what do Harp Column readers want to know about?
ALISON REESE: Harpists want to know about practical things. They want to know how to balance harp and school, how to practice when you have young kids running around, what kind of car to buy that will fit their harp. These are the kinds of things we’ve found harpists want to know, and we are able to revisit these topics with a new perspective every few years because things are always changing. Kim, when you and Hugh started Harp Column 25 years ago, what did you set out to do?
KR: We set out to give harpists information they could not find other places, and given that this was before the internet, it was even harder to find information then. So sometimes that magazine coming in the mail every two months might be the only source of harp information somebody might have.
AR: What do you remember about the early days of Harp Column that make you laugh now?
KR: Cutting photos out with an X-Acto Knife.
AR: I don’t think most of our readers even know what an X-Acto Knife is.
KR: It was, in some ways, a lot more stressful in the early stages of production because if we wanted to print a picture of someone, they had to mail us, in the actual mail, a black and white picture, that we would then take to a printer and have half-toned, and that’s what we could cut out with an X-Acto knife, and place very carefully on a grid. And if that picture didn’t come in the mail by our deadline, there was literally a hole in the layout. You needed a lot more lead time in those days.
AR: Nothing happened instantaneously.
KR: No, you could just email somebody and say, give me your picture.
AR: Kim, something I’ve always been impressed by, before I came to Harp Column and since I’ve been here, is that you have always been forward looking. Technology is continually changing not only the music business, but the publishing business as well, and rather than being resentful of that and burying your head in the sand, you’ve always looked to embraced the changes and looked for ways Harp Column could fill new niches.
KR: None of us got into music or play the harp because we necessarily thought it was a good career path, we just like doing it. A lot of the same trends that affect publishing are the same trends that affect performing artists. You can either whine and complain about not having any work, or you can accept the current marketplace and figure out how to succeed in that marketplace. We do try to stay relevant, which is one reason we hired a younger editor.
AR: I love how you said “younger,” not “young.”
KR: You joined the Harp Column family when you were still in college, Alison. What was your perception when you arrived at Harp Column.
AR: I was very excited because I had read Harp Column since shortly after I began playing the harp. I would read Harp Column cover to cover. I was intrigued by everything in it. So to have the opportunity to combine two things that I am passionate about—journalism and harp. Let’s be honest, it’s pretty much the only job I could have sought out.
KR: What is something that has made your job as editor of Harp Column easier?
AR: In interviewing harpists for the cover of the magazine and talking to them for feature stories in every issue, I am amazed that these people, who are at the top of their profession, the best in the world at what they do, are always so generous in sharing their knowledge and expertise. They want to help their fellow harpists. I’ve always been heartened by that, and that makes my job easier, because really what we’re trying to do here is make all of our lives easier. Playing the harp is hard enough, so anything that we can do to make it a little easier and more enjoyable and fulfilling is what we want to do. Kim, you’ve interviewed countless harpists and covered countless harp events. What are some of your favorite moments you’ve experienced with Harp Column?
KR: I certainly wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet as many people as I have were it not for Harp Column. And I’m struck by the same thing you just pointed out, which is that everyone is always so willing to contribute to the magazine and our other ventures—Harp Column Music and Harp Column Academy—not because anyone is getting rich in this, but because they want to share their knowledge, and Harp Column is a vehicle to do that.
AR: Let’s talk about those other ventures. Harp Column started as a magazine, but it’s so much more today. And Harp Column had a very early presence on the internet.
KR: That’s true and it’s because of my co-founder and husband Hugh Brock. He was an early adopter. We launched our first website in 2000.
AR: Harp Column was also early in the community forum arena, well before Facebook. Then we launched Harp Column Music to sell instant sheet music downloads in 2013, which was a big pivot.
KR: The whole idea for Harp Column Music came about because I’m also a teacher and I had all these kids playing in ensembles, and I wanted it to be easier for them to get music that they were only going to play one part of one time, without having to buy a complete set of parts. Plus I knew there were a lot of arrangers that had great stuff that wasn’t available, because the small size of the harp market makes it cost prohibitive for them to publish or print copies of that music. So our whole concept was that this would be a way that people could make their music available affordably to the publisher and to the customer. But let’s talk about our latest venture, Harp Column Academy, because this was kind of your idea.
AR: Well, this idea had grown out of conversations that you and I had with some other harpists. Having young kids, I was starting to see the trend toward online learning starting to gain traction probably five years ago. I think Harp Column has worked hard over the years to earn a reputation as an unbiased source of harp information. We don’t subscribe method or another, we don’t subscribe to one harp or another, we are just all for good harp playing and making life easier. So I was really excited about launching Harp Column Academy because, through the magazine, we are able to meet and hear all of these amazing performers and teachers that are scattered all over the country and all around the world. But most people don’t have the opportunity to go to a masterclass with Isabelle Perrin or study with Judy Loman. Distance makes these things difficult, but technology makes them possible. Harp Column Academy excites me because it allows harpists a chance at seeing some of the best teachers in the world without having to leave their house. It’s something that wouldn’t have been possible even five years ago, and the technology is only getting better. We understand, we’re teachers, we know watching our videos lessons is not the same as going to study with one of these great teachers in person, but it gives you a glimpse and helps expand your perspective and opens you up to new ideas and that’s what makes your playing better—opening your mind to different possibilities. Kim, what excites you about the future of Harp Column?
KR: For me, producing the magazine, the music website, and the academy is equally creative as playing the harp, and that’s what has kept me interested in doing this and makes me want to continue coming up with new ideas and making these things the best they can be. I don’t really ever get tired of doing that. The day-to-day can get old—it’s a little like practicing. But the creativity involved in the other elements continues to excite me. Alison, do you continue performing and teaching?
AR: As editor of a magazine for practical harpists where we try to have something for everyone in each issue, and I think one thing that helps inform my job as editor is to still have a hand in all aspects of being a harpist. That’s why I teach, that’s why I perform, and that’s important to me. It can be a lot to balance, but every harpist has a lot to balance. It’s just a matter of what you are balancing. We’re not different than every other harpist out there. What about you? Tell us about your harp life.
KR: I agree with everything you said. I feel like I need to continue playing to have a good perspective on what we want to offer other harpists. I feel very disconnected when I’m not practicing regularly, so I try to make that a priority.
AR: Is there anything else you want our Harp Column readers to know?
KR: Just that we are always open to your suggestions of what you want to see in Harp Column, so email us, write us, let us know what’s on your mind.
Contact the Harp Column editors at firstname.lastname@example.org.