This year’s USA Competition takes on special meaning.
As this issue of Harp Column hits the streets, all eyes are on Bloomington, Ind., where the world’s most exciting and promising young harpists are again competing for the gold medal at the ninth USA International Harp Competition (IHC).
The atmosphere in the normally sleepy summer college town of Bloomington is electric during these 11 days in July as stars emerge from the thousands of beautifully crafted notes wafting above the Indiana University campus. For the harpists who compete at the USA Competition, this event is the culmination of months of intense preparation and years of dedication to their instrument. They invest a huge portion of their young lives just to get to the USA Competition, making the comparisons between it and the Olympics seem pretty reasonable.
We hear plenty about the happy endings—the smiling harpists holding flowers while medals dangle around their necks. But the story that largely goes untold, the one that happens exponentially more often than the happy ending, is the harpist who puts in the months and years of work, and doesn’t win. Maybe doesn’t even advance past the first stage. One of this year’s USA competitors, Haley Rhodeside, shares one of those rarely-heard stories in “Try, Try Again” on pg. 10. Haley competed in the 2010 USA IHC. She prepared four stages of music and got to perform one, not making it past the opening stage. Three years later, Haley is back at the USA Competition. Why? Well, you’ll have to read her Sounding Board article to find out.
But despite the pomp and circumstance of the opening ceremony, the excitement of each stage of competition, and the anticipation of the jury’s selection, this year’s competition just isn’t the same. Sadly, one person is sorely missed—Eleanor Fell.
A beloved figure throughout the harp world, but especially in Bloomington, Eleanor succumbed to her long battle with cancer last month (see In Memoriam on pg. 9). This year’s USA Competition is dedicated entirely to her memory.
I first met Eleanor six years ago when I was in Bloomington covering the 2007 competition forHarp Column. I had talked to her several times before, while working on articles for the magazine, but the warmth, graciousness, and humor she showed me when we met face-to-face for the first time would have made you think we were lifelong friends.
Her vibrant personality mirrored that of her music and career. Nearly all of us have played her well-known pop arrangements, and who hasn’t been inspired to go for it while playing her Be a Showoff!! medley? Her performing career in New York helped establish the harp’s place in pop music, and Vanderbilt Music—the company she co-founded in 1977—quickly became a go-to source for harpists needing new music and strings. What Eleanor did for our community led us to name her to Harp Column’s list of the most influential harpists of the 20th century back in 2000.
So whether we’re listening to the USA IHC this month or playing one of her great arrangements or simply smiling at the memory of her trademark wit, Eleanor Fell lives on a little bit in each of us. •
Alison Reese is editor of Harp Column. She is a freelance performer and teacher in West Michigan. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.