Tracing your harp heritage can lead to fascinating discoveries. Find out which famous figures you are related to and what it means for your harp identity.“Who did you study with?” is often among the first questions we ask when we meet another harpist. Why does it matter? Connection. As social creatures, we want to feel connected, and asking about a harpist’s teacher is the first step in discovering the people and experiences we might have in common. What we may not realize is that we all have a teacher in common with almost every other harpist on the planet, if we go back in history far enough!
The harpists and teachers of the past are more than old names and black and white pictures in books. How we position our thumbs, play harmonics in both hands, and slide fingers for five-note passages, were once their new ideas. The harpists of the past influenced and changed the design of our instrument, from the mechanisms to the aesthetics. They composed many of the pieces we perform. When you play the music of Naderman, Bochsa, Hasselmans, Tournier, Grandjany, Renié, or Salzedo it is comforting, humbling, and mind-blowing to think about how they not only composed the piece, but also shaped the skills and interpretations of their students as they learned these works. Those students became teachers who in turn imparted the same knowledge to their students, and so forth, until the present day. Our collective harp knowledge today is the result of teachers passing along their skills, ideas, compositions, and innovations to their students over many generations.
Tracing Your Tree
So where does your branch sit on the harp family tree? Start by looking at the trunk of the harp family tree with the harp’s founding fathers. From there, we outlined the major branches of the tree. (Click on each photo to enlarge; right-click to download and save.). With a little research, you should be able to connect yourself to one of these branches. Scroll through this article to see some sample trees of young professional harpists along with tips for how to build your own.