One Big Happy Family

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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.

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About Author

Kela Walton enjoys a varied career as a freelance harpist and teacher in Buffalo, New York. An innovative educator, Kela has maintained a private studio since 1998. In 2014 Kela joined the faculty at Buffalo Suzuki Strings, where she teaches individual and group harp lessons as well as Suzuki Early Childhood Music. Before relocating to Buffalo, Kela founded and directed the harp program for the Round Rock ISD schools in central Texas. Kela was privileged to serve as a harp faculty member previously at Temple College, the University of Houston Moores School of Music Preparatory and Continuing Studies Program, and Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Michigan. Her orchestral credits include engagements with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, San Antonio Symphony, Austin Symphony Orchestra, Corpus Christi Symphony, and Temple Symphony Orchestra. As a chamber musician she has premiered several new works by award winning composers and is the harpist with the Buffalo Chamber Players. She also held a four year position as harpist for tea and holiday brunches at Austin's historic Driskill Hotel. Currently Kela is honored to serve on the national board of directors for the American Harp Society, Inc. Kela Walton holds a Master of Music in Harp Performance and Pedagogy from the University of Houston Moores School of Music where she studied with Paula Page. Additionally she has a Bachelor of Music in Harp Performance from the University of Texas at Austin where she studied with Gayle Barrington. Kela is also an alumnus of the Salzedo School in Camden, Maine where she studied with Alice Chalifoux. Her Suzuki training includes coursework in early childhood education and harp with Sharon Jones, Delaine Fedson Leonard, and Dr. Laurie Scott. After realizing how much her yoga practice enhanced her harp performances and teaching, Kela became certified in Dharma Yoga at the 300 hour level. Kela lives in Buffalo with her husband, conductor Stefan Sanders.

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