Q and A with Marcia Dickstein

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LA–based harpist Marcia Dickstein has played harp in over 500 film scores, including the most recent Neil Armstrong biographical drama, First Man. Directed by Damien Chazelle with music by Justin Hurwitz (both of La La Land fame, on which Marcia also played), the film score heavily features the harp, garnering a special recognition screen credit. We caught up with Marcia to find out more about the experience. 

It must be very exciting to be given a “Featured Harpist” screen credit. How did this opportunity come your way?

I am very fortunate to work in the studios. When you get a call, you never know what music they will put in front of you. I have been doing this for almost 30 years, and I want composers to know I will give them the product they want in the time they have allotted.

Tell us about the experience of working on and recording First Man.

These days, the harp is often recorded separately from the rest of the orchestra. It didn’t used to be like that. We recorded First Man at Sony, and I played most of the harp parts by myself in a big room. I walked in, and there was a stack of cues with lots of notes—we started recording immediately. The director, Damien Chazelle, liked what he was hearing, so he left Justin, me, and the production crew to continue without him. Knowing he was happy made everything easier. We worked on solo parts for about eight hours.

Did you give any input/suggestions or make any changes to the harp part?

There are always changes and adjustments. Justin is very meticulous about phrasing, dynamics. We talked a lot about how he and Damien wanted the part to feel. One cue he thought wasn’t playable, but when I tried it, it worked great.

What did you think when you saw the movie for the first time and heard the music?

I have to admit I was overwhelmed. Justin had told me the harp was featured, but I had no idea what the final product would be like because I had recorded the majority by myself. I went opening night to a big theater that had great sound and was blown away. I thought the music worked incredibly well with the film.

Have you played for other film scores?

I have played on about 500 movie scores, thousands of TV shows, and hundreds of records, including all three Toy Story films, Cars, AI, Memoirs of a Geisha, Avatar, Pocahontas, Moana. I also play on “Family Guy” and “Empire.”

Wow! What tips do you have for people who are hoping to do studio sessions?

I don’t know if I have specific advice about the studios, but I can say that you can never be over prepared.  You have to have a positive attitude and very good rhythm to survive long term. So much of a musician’s career is under stress, so I do my best to make the other peoples’ jobs easier. I am one aspect that they don’t have to worry about.

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About Author

Stephanie Gustafson Amfahr is a harpist and teacher based in Houston, TX. Currently principal harpist with Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra, she is also a co-founder of the Houston Youth Harp Ensemble, young artist with Da Camera of Houston and on faculty at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Twin Lake, MI. She started writing for Harp Column in September 2017.

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