The harp community has lost a first-class harpist with the passing of Catherine Gotthoffer on Dec. 29. She was a great friend to all of us and worked for 36 years as a very successful and highly respected studio harpist in Hollywood, recording on many motion picture scores, playing for television series and variety shows, the Academy Awards, and the Grammys.
I recently had a wonderful conversation with Catherine’s husband, Bob, about her career. It was so good to hear the joy in his voice as he spoke about all that they had shared together. Bob and Catherine met at Juilliard, where she was studying with Marcel Grandjany, while Bob was there on a trumpet scholarship with William Vacchiano. Coincidentally, they had to take the same classes, and it wasn’t long before their friendship turned into love. They were married in 1944 and were blessed with two children, Ann and Richard, and four grandchildren, Russell, Samuel, Jason, and Rachel. What a special life to have had 70 years together. To hear Bob speak about his beloved Catherine, I immediately felt his sense of pride in all that she had accomplished throughout the years.
When peace was declared at the end of World War II, the conductor Antal Dorati was starting to organize the Dallas Symphony. Bob and Catherine joined the orchestra and enjoyed seven fantastic years playing there.
Their next move was to Los Angeles where Catherine was given a contract to be the harpist for the studio orchestra at MGM in 1952. In the ’40s and the ’50s, all the studios had their own contract orchestras. She held this position until 1957 when the studios disbanded these fixed orchestras.
Bob told me that Catherine loved working with composers Andre Previn, Miklos Rozsa, Elmer Bernstein, just to mention a few. Some of her favorite MGM musicals to play were Singing In the Rain, Gigi, An American In Paris, Kiss Me Kate, High Society, and West Side Story. She can also be heard on How the West Was Won, Raintree County, The Sandpiper, the list goes on and on.
Catherine was a great asset when she served on the board of directors of the Musicians’ Union, Local 47 in Los Angeles. It was her suggestion to the Board that the harp be included in the list of first-chair players who were entitled to “over-scale” wages, and that rule continues today for all of us working in the studios.
I have a little story to share with all of you about Catherine’s kindness and generosity of spirit. In the ’70s, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) honored a musician in Los Angeles and New York from each section of the orchestra with a “Most Valuable Player Award” for consistently outstanding performance on their instrument. For a number of years, the harp was listed in the “miscellaneous” category, along with the harmonica and a variety of instruments. In 1977, I was fortunate to be the very first harpist to be honored with this prestigious award from the Los Angeles Chapter of NARAS Within a couple of days, I received a wonderful card from Catherine thanking me for “putting us on the map!” I was deeply moved by her kind words and thoughtfulness. It came full circle when Catherine received this outstanding award in the ’80s, and I couldn’t have been happier for her.
Catherine was a major force in the American Harp Society since its inception in 1961. She was also very involved with the World Harp Congress and the Recording Musicians of America (RMA) through the Musician’s Union, Local 47 in Los Angeles.
I have always had the utmost respect and admiration for Catherine and am grateful that we had the opportunity to work together on many films. She was a great musician and a joy to behold. Thank you, Catherine, for being my friend. You will always remain in my heart. Here’s to you. •
— by Gayle Levant