Are Orchestral Harpists the Best Teachers?

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    Most of the major teaching positions in the U.S. are held by harpists who have important orchestral positions. Does this mean they are the best teachers, or should these positions be held by soloists, or other kinds of harpists, or simply the one who is the best teacher?


    It depends on what the course is geared towards. I think most, if not all, music majors at university hope to win an orchestra audition. Therefore, it is helpful to get the input from someone who plays this repertoire every day. At the least, the students should be able to get master classes from someone in the field so that they can learn how to function in an orchestra and an audition. The audition weeds out anyone who does not know how the excerpts go, so if your teacher does not know, then you are at a disadvantage.


    Well, I can only relate to this from my own experience, when as a young student I first learnt from a harpist that was a principal with a major orchestra. There is something very inspiring about learning from someone that performs in an orchestra, and being able to go and hear them play, follow the score, and talk about their experiences as a performer – and as a performer that performs all the time.

    Of course, soloists too, do hold alot of the better teaching positions – and they too are performing and recording all the time. Which is wonderful for their pupils.


    The short answer is that a harpist with the ability to teach makes the best teacher. That teacher must be an advanced harpist him/herself. But holding an orchestra position is no guarantee that that person can teach. Unfortunately, most conservatories and schools will want teachers on their faculty who have a resume that looks good in the catalogue, and frankly, they don’t really care if that person can teach, or turns out quality students over the years. This may sound harsh but it’s true.

    Being an orchestra player(on any instrument) is very different from being a soloist on the same instrument. Soloists are frequently poor orchestra players, and orchestra players are frequently poor soloists for this reason. And being a first rate orchestra player or first rate soloist does not gaurantee a great teacher.

    A teacher may be great for one student and not for another. I think in the end each student has to seek out the teacher who can provide what that student needs.


    Carl and I are in agreement here. My major teacher was a soloist who also had a lot of orchestral experience, but more importantly knew how to teach parts, even those she hadn’t played. If you are a soloist and know how to prepare parts, that may suffice, except for a student who only wants to play in an orchestra-but good luck in finding a job! That being said, orchestral harpists are often called upon to be soloists or to do recitals or chamber music, so they should be fluent in those as well. However, I really respect a harpist who can say, I am just an ensemble player, and if you want


    Saul- Teaching a musical instrument is a very complicated process, because, as we know all too well, every student presents his/her own abilities and problems. Some teachers are able to individualize their teaching to each student and some are not. In addition, some teachers are very good at a particular level of teaching, but not good at another. I can think of several teachers in this country who are the best at teaching advanced students, but who would not be very good for a student still in need of technique. There are many teachers who are really good at starting beginners, but then they don’t know what to do with them after that, and usually end up giving the student repertoire that they are not yet ready for. So the subject of good and bad teachers is a complicated one.


    Yes, it is a complicated issue – but


    The question was, who makes a good teacher. And my answer is, someone with something to teach AND the ability to teach it. There are many great musicians who have absolutely no idea how to explain what they are doing. Often the most gifted are the worst teachers because everything came so easily to them that they can’t conceive of anyone else having problems. But there are rare exceptions. Grandjany, Jamet, Borot, Renie, and many others were harpists of phenominal ability who were able to explain in detail how they did what they did.

    I could(but won’t!)name several important orchestra harpists with important teaching positions who are dreadful teachers. Having an orchestra job is absolutely no guarantee that that person can teach and prepare his/her students for a professional career.


    Playing and teaching are two different skills. A good player may not be a good teacher. A teaching position should be based on the individuals ability to teach and nothing else.

    My teacher was both an orchestral harpist and a soloist. I don’t know if either was more advantageous in terms of teaching. What I do know is that she was a wonderful teacher, period.

    She had patience, an ability to convey ideas clearly, and a method for transmitting the necessary information and skills that she clearly had refined and perfected over many years.

    I know many musicians who play wonderfully, but I wouldn’t want to take a lesson from them if you paid me. They simply didn’t have the temperament or skills to teach despite their ability to play.

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