What is the best advice you were given when you were a student of the harp?
Posted In: How To Play
Oh Jerusha, I LOVE this question. I immediately thought of what my pedal harp teacher (Marjorie Call in LA, one of Salzedo’s wives) told me when I felt so overwhelmed by the fifty things you have to keep in mind while playing-sit up straight, thumbs up, elbows up, shoulders down, wrists in, pull the fingers into your palm, raise, and above all BREATHE! I told her I just couldn’t think of all that and try to make the music soar at the same time, and she said-just think relax, and pull your fingers in. Ahhh! I still think of that, and something magical happens, my body just immediately DOES relax.
I’m looking forward to hearing other responses to this excellent question!
Jerusha, what about you? Anything to share?
A long time ago, but I think of several things.
Never get rid of music. Someday you will want it. (so true)
Performing: If you do it, enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it.
The harp is not for everyone. Don’t push it on anyone.
Joke: I brought my harp to a party, but nobody asked me to play.
Never play in a short skirt.
Do not cross legs on stage. (crossed ankles are OK) Do not tap foot.
Listen to orchestra recordings and practice w/them. Then practice your part with the metronome a bit faster, just in case.
Write in cues (like if you hear the flute in M34) to make sure you stay in the right place in ensemble music.
Use a tape recorder to check on sound quality, rhythm, etc.
Never say or imply anything negative about another harpist because it will
just reflect on you.
I, too, was taught Salzedo method. I didn’t know there was anything else.
Once I was on my own, all that disappeared because I was concentrating on playing music and listening for the sounds I wanted. I don’t care for that structured approach because it looks and feels awkward.
Hi Kathy and Sylvia,
Some advice that I was given was:
1. Sing in your mind what you’re playing with your fingers.
2. A simple piece played beautifully is much better than a complicated one played poorly.
3. Like Sylvia, I was taught to never speak disparagingly about another harpist.
4. Never try to interfere with another harpist’s gig (whether short-term or long-term). Find your own jobs.
5. Practice with passion/feeling as soon as you can in the process, e.g. while working on phrasing once you’re comfortable with putting your hands together in a section.
I still am very much a student of the harp. But one of the things that I find useful that has not been mentioned was Alice Giles’s advice about “letting go” after the finger or thumb has swung into the hand. It is really hard to let go and you often think you have but actually have not – its much harder than to play. But you can hear the difference. Along with advice that everyone’s hand shape/finger placement will look different – but that every placement and movement should follow the natural anatomy/physiology of that particular hand/finger. I often use Heidi Lehwalder’s image for big chords of “swoop in, play and then go up the vase” and use the hand exercise she showed me that Salzedo used to do when away from his harp – bringing all his fingers into the palm starting with the little, 5,4,3,2,1 in quick succession.
I will add to that. Some advice for 2nd harps who might want to be asked back – be very early, make the 1st harp nice cups of tea and never ever practise their cadenzas if they are in earshot! Thats from the UK. I think it’s probably coffee in rest of Europe and Australia….no idea about the US.
That is very good advice. I remember my teacher telling me the same thing. It also brings to mind something Sylvia said about practicing a piece faster than you need to for performance tempo (as a buffer against nerves, distractions when performance day arrives).
Thank you for your input!
I was wondering if Alice is also trying to have you release tension when she says to “let go” after your fingers are brought into the palm? So much unnecessary tension can be created while playing that can be a real impediment to our overall health as musicians.
My favourite bit of advice from Judy Loman was “Engage your brain!” The point she was making is that you will learn everything a lot more securely if you know exactly what you are doing and are making conscious decisions about the music. Alice Chalifoux used to remind her students that the orchestra wouldn’t wait for them, so they had to keep up, even if it meant dropping a note or two.
Yes, excellent advice from Miss Loman about ensuring that we are actively engaged in our music as opposed to just going through the motions. I caught myself playing on autopilot a few years ago and made certain that I became more engaged in what I’m doing, especially when reviewing gig repertoire that I’ve played many times publicly in the past.
I was thinking also of something Sylvia brought up earlier in this thread, that we should tape record ourselves to check on our tonal quality, etc. I remember when I first bought Brook’s Dusty 36S. It was such a different-sounding instrument from what I was used to (pedal harp) with a medium tension that definitely required a different playing approach. A tape recorder was very useful in helping me to understand that I needed to adjust my normal playing style to get the best sound out of the instrument; I just couldn’t evaluate the sound properly with my ears alone.
I learned from Henriette Renie’s Method (French), and one of the best pieces of advice was to always remain supple. I think of that every time I get tense over a new piece or difficult section of a piece, and instantly relax.
This is such a great thread, Jerusha and all my harp friends!
Hi Balfour–Great to hear from you!
It’s so important to stay relaxed in order to avoid injury, etc.
Did your French training include the solfege method? My teacher offered to teach me, having learned it from Miss McDonald, but I declined, thinking I didn’t enough time to tackle it plus everything else she was teaching me. I sometimes wonder how learning it would have improved my performances.
I hope that more harpists respond to this thread!
My first teacher, Frances Miller, had a great piece of advice for learning a piece: always use solfege to say the notes of the bass line when practicing. One usually memorizes the right hand easily (unless left-handed), but not the left, and when you say it out loud, it anchors it in your mind, which anchors your right hand. It still works for me, 45 years later.