I am working on a course for teaching composers how to write for the harp. I would like a list of your pet peeves, and things you want them to know, so I don’t leave anything out. Please speak out!
1. We only have four fingers to play with, not five.
2. Write for the average-sized hand, not the exceptionally huge.
3. Just because your thumb and fourth finger can reach ten notes does not mean the intervals in the middle can be almost as big. Know the limits of the spaces between the middle fingers.
4. Don’t write extended ff passages in the top register.
5. Ditto for the bottom register.
6. When changing from one key to the next, don’t go straight from seven flats to seven sharps. Do it enharmonically and gradually, keeping in mind that bass notes will ring a long time and need to be muffled if they are in the path of a pedal change.
I could probably write my own book, but this should get things started.
There have been numerous attempts before to write a guide for composers and it has never made more than a small difference. There is only one way to get them to hear the harp in their head as it really sounds and to think like a harpist, and that is for them to take several months of lessons. I don’t think it is even necessary for them to gain any kind of proficiency on the instrument. It’s just important that they go through the motions and try to play something on the instrument. They will gain more from that then reading all of the instruction books available. They will quickly learn how the harp resonates and how it sounds different in each octave. No amount of reading can communicate the knowledge that can be gained by taking a few months of lessons.
There is no really comprehensive guide that would be useful to anyone. If I can cover enough ground clearly enough, it might accomplish that, and if it were used in schools, it would make a difference. Composers have never had a standard reference to use that was widely used. Chaloupka’s book has been out there, but I don’t know how much impact it has had. The big obstacle is getting professors to think it matters enough to make it part of their curriculum.
I have made a chart of chord spacing, though you may think some of the chords are too big. You could send me what you think are the limits, Liz. How the registers work is one of the harder things to explain. Perhaps you can help me with some of the orchestral areas.
I think playing the harp themselves can be misleading. Then they may do something weird, and if they can do it, why not any harpist? Getting it in their ear is the thing.
What pieces do you think they need to listen to and study to train their ear?
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