Posted In: Teaching the Harp

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    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #83110

    I think that many students today have unrealistic expectations about being a harpist, from how long one should study, to how long one should study a piece, to what career goals to achieve.
    For example, many may think that an undergraduate degree is all one needs. In some cases, perhaps, but one’s knowledge of music besides harp is limited, and one should have at least a master’s level knowledge of music history and theory, it seems to me. A doctorate, I am not convinced of, except for practical reasons, ie. job requirements for those oh-so-rare teaching positions.
    In my Salzedo lineage, the expectation was that one never gives up study. The harp is like the voice, in that it is hard to hear what tone you are producing without an outside ear listening. Harp music also benefits from coaching just as singers do. And singers never stop coaching. For many of us, it simply took us longer and longer to prepare lessons as we became able to do more and more work on our own, until annual lessons were sufficient check-ups on tone and technique. I began study with Lucile Lawrence in 1980, and had my last lesson in 2004. And I did not cover nearly enough with her.
    As for pieces, I have mentioned this before, for major repertoire like the Salzedo Variations or the CPE Bach Sonata, you should expect to spend at least two years to learn the notes well enough to perform it, and then to allow several more years for your interpretation and performance to ripen and mature. Performing is an essential part of learning a piece.
    That said, Salzedo’s music does tend to take longer, I find, as it is very challenging technically and stylistically.
    As for career expectations, winning one competition is highly unlikely to produce a lasting career opportunity. Winning two or three makes a difference, and they may provide sufficient performing opportunities to keep one busy for several years. You will eventually be on your own like others, though, and have to build it yourself. I can’t speak for conditions in Europe, but in North America, opportunities seem very limited, these days. Entering competitions will hopefully build strength, focus, and the auditioning skills that will be helpful elsewhere. Unfortunately, money is a deciding factor in almost all aspects of a performing career. Debut recitals cost a lot of money. So do recordings. So do managers and publicists. There are very few charitable opportunities. And there is always the factor of politics, it seems. One should not be dissuaded by these comments, but more clearly focused, I hope. It takes strength and fortitude, and dedication, but moreover, it takes more than just technical accomplishment or personal expression to be a major artist. One must aim very high, in values, not external accomplishments and appearances.
    What do you think?

    Jessica A on #83111

    How many harp students actually want to be a “major artist?”

    cc-chiu on #83112

    I’m wondering about your remark regarding how long one should study a piece. I’ve had many different teachers (community music school) but none of them liked to spend too much time on one piece.

    A while ago, I started learning Nataliana. Now I can ‘play the notes’ but I feel I’m far from mastering it. It’s the most advanced piece I know and I wouldn’t mind spending more time on it, but my teacher was more than happy to let me move on.

    So perhaps there’s also a task for the harp teachers? Not everyone wants to aim for the highest goal possible but some people are… and perhaps teachers could be more supportive of that. Not all ‘ambitious’ students are 10 year old prodigies… I’m 20 and it’s my dream to be able to play the Impromptu by Faure during my lifetime (I don’t mind if it takes 20 more years).

    Misty Harrison on #83113

    why not ask your teacher if you can continue work on this piece but also learn a new piece that maybe isn’t as long or a piece in movements so that you are learning new stuff and making obvious progress but still have practice time and focus to maintain and polish Nataliana.

    shannon-schumann on #83114

    I am with Misty, except I woudn’t even bother to ask permission. My teacher is the same way — I work on something until I basically have it, and then we go on to something that has new concepts for me to learn. Her philosophy is that I pay her to learn things, and that polishing is not learning – I can polish on my own. So in my practice time, I have a

    shannon-schumann on #83115

    OH, PS, I meant to say that I also feel comfortable going to my teacher at any time with a previously worked piece to get a deeper understanding of sections that I need to work on, or just to perform and get a big-picture critique/coaching. So YMMV.

    Evelyn Tournquist on #83116

    Her philosophy is that I pay her to learn things, and that polishing is not learning – I can polish on my own.

    That’s an interesting philosophy. I’m happy my physician’s teacher didn’t have that same philosophy!

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #83117

    That is a different teaching style, and maybe it is based on the idea of learning quickly. It’s not my style.

    What does it mean to say this is a different world from the time of Salzedo?
    It may be increasingly digital, but fundamentally, it is the same. There are people who are dedicated and people who are not. There are people who provide quality and people who don’t. There are those who seek their highest level and those who settle for much less, or do only what is easy, or practical. Some are not able to do more, and I am not criticizing that.

    But I will certainly tend to criticize laziness, unwillingness to work hard and learn, low standards, a lack of appreciation,

    Tacye on #83118

    Her philosophy is that I pay her to learn things, and that polishing is not learning – I can polish on my own.

    I have two thoughts about that, particularly from how I learn, but I have observed these in students too.

    kay-lister on #83119

    Unfortunately, in todays society, we are slamed with instant gratification standards.

    kay-lister on #83120

    OK – I can’t spell

    Elizabeth L on #83121

    In Salzedo’s time, the harpist probably had expectations of playing recitals, orchestra, or opera, and maybe radio gigs.

    tony-morosco on #83122

    I’m with Tacye on this one.

    Once you are past the beginner stage, and you have a good technique down, and you pretty much can figure out things like fingerings and where to put pedal or lever changes and things like that, you don’t really need a teacher to learn the notes. They are on the page, you can learn them yourself.

    At that point the teacher is helping you understand and interpret the music.

    I would suggest watching the PBS documentary Harp Dreams, about the preparation and pressure of a major harp competition. There are several instances showing the students working with their teachers, and none of them have their teachers showing them how to play. They are helping them develop their interpretation and “polishing” their pieces. These folks don’t need someone teach them the notes. Most of them can sight read stuff that would give the rest of us a headache just looking at. It’s understanding the music, it’s history, and figuring out what they want to say with it that they get from their teachers at that point.

    My take is that a good teacher begins by teaching you how to play the instrument, but they also help you learn to play the music, which is a very different thing in my opinion.

    I also want to hit on what someone else said. That the reason and motivation people learn to play now may be very different then in the past, and probably has changed many times over the centuries.

    From the ancient Irish harpers to modern harpists, the role and reasons have changed. Once harp was something that women learned, not to be professional musicians but to simply entertain in the family parlor and because music was simply a part of a well bred young ladies “education”.

    Then as society changed pretty much the only people who learned were those seeking a career with the harp.

    Now there are all sorts of reasons a person may learn the harp, and today we probably have the highest number of people who learn to play just for fun and their own enjoyment, much like how many people who learn the guitar have no intentions of being a professional but just want to be able to sit around with friends and play some music, so now I think many who take up the harp do it with that same mind set.

    Once you start there is no telling where you will go with it, but I do think that a teacher needs to take a students goals into mind when they are teaching them. The approach with someone who fully intends to make the

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #83123

    Elizabeth: That is nothing new. While some of Salzedo’s most prominent students held orchestral or teaching positions, the vast majority went on to freelance in their communities just as people do today. The only difference is perhaps that they adhered to higher standards of performance, regardless of what they were doing. The only thing that is new is the digital media. What is different is that there are currently fewer opportunities to perform as a recitalist or concerto soloist as a career, and far fewer teaching positions at universities and colleges. The only students of Salzedo’s to have careers in the concert field primarily, were Heidi Lehwalder and Florence Wightman as a radio soloist

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #83124

    It is normal to learn the notes of a piece and then put it aside to let it rest a while, but one must come back to it, to fully memorize it, and to refine it and deepen it. Performing music is no different from acting. Each piece is a role we play with its own unique demands of interpretation. The deeper you go into it, the more rewarding it is for you and for the audience.

    I was never impressed by the results of the “learn the notes fast” school of teaching. The performances were shallow and uninformed.

    Learning a piece also requires some research. You have to learn about the composer, the context of the composer’s life and milieu, and the musical style. If there are ornaments, you must research exactly how they are meant to be played, and how they should be played on the harp, because they cannot always be done exactly as they would be on a harpsichord. Dynamics require a different approach when playing harpsichord music. So does rhythm.

    If someone came up to you after hearing you play a piece, you should be able to answer any intelligent question about it.

    And that is why I think competitions should really allow a full two years at the very least to prepare repertoire, especially the pieces that have been commissioned, and preferably three years or more. If Israel would announce repertoire two competitions at a time, one would better be able to prepare and better able to choose which year to enter.

    The fact that the harp sounds beautiful almost no matter what you do is our reward, but it is not an excuse to not work at it.

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