Orchestra Blues

Posted In: Performing

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    Hannah Warren on #185236

    I recently joined a university orchestra for students who are interested in music but aren’t necessarily a part of the School of Music, so it’s relatively low-key but still sounds really nice. I officially joined at the beginning of this month, but they knew that I would become a part of the orchestra back in December (they’ve never had a harpist before so they were excited that they would finally have access to one).

    The only problem is that all of the music we’ve been getting doesn’t have a harp part. The only thing I play so far (out of three pieces to date) is the few measures of bass notes in Pines of Rome (we’re just doing IV).

    Should I ask for more parts even though I’m brand new, or should I wait until I’m a more seasoned member to make suggestions? The lack of harp parts may be because of their (the president and conductor) inexperience with the harp, but I feel like they knew I was coming and had enough time to find pieces that required a harp as well. Case in point, in December they performed selections from the Nutcracker among other things, and had to omit a section with a harp solo because they didn’t have a harp, so it’s not out of lack of repertoire available. Has anyone else been with an orchestra where they felt under-utilized? What did you do to rectify the issue?

    Alyson Webber on #185238

    I played horn throughout college with the orchestra. We had a very good harpist available to us, and I felt that maybe 10-20% of pieces we played (standard orchestra fare) required harp. At some point we would schedule our rehearsals so we would always practice pieces with harp first so that she could pack up and go about the rest of her life. It was my impression then that in a cross-section of all orchestral music, very little actually has a harp part. Of course, I could be totally wrong, and I only played with an orchestra for 4 years. Others here will have more experience. Perhaps,though, asking to have at least one piece in every concert with a harp part is reasonable, but I don’t think you can expect to participate in everything. And don’t worry, now that they have a harp, I’m sure they will perform more Nutcracker next Christmas!

    Sylvia on #185240

    I’m wondering if the conductor is a university student himself. The harp parts are in the Romantic Era repertoire, which is harder to conduct (I’ve heard) than other stuff. Maybe it’s the conductor’s lack of experience, or as you said, lack of knowledge about what has harp.
    I would make it clear to him (without being pushy) that I’d love to play more, and he might ask you what has harp…so you could be ready with suggestions.

    patricia-jaeger on #185241

    Hannah, many conductors, young or seasoned, do not know about the very helpful book, spiral bound and 74 pages, that we harpists and teachers of harp, know is THE book to buy (Under $20.) for the perfect gateway that a conductor, harp student or their parent to have. On Alfred Publishing, look for: A Harp in the School (A Guide for school ensemble directors and Harpists), edited by Chelsey Bowles, PhD. If you own it and like it, write your name on it and offer to lend it for a week or two to that conductor, in hopes that he/she would be interested enough in its content to invest in that book. This is not being pushy, just helpful so that this leader of your orchestra will see what a wonderful resource this recent publication is to find repertoire that includes harp in ensembles and a myriad of other very well researched items. Eight very experienced harp teachers contributed to this excellent publication.

    Hannah Warren on #185242

    Alyson – I might start doing that. It doesn’t make sense for me to stay at rehearsal for hours on end if I’m not doing anything. They’re trying to get me to do percussion as well so I have something to do, but I don’t really want to have to cross the stage every other song to practice and when we perform.

    Sylvia – Yes, he’s a master student. We mostly play pop stuff (it’s technically a pop orchestra), but there’s still some wonderful scores with harp I’m going to suggest (like “Harry and Hermione” from Half-Blood Prince) once I have the chance.

    Patricia – I’ve never heard of it before, so I’ll have to look for it. It would probably help my non-musical parents understand the harp as well.

    Hannah Warren on #185243

    Here’s the final list for this season’s performance. Does anyone know if there’s a harp part for these?

    Lion King
    Little Mermaid
    Wizard of Oz
    Batman [The Dark Knight Rises medley] (no harp part)
    Pines of Rome (minimal harp part)
    Spiderman (no harp part)

    Tacye on #185251

    Playing in less than half the music is par for the course, but it is reasonable to expect and demand that you are told which bits of rehearsals you are needed in.

    Star Wars might suit that orchestra (you will need gliss picks!).

    paul-knoke on #185264

    I don’t think I would classify the harp part to “Pines of Rome” as “minimal”, unless you’re doing an arrangement or just excerpts. The harp part in the original has some tricky spots, and you’ll probably want gliss picks for it.

    As far as the others go, I’m assuming the orchestra is playing arrangements/medleys. These arrangements often come with a piano part in the set. You could talk to the conductor about making up a harp part based on the piano part.

    erin-wood on #185481

    I would think the Disney stuff would have harp. johns williams stuff always has nice harp parts. I would think if they do mostly pop that you would have plenty of stuff, even if it is just glissandos!

    Anita Jaynes on #185595

    Write your own parts! The conductor might have a piano reduction you could use. It’s easy to add glisses. You could listen to the recordings to see where the quiet passages are, then add rolled chords or arpeggios. Sometimes you can double a part for glockenspiel or vibes. You can take liberties with pop repertoire! Have fun!

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #185707

    If they are doing any classical symphonies, you can play continuo, and discreetly double other instruments, particularly horn and timpani, I should think.

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