orchestration class

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    I have been asked to teach the harp portion of an orchestration class for a university class. I would like to include some kind of glissando chart in the handouts. I can explain about the basics of glisses and different options, but it would be nice to have some sort of reference for them. I am sure it is out there somewhere…


    There is a glissando chart available at Vanderbilt Music.

    This one is invaluable. The PDF version you can print yourself, or buy the hard copy which is lamented.


    Perfect! Thank you!


    I was just reading John Marson’s obituary and noticed that, in his thorough and idiosyncratic way, he analysed all 2187 pedal settings (that’s 3 to the power 7) and it’s entitled The Complete Guide to Harp Glissandi, so perhaps I will search that online next….! and the conclusion is that it was published in 1966 by Lyra.
    I doubt they are all useful, but I guess there are some interesting sounds !


    Erin, maybe you could give the students some examples of compositions that use glisses and tell how they are used….like Respighi Pines of Rome, Debussy Nocturnes…and how the pedal patterns would be written.

    I know you asked about glissandos, but this thread made me think about what I would want to say. I once saw a harpist give a demonstration to an orchestration class. Rather than give helpful info about the harp, she just demonstrated special effects… harmonics, pres de la table, tapping on the soundboard, pedal glisses (like in Salzedo stuff)..not even info on how the pedals work or anything useful to a composer. I wondered why she did that because special effects are fine for solo pieces, but they probably won’t come thru in orchestra, and harmonics usually have to be doubled an octave higher to be heard.

    How does a key change affect the harp? Suppose the orchestra goes from E major to E flat the next measure? It should be clear to a composer that transitions involving a lot of pedal changes won’t happen suddenly, and enharmonics must be used at times. Sight reading anyone?

    I would hope the students would be given tips on what’s effective and playable so the harp in their compositions would be welcome…like nice arpeggios and chords, and no chromatic scales or series of chords with each having two or three pedal changes required. Repeated notes are great for the flutes or fiddles, but when you have to keep coming back to a string that’s vibrating, that’s a whole other thing, especially at a fast tempo. Also, I hate to see contrary motion in the hands…or right hand way high while the left is way low on the strings. The more playable a part is, the more likely a harpist will play it and want to play it…and it won’t be given to a keyboard.

    Spacing in chords is important because lower chords sound muddy if the notes are too close together. What about reaches …chords or arpeggios that are spread out with an octave between 4 and 3, for example, and the fact that the pinkie does not exist for us.

    And what about tempo and dynamics? A piano can stay loud at fast tempos because they can really bang on it, but the harp has to play it with only the finger touching the string to make it vibrate (not like the piano that has those hammers) and go to the next thing, so the volume won’t be there as it would at a slower tempo. High volume in the upper register will be harder to get (the little strings) than lower down.

    Where are good places in the composition for the harp to play? When the brass is blasting away, or quieter sections of the composition? (it blends with brass) Seems like a no brainer, but composers do put it there, which is fine for the texture, but let’s hope they don’t actually expect it to be heard.

    Speaking of texture, will the harp be providing texture or be part of the accompaniment for a melody, or what? What is the purpose that the composer is using the harp where it appears in the composition? Emphasis? Sometimes in Puccini, a single chord just punctuates a phrase, and it’s very effective.

    Sorry, I’ve just gone on and on.


    Alison, I have that Marson book on glissandi, and highly recommend it, for any pedal harp player of intermediate, or higher level. A scholarly work, 73 pages replete with diagrams, pedal graphs, and thoughtful analyses, it will give a reader much greater insight and command over any glissando. Careful study little by little, at your harp with this book on your music stand, will provide a much deeper understanding so that eventually you may absorb so much of it that it can return to your shelf of reference material and on the spot you can execute any kind of glissando on double action harps, and several even on single action harps.


    Natalie, I’m sure that in your comment above, you meant LAMINATED, not Lamented. It made me smile however, because of the context in which it was used:-).


    You’d likely need permission to provide a copyrighted glissando chart as a handout. Instead you might create a couple examples of your own. They should get the idea from one or two examples, and can always get their own chart later if they really need one.


    Yes, and along those lines, how much time should be allowed for pedal changes, particularly between chordal glissandi, as you have to muffle as well as change pedals. Composers often want to know that.

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