I saw a local community orchestra on tv tonight, and they were using a synthesizer instead of a harp! It sounded awful, wayyy too loud, and with a piano tone. At first I thought it was harp and piano doubling. It was something like a Vaughan Williams piece for strings and harp. It’s hard to believe an established group can’t find a regular harpist.
I’m an oboist in a civic orchestra, and my experience is that it is *very difficult* to find a harpist for this kind of group. I have never played in a group (other than in college) that had a real harpist — it has been synthesizers, all the way.
I would love to play with real harpists. The music, other musicians, and audience deserve a real harpist. HOWEVER, now that I’m studying harp, I can understand why it’s so hard to find a real harpist. The players in these groups are volunteers. If I were skilled enough to be a harpist in a group like this, I would have to weigh heavily the commitment required with the possible benefits.
For me, being able to sit in an orchestra and play the New World or Pictures at an Exhibition or Adams Chairman Dances is what I live for. I recognize what a responsibility it is, and what a privileged life I live that I am allowed to realize these works for other people to hear. There is nothing more moving. But that’s me. If I had to rely on music for my income, the realities of the opportunity cost of not being able to take paid gigs that conflict with my volunteer orchestra gig would weigh heavily. And even if I had a secure income, if I had to figure out how to transport an 80 pound 6 foot tall instrument every week to “experience” the Nutcracker, instead the little briefcase that I have, I am not so sure that I would make the same choice.
I have not personally heard a harp part played on synthesizer as part of a community orchestra before, but I have heard it done that way on Broadway and local musical theatre and I agree, it sounds awful.
I can always tell instantly when they are faking the harp. Some instruments are easier to fool people about using synthesizers, but harp is not one of them.
It’s so sad but what you haven’t said is that it isn’t hard to find harpists who can play but harpists who will do without pay even if they have a different career and many of us would probably not be happy about some harpist who did a full set of rehearsals and performances for a low fee and like the oboist said professional harpists can’t make the committment without the income. A lot of community groups go supposedly professional but still don’t pay or don’t pay enough and a lot of good harpists have union memberships on top of that. We need more harp and less synth. More financial support for music groups.
How do we find them? I have never played in a community orchestra that could convince one to play with them. I know the quality isn’t consistent in these groups, and I’ve played in some that had problems as well as some very fine ones, but every one of them has had to resort to a synthsizer because they couldn’t find a real harpist who would do it. Do you have some tips for how we could start? thx!!
@ Dave Ice
Oh, I meant the other way. There is no way I’m able to play harp even in an easy ensemble. How does an community orchestra go about luring in a harpist? It’s not been my experience that this is an easy thing to do, but it sounds like it’s just a matter of knowing where to look.
sorry.. .I was definitely not clear!
I tell you what, it’s organists that need to be sweating. I played a wedding in a 125-year-old church last Saturday along with the organist. He excitedly explained they had just completely rebuilt the organ with spectacular new digital mechanics and “pipes” (pipe sounds recorded at a famous old organ somewhere and played back on speakers). He said he has no idea sometimes what’s a real pipe and the recording. The musician can play a piece, record it, and have the organ play it back through the organ perfectly. After a church gets enough files on the hard drive, what’s to prevent then from saving a chunk of money and canning the performer? Who would know? I’m glad we play an instrument that cannot be reproduced digitally!
A couple of years ago I learned the dirty secret that when a program, especially for a touring company, says “synthesizer,” it’s often not somebody playing particular parts on a keyboard, but rather a machine with an entire orchestral track digitally recorded onto it, and the player just taps a key to the conductor’s tempo over and over and the whole thing comes out. It could just be a box with a single button, but they make it a keyboard so it looks like an actual instrument.
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