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Question about gestures at the harp

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  • #89873

    I have a new adult student who has played and studied the harp before (though not recently). She is an extremely capable reader of notes and strictly follows all fingerings and other indications in the music. However, she was never taught to ‘raise’ after playing a note, chord, phrase or group of notes. She finds it counter-intuitive and awkward. I can only get her to raise very slightly. This can be a problem, I know, with new harpists who want to stay close to the strings for security. But this is someone who has already been playing for a while and for whom not raising is habitual. Any suggestions or ideas?

    #89874
    Sylvia
    Participant

    I’m sure probably everyone will agree with you except me, so this is the voice from the other side.
    If it works for her, why change?
    I “raise” when practicing slowly and loudly because it definitely helps secure the music and eliminate noise between notes… but I don’t “raise” when I’m playing.
    I’m on her side, but I would encourage her to practice slowly and loudly and “raise” during her practice.

    #89875
    Tacye
    Participant

    I was never taught to raise. Does she come from a different school of harp playing and does she want to change? Does she have a tension problem? Does she find relaxing the hands from the wrist more intuitive and would this be an acceptable gesture for you?

    Is the raise you use definitely after a chord? My gestures are before the next chord – if that makes sense.

    #89876
    Gretchen Cover
    Participant

    I was taught the Salzedo method. Raises are very important using this techinique. It allows the hand to rest and to give you a chance to find the next notes, particularly after playing a chord. It allows the strings to resonate. It prevents tendonitis because you let your hands, shoulders and arms relax.

    Just because your student came to you with what I would consider a bad habit, doesn’t mean it has to persist. I think if you show her the benefit of raising and prove it will improve her playing, she will be less resistant. Have her watch youtube videos of top harpists. They raise their hands when playing.

    #89877
    Gretchen Cover
    Participant

    Sorry, I mean to say raise allow you to find the notes PRIOR to playing a chord.

    #89878
    Sylvia
    Participant

    I was taught Salzedo method, too, and I think it is awkward, creates tension, and looks strange…the body language detracting from the music.
    I don’t play the way I was taught. I believe in relaxed wrists and elbows.

    Each of us has her/his own view of the harp and how it should be played.
    To me, the important thing is what does it sound like? Does it sound clean and beautiful?

    #89879
    carl-swanson
    Participant

    Sylvia- I’m entirely with you on this one. Your first sentence nicely sums up my view of Salzedo method. It takes muscle tension to raise the hands or arms. Relaxing the hands or arms would cause them to drop to your sides. So no, raising does not ‘relax’ the hands or arms. And it gets in the way of any music that you play. Just look at any ADVANCED level Salzedo harpist play. The raising is GONE. The wrists are STRAIGHT. The thumbs are DOWN. And the palms more or less face the floor. Because that’s what works when you are playing difficult repertoire.

    #89880
    Gretchen Cover
    Participant

    Maybe it depends on how your instructor taught the Salzedo method? I was taught by Jeanne Chalifoux who worked directly with him. Anyone, let’s stay on the subject of raising arms. I find my arms and hands relax when I raise. Yes, each person develops his/her own personal style. BTW, in Salzedo, the palms do face the floor. They are supposed to face the sound board. Thumbs should be up but I don’t believe they have to be rigidly up. If you hold your elbows up, your thumb will automatically go up. You do need to have some movement when you play or you really will tighten up. Video tape yourself and I am sure you will see that you raise and move your arms more than you realize. I agree if you get the right sound, whatever works for you is fine at this point in your playing. But this is a student…..

    #89881
    carl-swanson
    Participant

    I’ve said it here before, and I’ll say it again. Salzedo himself DID NOT PLAY WITH SALZEDO METHOD. Several people who either studied with him or knew him very well have told me this. As one of them said to me,”He played the way he was taught.” That means he played with classic French technique.

    #89882

    Perhaps raising is a means to end, but it is not at all necessary to create the intended effect. If your student is advancing at a satisfactory rate and there are no indications of tension or injury, it would be misguided to ask her to change.

    The only exception is if you believe that she will have trouble playing more difficult repertoire down the line, but in that case it might make more sense to change when she actually does run into problems. If she changes then, she will immediately see how alterations in technique can help, whereas trying to change now might not make any sense to her, assuming there is no need to do so.

    #89883
    sarah-quinones
    Participant

    Go on Youtube and search for videos of Alice Giles, Judy Loman and Yolanda Kondonassis, three of the top harpists who use Salzedo technique. They raise. Not a dramatic flinging of hands about the place all the time like some seem to think you must do, but raising and placing in accordance with the music’s phrasing and style. Relatively slow and/or small in quieter phrases, larger and more emphatic in more dramatic sections. The video of the Britten suite performed by Giles has good examples. Catrin Finch raises though her technique seems to be a mix between French and Salzedo, compare that to the videos of David Watkins playing where he hardly raises at all. Again trawling through videos you find performances by harpists who use raising rather flamboyantly right through to people who hardly move. It happens with musicians who play other instruments too. There are pianists and cellists and so on who get into things with their whole body and others who let just their fingers do the work (seemingly). Jacqueline du Pre was noted for her movement. I guess some people find it distracting from the music itself perhaps? I guess it’s what works best for the individual musician really.

    #89884
    Gretchen Cover
    Participant

    Floraleda Sacchi is another good harpist to watch on youtube. Check out her video of Pistache. It is videoed directly in front of the harp rather than a side angle.

    Sarah, you articulated very well about raising and placing in your post above. (Carl, pls. no more comments specifically about Salzedo. That topic has been beaten to death.)

    #89885
    jimmy-h
    Member

    I haven’t seen too many videos of a frontal view, thanks. Pity 2007 was the dark ages of video quality.

    I wish there was a true side by side video comparison and explanation, because as a new student it’s frustrating to not know precisely what the differences are. I know there are more similarities than differences, but two videos playing the same piece at the same angles in the separate methods would do wonders for helping people see the differences and perhaps the value in each. It’s all just too subjective for a newcomer to get. And it’s certainly polarized, probably unnecessarily.

    I think I’ve read each of these style discussion threads and feel no wiser for it.

    #89886

    Great discussion, thank you, everybody, for sharing your thoughts. I was taught the Salzedo method (with much, much emphasis on raising) as a child. In college I studied with a French method teacher, which was great because it opened up worlds of new repertoire. In graduate school I was back to the Salzedo method with, again, much emphasis on the gesture. I would describe my own playing as a bit of a compromise between methods, with a leaning toward Salzedo, though I am not as strict an adherent as some.
    In my student’s case, there is really NO movement in the hands, which I feel is not drawing the optimal sound out of the instrument. I am not looking for a dramatic or huge gesture or any flailing about. I feel it DOES relax the hands to let them gently “breathe” with the music, rather than being held rigidly still.
    Then again, I have worked in orchestras with amazing non-Salzedo harpist colleagues who drop their hands, rather than raising them.
    I obviously wouldn’t try to convert any advanced student who came to me for coaching with a fully formed technique different from my own. This student, however, is still in the beginning stages of study. Habit formation is happening now and is important for later. It sounds like some of you think I should back off this issue slightly for now and focus on other things. (She’s only had 3 lessons with me so far).

    #89887
    jimmy-h
    Member

    People learn a lot from watching, especially watching a teacher. I bet if you were to play it as an example first and remind her to relax her hands, she’d be mimicking you in no time. I imagine it becomes a pain if your both in front of one harp though.

    I know I really appreciate it when my teacher plays something first to show me, then lets me do it. I was resistant to raising and still don’t do it as much as she would probably perfer, but it’s far more than when I started. She doesn’t fuss much, I think because she knows it will come naturally in time.

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