Soliciting Encouragement for young professionals

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    Grace Bauson

    I have several harpist friends who, like me, have graduated from college and are trying to make a living as freelance musicians. We have found that this can be a very isolating and discouraging experience. I personally have met many people who were college music majors but ended up in completely different careers because of the ‘starving musician’ mentality. My harpist friends and I are wondering what is the best path for us.

    Does anyone know of resources or have encouragement for budding freelancers?

    Angela Biggs

    This probably isn’t the kind of thing you’re talking about, but I’m being serious. Come to western NH. Look into Lebanon, West Lebanon, or Hanover. There are NO harpists here. I’m a lever harper, and a string quartet contacted me just a couple of months ago asking me to play pedal harp with them. Frankly, they were rude, and I’m just as glad I can’t oblige, but it was another symptom of the problem. I have a friend who’s playing flute with North Country Opera in a few weeks, and she said they had to leave out the harp part. They do this as a matter of course, because there’s no other option.

    I’ve spent the past year building up an expectation for harps in the area just south of the cities I mentioned. I can give you a couple of email lists to advertise in (very effective around here, because the communities are so small), put you in touch with people who know the regional orchestras, and you might approach the [Upper Valley Music Center]( in Lebanon regarding a teaching gig.

    I’m involved with the [West Claremont Center for Music and the Arts]( in Claremont, NH, 30 minutes south of the area I referred you to above. If you’d like to visit sometime and have a look around, give me some notice and I’ll see what kind of introductions I can manage!

    The quality of life here is very high, and in Claremont especially the cost of living is quite low. When my husband and I moved here (Claremont), we felt like we were on vacation for a full three years; traffic is heavy when there are three cars in front of you at a stop light…. I hope you and your friends will give it some serious thought.


    I encourage you to be the best musician you can be, and if you want to be a full time musician, the truth is that it will probably be a difficult road, so while your non-music major friends will get higher paying jobs, be promoted, and develop careers with more and more responsibility and pay to match, you will probably be playing weddings, casuals and teaching children for the rest of your career (and many people are perfectly ok with that), but that still may not be enough to live a regular life where you can afford a mortgage, health insurance, children, etc… unless you are a truly exceptional harpist and can land an orchestral job, or you have a spouse that has a higher paying career. I highly encourage you to seek a graduate degree in something non-music related if you have interests outside of the harp. When Kathleen Bride (teacher at Eastman) was in California, she told us all that none of her excellent harpists at Eastman were solely music majors; they all were pursuing dual degrees. Here is an interesting article about Juilliard grads and what they are doing now.

    I know you asked for encouragement, but I’m encouraging you to be realistic, start mapping out your life, and make the best decision you can for now. You can always “course correct” as you go.


    Brian had some good advice, above. Marry so that you are not the sole earner in your life with music. Diversify so that you have other skills besides playing or teaching harp. Can you teach other instruments also? Face the reality that free lancing for any musician is very rarely going to enable you to be hired with all the cheaper choices for beautiful music on recordings these days, regardless of your expertise. Take courses once you discover another favorite field you would enjoy spending time in, in which you seem to have a gift. You are unique and part of you is music, but surely there is more: Discover the rest and lead a much more fullfilling life!


    Disclaimer: NOT a professional musician, but I am going on what I’ve seen from the ones I’ve known.

    1) Do not specialize. Be willing to play anything for anyone.
    2) Play for plays, dancers, performance artists, sci-fi fans — anything.
    3) Take a business class; as a freelance musician, you are a self-employed business owner.
    4) NEVER spend more than you must. If you so much as smoke, stop. That adds up to a few hundred bucks a year. Trim your expenses as much as possible.
    5) If you must get away from it for a while to earn reliable money, NEVER STOP PLAYING.
    6) Never compare your career to people with high-earning spouses or monied elder relatives.

    Again, I am not a professional musician. I’ve seen what the ones I know have done, though. This is a business, and they approach it like one.

    Grace Bauson

    I’ve passed on this information to friends and am keeping all of this in mind for myself as well. Thank you everyone for your helpful comments!

    Recently I read this article that suggests an alternative way for artists to fund their goals:

    Gretchen Cover

    Grace, I went to your website and see that you are quite busy. Perhaps you could add to your business by being an accompanist. You may want to contact other musicians/teachers to let them know you are available. If there are recording studios, you could contact the owners. I would also contact the nearby colleges and high schools. There might be some free-lance orchestra work there. Maybe you could work out a contract part-time job with a church to get a steady paycheck. I wish you well in your harp career.


    It is not easy. It helps to have another skill to pay the bills with. Nursing seems like a good option because you can do it free-lance and part-time. Perhaps restaurants are more inclined now to have a harpist, or hotels, nothing like a steady gig. Even a funeral home can be a steady gig. Like any entrepreneurial occupation, it can take a long time to build up your flow of work. Finding an area where you are needed really helps. New Hampshire does sound tempting, and I never would have imagined there was a gap there. Unfortunately, the very information we need to know to make money in music is always the hardest to come by. I believe Harp Column did some kind of a census, sure the results had helpful information. I think being a reliable classical soloist is helpful, but it is also helpful to play alternative musics as well. Know a little about everything. It is hard to build up a classical or pedal harp book and a lever book at the same time, but all the better if you can. There is also way too much material available now to spend money on and wade through to find the good stuff.

    Grace Bauson

    Yes, Gretchen, I have been very fortunate to have wonderful harpists in my area who have referred me for work and have helped me to get started this year. I think my friends have not been as fortunate.
    Even since my first post my outlook is evolving as I have heard from you and other harpists about ideas to diversify and reach other potential employers, have read inspiring articles, and have met self-employed people in varied fields.

    What Saul said seems to be very true, that it takes time (and I for one am not always the most patient!), and the knowledge of how to find work is sometimes hard to come by. Thanks for your suggestions that are remedying the situation!

    Deette Bunn

    If you are willing to relocate, you might have more opportunities. Call various Union Locals and see how many harpists they have in their membership. Call symphony harpists and ask about the opportunities in town. Call colleges and universities with music departments and find out what’s going on. Call the teachers in the teacher directory in the various harp journals and find out what the opportunities are in their areas. Check FB for community orchestras and find out what’s going on in their communities. Get yourself in the newspaper (print or online), donate your time to something that will have local news coverage.


    It can be hard at any age. I know older harpists who are losing work because contractors give a break to the young graduates and try them out, or use them to pay less.

    Bonnie Shaljean

    Unfortunately, the situation Saul refers to happens everywhere. I teach, and get a fair few number of callers who ask if I have “a student” who could do gigs I’d be perfectly happy and able to take on myself. But they don’t say “a harpist”: they specify those still in study or just starting out on their performing life – even if their skills & repertoires are not as developed – because they think they’ll come cheap, or else be thrilled to just play For The Experience. So be sure you don’t undersell yourselves – if you do, you’re letting the whole side down, including other young people.

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