Standards

Posted In: Young Harpists

  • Participant
    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #166243

    I have a rather difficult question to pose to the younger harpists (under 30). What is your idea of musical standards for the harp? Where do you get them from? What are your measuring posts, if you use any? How do you evaluate what you encounter? Do you compare and contrast? Do you focus on other values?

    I would like to get a sense of how you see things, what you look for, and how you are affected by resources such as YouTube, or downloading. Do you go to concerts very much? Do you seek recordings of older harpists at all? What do you consider older? Does it matter to you how things were played fifty years ago or more?

    My assumption is that things are very different now from my youth, but I am also different, so I am not sure how my assumptions are colored by that. This is not about evaluating you, but is about understanding what you are aware of and think about.

    My website is http://www.harpmusicfest.com, but what I am asking is not directly connected to the festival.

    Participant
    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #166244

    I guess that answers my question.

    Participant
    unknown-user on #166245

    Hi Saul,

    I actually wrote a long response to your question immediately after you posted it, but there was a problem with my internet connection and when I pressed Post, the message was lost. It was late, I believe, so I told myself I’d rewrite it the next day, but I forgot!

    Participant
    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #166246

    Don’t you hate when that happens? I sometimes remember to copy them first in case that will happen.

    To start things off, for me, I think my standards developed in at least two different ways. One was for classical music in general or popular, based on recordings of the great artists of the present and past, and seeing them on television or in concert. When I was young, such dynamos as Horowitz, Rubinstein, Casals, Menuhin were still performing. The connections to 19th century traditions were vivid and strong. People consciously sought those roots, authenticity, and to study in Europe. There was not a lot of tolerance for modern interpretations that were indifferent to tradition. That started to change in the 1970s.

    My standards in terms of harp gradually rose, I would have to say. I was not exposed to any live harp music, only Harpo Marx on film, and I could see the harpist playing in the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, but I could not hear enough of her, just the occasional solos. My first harp recordings were Annie Challan and Nicanor Zabaleta’s five-record set on Everest. I gradually added to that. He was the most active artist. Then Susann McDonald, Lily Laskine, many obscure-to-me European harpists. I could listen to a scratchy copy of a Salzedo lp at the public library, which I did a lot of times. My benchmarks were those folks, but mostly the great pianists and singers, and then I met Miss Lawrence, and found a new horizon of listening to the harp, and a new range of repertoire. Mostly, I have always held harpists to a standard the same as a pianist. But I have always looked for benchmarks and made comparisons and contrasts.

    Today, there are some great musicians. I think most would agree that Claudio Abbado is one of them. Among pianists, I find Howard Shelley to be outstanding. There are some singers who stand out, but I am not up enough on them to know any that could be definitive. The ones often touted as such, are not to me, like Upshaw or Dessay. My favorite performing harpists would include Alice Giles, Judy Loman, Erica Goodman, Gretchen van Hoesen, the Salzedo duo, Sara Cutler, Jennifer Hoult, Grace Wong, Elizabeth Richter, not sure how many others. The best harpists I remember were Lynne Palmer, Heidi Lehwalder and Cynthia Otis. Zabaleta often had fascinating repertoire, but often played too fast and messy

    Participant
    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #166247

    Yes, and I went to concerts as often as possible, especially in New York. The school would often get free tickets. By my last year, no students were going any more, and we stopped getting ticket offers. There was a real cultural change around 1983. That generation, like Alex P. Keaton, seemed to only care about making money, even as musicians. Not art. Many of my generation lived for art, art for art’s sake, a non-commerical attitude. So, attending concerts on a weekly basis would be part of my having, or developing a sense of standards.

    Participant
    alexander-rider on #166248

    I , like you Saul, came relatively late to the harp, starting as I did at 14-going-on 15. Prior to actually playing the harp, I studied singing (pretty seriously) and over all, I was first drawn to early repertoires. My earliest recordings i.e. classical records that I bought for myself, were of harpsichordists. A great English harpsichordist called Sophie Yates (she’s actually pretty young, but with a huge amount of recordings) really influenced my ideas of phrasing and structure with her recordings of German repertoire such as Moffat, Pachelbel and Frohberger.

    Participant
    alexander-rider on #166249

    p.s Youtube is

    Participant
    Philippa mcauliffe on #166250

    I am not young but obviously we are of a similar era.

    Participant
    jessica-wolff on #166251

    YouTube is indeed a valuable resource. Never mind that the performances are presented higgledy-piggledy as they are. Pick a piece you know well and have strong feelings about and track down five or six versions of it. You will learn something from it, at least what the parameters are. As for the YouTube audiences being uncritical, look at the comments below the video. Some of them are very critical, and not always informed. In general, you can tell the amateurs and pros or future pros from each other very easily, even when they present themselves as pros but aren’t.

    Participant
    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #166252

    To me, You Tube is a problem in that there is not much context given. While you may be told where a performance took place, it is up to you to figure out if this is a student or professional or amateur, or phony, and of what degree of accomplishment. That’s not always apparent. Particularly when people post instructional clips, regardless of their ability to instruct or demonstrate. No explanations are required, so how can one really know, except by instinct?

    There are also larger cultural issues. When I was young, I was exposed to a lot of flamenco performers, most of whom were not Spanish Gypsies. In order to become accepted, legitimate performers within the Flamenco community, they had to abandon themselves to it, give up their culture and persona, and absorb the Flamenco culture and develop a new persona within it, and if talented, they found a new voice authentically part of that culture. Japanese people were adept at this, apparently because of characteristics in Japanese culture. Also being an American, but of a different culture, I was aware of the difference. And being an American classical musician, working in European culture with American extensions, I was very aware of the need to be as authentic as possible in terms of national styles in Europe. If one’s standards do not include some sense of cultural authenticity, some absorption ability, then what is worth saying?

    Music is not self-expression, as so many seem to think. And it takes twenty years or more to understand much of it. So, I would like to say, if your standard is that you feel you are expressing yourself, and that you are brilliant enough to think that at the age of 21, you have it all in hand, you need to aim higher. (Higher does not mean a more-famous position, it means a higher level of thinking, consciousness, spirituality.) Or, better yet, assume that you don’t know enough, because, in truth, you never will. There is always so much more to learn. Anyone who is thinking they know what they need to know is misguided, I would say. I know I don’t know enough and never will. The more you know, the less you know, because the more you realize you haven’t yet learned, if you know what I mean. Hard music eventually becomes sort of easy, but simple is always hardest.

    Many players and orchestras are now adept at many international styles, to a degree anyway, but many are not or are not willing or able to adopt a new culture. This results in flavorless performances that focus on physical feats and mental acrobatics, it seems. The internet actually makes stylistic resources much more at hand, and should facilitate styles.

    For instance, this site http://mtcn.free.fr/mtcn-traditional-music-midi-farandole.php

    Participant
    unknown-user on #166253

    Here is what I think of YouTube:

    The value in watching a youtube video probably does not lie in learning technique (except, perhaps, when learning an extended technique) and so instead lies in learning how to be a developed musicians. In that sense, any musical performance should help just as equally. I believe that the danger lies in learning to be too flexible with the music. We’ve all done it – played a piece

    Participant
    Jerusha Amado on #166254
    <<Music is not self-expression, as so many seem to think.>>

    This is true.
    Participant
    Seoid OC on #166255

    It’s an interesting question. To me it sounds like a very classical question, by which I mean along the classical music tradition.

    I did not study in a conservatory or music school and I didn’t start harp until I was 19 or 20 years old (I’m still under 30 now) so am probably not the type of younger harpist your question was aimed at. I was never exposed to any of the people mentioned in posts above and I never saw a pedal harp until I was in my 20s although I had seen and heard Irish harps. I never heard Harpo Marx. Now I still haven’t heard any recordings of any of the people mentioned in posts above.
    I rarely listen to classical music, harp or otherwise.

    Where I get my standards from is a whole range of places. From my teacher and from my exposure to other teachers, students and performers at festivals (and other places), from harpists who play the kind of music that I would like to play and also from non-harpists. That last one may sound strange but I don’t just want to emulate other harpists I want to make my own sound and to affect other people. Music is not defined by being self expression but music is a form of expression. Sometimes it affects the listeners more than the performer but to me I can take inspiration – and even standards – from other musicians who can touch people in a way that technically perfect performers don’t always.
    So I think I evaluate based on musicality rather than musical skill because that’s what I would prioritize.

    I measure myself against what I would like to be. I aim for flexibility in playing – I aim to sight read and learn new music quickly, I aim to affect people emotionally, I aim to play a variety of different genres, I aim to be able to improvise, I aim to be able to improvise accompaniments from chords on the fly, I aim to be better at trad music – and I measure standards for these things against people who can do some of them.
    In particular, I think I get my standards from harpists I have seen perform or met in person rather than ones I have just heard about or seen recordings of, because they are the ones I really come into contact with. Examples that spring to mind are Ray Pool and Park Stickney.
    I go to as many concerts and recitals as I can that I’m aware of and all of them affect me.

    Having said that, I do seek out recordings of all sorts of harpists – I don’t specifically seek out older or contemporary harpists in particular but most of those that I find have been contemporary. It is very difficult to find anything (books, recordings etc) on any harpists here but especially so for older harpists and for classical harpists as opposed to traditional. I don’t know what you mean by asking does it matter how things were played 50 years ago or more? What matters to me is what I play and what I get to hear played, regardless of how old that is. I don’t think I’ve heard (m)any recordings from 50+ years ago. Where would I find them? (haven’t looked but there probably are a few on YouTube, actually. I wouldn’t know what to look for though)

    Not sure if this really answers your question(s) but your post was rather vague anyway 🙂

    Just a thought that you say things are very different now from your youth and that makes me wonder where you’re talking about? The harp world is NOT homogeneous…

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