Started playing harp at 19… can I go somewhere with it?

Posted In: Young Harpists

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    Anonymous on #165916

    I don’t know if I qualify as a ‘young harpist’ since I’m not like 12 or 16. But I still feel pretty young, so I figured this would be as good a place as any to post!

    Forgive me while I ramble about my life thus far… if you want to skip to my question, feel free, it’s at the end. =]

    I’ve always wanted to play a harp ever since I was a little kid. My mom always tells this story about when I was like 3 or 4 (I don’t remember it really, ha ha): once, when we were shopping in the mall, she turned around and I was gone suddenly, and when she found me I was sitting by a harpist just watching. So maybe that’s what sparked my interest. Anyway, I asked my parents a few times in middle school and high school if I could start learning harp, and the answer was usually that it was too expensive. I think, during my senior year of high school, when I asked, they told me that if I could find a harp to rent, they’d let me start lessons. But school/life got really busy, and kind of forgot about it again. And fast-forward to college, my parents bought me a Harpsicle harp for Christmas of my freshman year when I was 18, and I had a lot of fun just playing around with it. I consider myself as having begun to play the harp in my sophomore year of college (September 2010), though, because that’s when I began taking lessons. I’ve been taking lessons for just under a year now, and I just moved up to a bigger harp (Troubadour III), finally! That little Harpsicle wasn’t really letting me grow much. I’m 20 now (turning 21 in a few months), and just beginning my junior year of college. But it’s technically my senior really, since I’m graduating this year (woohoo for graduating in 3 years and saving lots of money!), with a BA in Communication Sciences and Disorders (aka speech therapy).

    Right now, my plans for the next few years are to graduate in June (2012). I want to travel to Japan to teach English for a year (hopefully through the JET program). And then I’ll come back to the states, and go to grad school to become a speech-language pathologist. At least, that was my plan before I fell in love with the harp (as I knew I would). I think it’s too late to change my major to music, though, since I only have one more year to go until I’ll have my degree. And I think speech therapy will be a great career with good job security.

    Time seems to disappear when I’m practicing the harp, though, and that doesn’t happen with too many things for me (sometimes I’ll get lost in a good book, ha ha). So I would like to go somewhere in life with the harp. My question – should I change majors? Probably not, but if you think so, feel free to suggest that as an option. Also – I have no aspirations of playing harp in an orchestra or anything, but what are some steps that I can take, besides continuing lessons and practicing, to go somewhere in life with playing the harp? I could always just play for myself and a few friends, but I feel like it’d be more motivating and rewarding if it was a bigger part of my life.

    Sid Humphreys on #165917

    What a great story! Of course you don’t have to change your major. I didn’t start harp until I was 27. Today I play principle harp for a community orchestra as well as a church orchestra. The original plan was just to play for myself at home, never to gig or play with a group, but things change so don’t rule out orchestra playing! You can still gig without being a music major. If you want to audition for a symphony, that is a different story where a degree in harp will help but it will not make or break you. What matters is your technique and skill.

    sherry-lenox on #165918

    Wow- in a parallel universe, many many years ago, I was you! Have you given the academic field of music therapy a look? If not, acquaint yourself with it. It is a fascinating co-therapy with communication therapy.

    I have a BA in music ed. And my MA in speech therapy, and spent most of my professional life as a public school speech therapist.

    I’ve only been playing the harp for a little over four years, but I love it more all the time. I take lessons with a wonderful teacher, and I’ve recently discovered, to my own great surprise, that I dearly love Irish harp.

    There are SO many things to do to using the harp. This is a great place to do your informal research, and the deeper into this you get, the more fun you will have.

    If you continue as an SLP, I promise you that a harp can be an incredible tool as you work with your clientele. There is something unique about the tone of a harp that allows you to reach people that you could reach n no other way.

    There is also the field of bedside musician, an area that is still very young, in which many harpists participate. There is a small but growing body of research available, although most of the pragmatic, double blind research using live music to elicit specific therapeutic responses is still in the area of music therapy per se.

    So START DIGGING! You’re in for some great surprises! Harps are great, speech therapy is great, music therapy is great, bedside music is great, and a mix of the whole bunch is both doable and beneficial!

    unknown-user on #165919

    I’ve been playing harp since I was 11, and I always couldn’t help comparing myself professionals who started playing at 3. I’m just learning now at age 17 that years aren’t important but practice is. I’ve looked into majoring in music and it’s a difficult path to take, but many harpists don’t major in music. It’s such a specialized instrument that a music degree isn’t needed.

    Have you considered music therapy? There are courses directed towards that, and considering you mentioned that you’ve taken classes for speech therapy it would probably be right up your alley. The harp is a healing instrument and it soothes and relaxes a lot of people. I’d look into music therapy books for the harp, or see if your college has a course on it. I personally only played once for a church friend of my family, who was in the hospital. My Uncle read Psalms from the Bible while I played and our friend was very happy. Nothing brings peace quite like a harp, so consider taken a crash course on music therapy. It’s less uptight than orchestral work and it’s very rewarding! Good luck on learning! 🙂

    steven-todd-miller on #165920

    Ben, no doubt very soon you’ll be asked to perform at a wedding and you’ll be hooked. I am approaching 30 years of playing for weddings and still love every single one I play. I’m even performing for my first grand-bride next weekend! Keep learning/practicing/playing- the rewards are immeasurable.

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #165921

    If you want to become a good professional harpist, then you need to change plans and spend the next year studying intensively with a strong teacher, then entering a music program after a couple of years of preparation. Many people have done this, but it only works in the right circumstances, and with lots of intensive practice, until you are 30.

    Kate Miller on #165922

    Sounds like you have a real passion :-) and thats pretty much exactly what you need, you don’t need to be a pro to “reap the rewards” of your efforts and the enjoyment just comes naturally. Thats why we do it I guess ! Seriously look into music therapy though, sounds like a winner.

    Jessica A on #165923

    Interesting how Ben was inspired to play.

    J P on #165924

    I think what you want to do with the harp dictates what path you choose. I’m sorry but I completely disagree with the person that said most harp players don’t major in it- the harp by nature is a very specialized instrument and as such always always always has a slew of degreed professionals. It is silly to switch so late in the game to a different field but there’s nothing stopping you from finding a teacher and beginning lessons etc to improve upon your playing. There’s also nothing wrong with having a day job and taking the occasional gig as long as you don’t undercut the area professionals 🙂 If you decide you want to teach harp, then at that point I would strongly consider getting a BM in music. The breadth of knowledge that you receive from a BM is crucial if you decide to teach. Just my two cents. Enjoy the harp!!


    Jerusha Amado on #165925


    There are always exceptions to every rule, but this is great advice, JP.


    J P on #165926

    Hey jer!
    Of course there are exceptions to every rule but I still firmly believe if you label yourself a professional musician and start accepting students etc that you should at the very least have *a* musical degree- not necessarily in harp but a music degree period. It’s not just a piece of paper although some will argue to a point of fervor that it’s not needed but it’s more than that, it’s the experience and the all encompassing knowledge you receive for theory, and music history. That way you truly are a music professional, you are well rounded and versed in all things musical. Someone that simply takes lessons and achieves a high level of technicality can indeed give lessons and probably do ok but there’s so much more to teaching harp or any instrument for that matter than notes and technique. It’s history and theory and everything else that goes with it, musicianship, arranging the list goes on!

    -Do you need a degree to play for your own enjoyment? of course not!
    -Do you need a degree to play in a Symphony? of course not, but the list of people playing in a professional Symphony not majoring in music is low, they are the exception not the rule.
    -Do you need a degree to play for weddings/other gigs? Of course not but at the very least study with a well respected harpist for at least 4 years and charge what the professional charge.
    -Do you need a degree to teach harp privately? Of course not, but if you do not have a degree in music you are doing a big disservice to yourself and any students you accept.
    -Do you need a degree to teach harp at the University level? Multiple

    Just my two cents. Getting ready for winter Jer?


    David Ice on #165927

    My own journey mirrors Sid’s.

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