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Starting the harp as an adult

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  • #142574
    Victoria
    Participant

    So a friend of mine has decided to start the harp and being an adult, she was wondering if it is worth it.

    She has wanted to learn the harp since a young age as she really loved the instrument, but the lack of teachers and other circumstances made it impossible. So now after finishing her university degree, she decided to pursue her dreams, so to speak.

    But being almost 30, she thought it would definitely limit her possibilities…as in she won’t be able to go to a conservatory and be a professional, and her age limits her opportunities to join master classes, camps, and competitions. Also she has found that it’s difficult to get a good teacher as most of the time they don’t see the point of teaching someone who could never be “someone”

    So what are your opinions? I’m just curious…personally I thought it is a pity and think that she should go for it and do the best she can. There would definitely be a lot of obstacles, but you never know.

    #142575
    kay-lister
    Member

    Victoria,

    I started harp when I was 47 years old and I will be 60 in March. It is NEVER too late to start and yes, you can even get an excellent teacher. My instructor was the former principal harpist at the Kennedy Center and she as well as most other professional harpist greatly encourage ANYONE to start at ANY age.

    You will be as good as your ambitions will carry you! I have participated in 2 Master classes (Alice Giles and Yolanda Kondonassis) and yes, I was the oldest to perform. Everyone else was in their late teens/early twenties. Did I care? Heck no! I did well and it was a true privilege to be invited to participate. AND my instructor was there cheering me on the entire time.

    A friend of mine started at 75 and she is now 84 and is a musical therapist playing at 2 hospitals and getting paid for it. SO, tell your friend to GO FOR IT!

    The only limits are the ones that we put on ourselves!

    Kay

    #142576
    Angela Biggs
    Member

    “The point” is whatever she wants to make it. I started as an adult. I now teach workshops in a harp desert, teach students who just want to enjoy it, and occasionally perform. Tell her to go for it. For most people, music isn’t about success, it’s about enrichment. If you love the instrument, time spent with it is tremendously rewarding even if it doesn’t result in accolades.

    If she finds she’s passionate about it, she’ll practice a lot; and if she learns how to practice well and has some basic talent, she can do something with that. The “standard” road of an early start, winning competitions, attending a conservatory, winning an orchestra position, etc. makes one type of life possible. But there are lots of different kinds of lives.

    She won’t know where the harp will lead her until she picks it up and plays. Tell her to go for it!

    #142577
    Sylvia
    Participant

    I agree with the other comments. I started lessons in college. I saw a harp case in the hall in the music building and went and signed up. I had no ambitions…I just knew I needed to play. It is in your heart.

    I bought my first harp while working nights in a nursing home. I had no idea where the harp would lead me, as Angela said. It’s been quite a journey…always an adventure. Anyone who wants to play should play.

    #142595
    Sid Humphreys
    Spectator

    I started at age 27. My first teacher was the wonderful Cindy Horstman. I do consider myself a professional. It can be done!

    #142609
    jimmy-h
    Member

    I started a year ago. It’s a lot of fun. Most guys my age go out and buy a Harley, I bought a harp.

    Depending on where you live, access to teachers can be a trial. I drive 2 hours (each way) once a week for lessons. I contacted several teachers and one did state they don’t teach adults, most didn’t respond back. Be persistent, teachers are busy. I’m quite happy with my teacher but the drive does take some serious dedication, and gas money. We occasionally do a Skype lesson, but I now see great value with in person lessons.

    I had minimal experience with playing music before and I imagine it takes time for your brain to rewire itself, but I think that’s a matter of learning at any age.

    It all depends on how bad your friend wants it. I’m glad I started and wish I didn’t wait so long (but had reasons for waiting).

    I’d also like to know how some harpists get hospitals to pay them to play, I’m a nurse and one day that would be a nice side job.

    #142625

    to jimmy-h above: Get in touch with James Pinkerton at http://www.greatharp.com. He is still a professional harpist but took nursing training and does that more often now, rather than only harp, in Texas. He might have good ideas for your situation.

    #142642
    jimmy-h
    Member

    Thanks! I’m not at a level where I can do it yet, but I’d like to know how others have approached hospitals about a paid gig. I know about the music therapy programs, and figured I would start there eventually partly for the credentials. There just seem to be competing credentials and bedside music isn’t my primary goal. It would be nice to play in the lobbies and on some of the units one day.

    #142675
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    Hi there,

    I learned as an adult student. I started at 40 and I have been playing for five years. I’m in my sixth year. I am very fortunate to have found a teacher, who teaches adults, and also teaches in a conservatory. Her name is Beatriz Martin-Ruiz. Where does your friend live?

    I did start off with a video, just to get acquainted with the instrument. Would she consider that first, just to get an idea? I used Silvia Wood’s Teach Yourself the Harp. Also, Silvia offers Skype Lessons (www.harpcenter.com/category/skype-lessons-sylvia-woods). Although, I have never taken them with her, it’s an alternative. Please keep in touch with us, let us know what she decides. She has our full encouragement, if it is ok that I include everyone here.

    All the best
    Liz

    #142918

    I started at 65 and am now 77. I play a regular restaurant gig and lots of other events. It helped that I already played piano and could read music. Encourage this person!!!!!

    #144256
    Victoria
    Participant

    Thanks for all the advice everyone, and my friend would also like to extend her gratitude for all the encouragement. For anyone interested, she has decided to give it a go 🙂

    But as she has anticipated, it is quite hard to find a willing teacher. She has contacted several harpists and as far as I know is still waiting for a positive reply. She has asked me if I was willing to teach her to start with, yet I’m not quite sure since I am still studying myself. But if she couldn’t find a teacher I guess I could give it a go.

    #144362
    lambdapro
    Participant

    I am 62 and just started a couple of weeks ago. Am enjoying the sounds and the challenges in playing. Have played Cello a bit recently, so bass clef was easy. Used to play oboe in high school, so treble was okay too.
    My biggest problem is rhythm.
    David

    #144370

    David, above: there is a free site: musictheory.net that explains music rhythm very well. Try it and choose many sections in it, all at your own pace. Try it; you may like it!

    #222421
    ivory
    Participant

    I’m almost 61 and have been taking harp lesson for almost two years and it has been a joy! I have played piano for years and years so my musical background was definitely an advantage. Now that I’m retired I have lots of time to spend practicing. So excited to be purchasing my first pedal harp! I encourage anyone who loves it to pursue it….. even if just for the beautiful music it can make.

    #222425
    Biagio
    Participant

    Victoria,

    A brilliant teacher of my acquaintance was once asked by her student, “When Will I know I am ready to teach?” Her answer was “You are ready when some one asks you. You may yourself be only at an early stage, but you can have a lot of fun learning together!”

    It has always puzzled me that there seems to be an aura around the harp in some circles, viz. the notion that one must start as a child with ambitions to becoming a professional in an orchestra. That is as misguided as the idea that one must be capable of competing in Le Mans in order to drive a car.

    It is true that one will benefit from a teacher’s guidance until technique has been understood, and learning basic music theory is essential. And of course if the dream of playing harp is motivated by the wish to achieve the level of, let us say a Frank Voltz, Sunita Stanislaw, or Yolanda Kondonassis it will be a long road. Some may also be intimidated by thinking that they must shell out $15,000 or more for a pedal instrument.

    Whoa, hold on a minute! Let’s remember that the harp is probably the most ancient of all stringed instruments, people in virtually all cultures were playing it in one form or another for thousands of years before Sebastein Erard or Carlos Salzedo came on the scene. Let’s address the issues that prospective beginners often encounter:

    Teachers – some now give lessons via Skype or similar via internet, and there are many excellent DVDs and books available if no teachers live nearby.

    Conferences etc – at least two excellent players have started to offer on-line conferences; there are several internet forums – besides the Harp Column the Harplist, Virtual Harp Circle, The Wire Harp Group if one is so inclined, not to mention a number of societies.

    Expense – One can buy an excellent lever harp for anything from $2,000 to $6,000.

    Age – as many here have mentioned they began at a more advanced age than your friend. Progress is only limited by willingness to practice.

    Personally I think that the harp is one of the easiest instruments to learn – there is nothing between you and the music except the strings. No bows, no picks, no white and black keys, just the harp and your hands.

    I began some 10+ years ago around age 55 by making them, first on a whim, and then became fascinated enough to learn to play. I will never be a professional and do not want to be, but the harp brings me endless joy. There is always more to learn.

    A few suggestions, then for your friend:

    First and foremost do the research – different kinds of harps besides the pedal instrument – single and double strung, cross strung, wire strung and so on just to see how many varieties exist.

    It would probably be best to start with a good economical single such as the Dusty Strings Ravenna, Camac Hermine, Boulding Olladion, or Musicmakers Jolie or Voyageur.

    Avoid poorly made instruments – if the harp is cheap it is probably poorly made and nothing is so discouraging as trying to learn on a bad instrument. Stick with established harp makers.

    Second, look into on-line teachers and join societies the Harplist, Virtual Harp Circle, International Society of Harpers and Craftsmen, American Harp Society. Ask lots of questions, members will be delighted to help.

    Finally, check out what is offered on Youtube for inspiration; one of my favorites is History of the Harp by Catrin Finch.

    Best wishes,
    Biagio

    • This reply was modified 3 years ago by Biagio.
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