When to say no

Posted In: Performing

  • Participant
    Victoria on #217596

    In light of a recent topic where the author post (what seems to me) ridiculous “harp part”, I am just wondering where do we draw the line when receiving a new composition from an aspiring composer.

    Do we spend hours trying to do the impossible? Do we simplify and hope the composer do not complain? Or do we simply say no, I am not doing this. This is simply not possible on the harp.

    Just love to hear what everybody thinks.

    Gretchen Cover on #217598

    I am all for encouraging new music and especially if the composer uses harp. I don’t think you can speak in general terms, though. Every piece is different; every composer has his/her style. But that said, because I am a freelance harpist, l check out the score and think about what effort I need to put forth before I say “yes.”

    Sylvia on #217711

    I figure if a composer wants his “harp part” played, he will make an effort to learn how a harp is played.
    If they won’t bother, I won’t bother.
    Encouraging ignorance is not helpful.

    Victoria on #217730

    Just an experience I’d like to share. I too have experienced of being given a weird and crazy “harp part” once. I tried to talk to the composer about changing it, and his response was that it was performed before and the harpist did not complain at all. Implying that perhaps it was my lack of skills that compelled me to protest.

    As I know the harpist he meant, I then asked her about it, and she said that she actually changed most of the parts, eliminate a lot of the notes etc and just did not bother to tell the composer about it.

    I guess what I am trying to say is, if we find that a “harp part” has problems, please do say something about it. It will certainly do the next harpist asked to play it, a huge favour. And it will help the composers too..if we did not say anything and simply fix it ourselves, then they will continue to do their crazy stuff.

    evolene_t on #217745

    How about billing the composer for the transcription on the harp? If you frame it as reselling him his music so that he can give it to any other harpist, the composer might be interested.

    Provided, of course, that it doesn’t come from a place where you say “this harp part is ****, it’s insane” but more of a “it’s great that you’re writing something for the harp but it cannot be played as it is. I’m willing to work [X] hours on it and the piece will be reusable”.

    I’m neither a classical harpist nor a composer, but it seems to me that by simplifying things (even when not telling the composer), you’re already working for him and not being valued.

    Elizabeth Volpé Bligh on #217777

    I always inform the composer if the music they have written is impossible, and explain what has to be done to make it work. Usually, they are grateful for the advice (though not always). I can’t count the number of hours I have spent editing terrible harp parts. It would be great to be paid for the work, but I have never heard of anyone actually achieving this.

    David Ice on #225370

    I had a situation once where I was contracted (with an orchestra and a conductor I know well) to play a vanity recording of a work a local composer wrote for Soprano, Harp, and Orchestra. The harp part was impossible.

    I tried right hand alone, then left hand alone. Still didn’t work. Enharmonics didn’t work. I tried splitting it up in sections so I could “punch in” in the recording studio, meaning recording the part in bits and pieces. Still didn’t work. It was just nuts–like 4 pedal changes per beat.

    I went through about 4 versions, and spent about 12 hours. Each time what came back from the composer was…..he put every single *$(@#&% note back in.

    My conductor even counseled him, “you have the change to have a good harpist edit your part so it will be playable in the future with other orchestras.” Nope. He was going to have EVERY SINGLE NOTE.

    I ultimately gave up. I sent a bill, and was paid $20 an hour for my time and rewrites.

    Ultimately they played it on synthesizer, and it had to be programmed, because no keyboard player would tackle it. Another classic case of “It plays just fine on my computer!”

    And the soprano later told me, “He left no room for me to even breathe, and I had to ‘punch in’ all over the place to get the lyrics out.”

    Yes, it was his nickle, but he’ll never get me–or that conductor or orchestra or soprano–to do anything with him again!

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