Meet Jodi Ann Tolman, author of 18 (and counting!) inspirational arrangements and original compositions. The challenges in Jodi’s life, along with her faith, have helped shape her approach to the harp. We asked her to tell us more.
Tell us about your music:
When I write original compositions, I like to write songs that are reflective and relaxing. I want listeners, and harpists, to be touched emotionally by the music and able to be transported away from their worries and stress. I write my music to be accessible for late-beginner to intermediate harpists. I believe that music doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated to sound full and beautiful.
What’s the work you’re most proud of?:
One arrangement I’m proud of is “Down by the Salley Gardens.” I just love the way it sounds, particularly the descending baseline in the second verse and the ornamentation in the melody.
I’m also really happy with my original composition “Here With You.” It’s only the second composition for harp I’ve written and it brings me a lot of joy to play. I love hearing from other harpists who tell me how it has touched their hearts. “Here With You” was inspired by and dedicated to my oldest daughter, Annie. She was born with Aicardi Syndrome and is mentally and physically limited in her abilities, depending on us for all her daily care. Doctors didn’t expect her to live past the age of 2, but she is now almost 17. “Here With You” conveys the love that I have for her and the joy that she brings to my life, but the song, like our lives, also has moments of uncertainty or sadness. This song is a reflective piece, and its title originated from my gratitude for each day we get with our daughter.
What arrangements/compositions do you have planned for the near future?
I am currently working on an arrangement of “I Need Thee Every Hour” which I hope to have finished soon. I just need to tie up some final details with it, so I hope to release it soon. It’s been a while since I arranged a hymn, so it’s been fun to work on this one. I’m sure I’ll have more hymns coming soon too.
I also have plans for an arrangement of “Greensleeves” as well as a new original composition, which will be for my youngest daughter, Lexie. She loves falling asleep to me playing my harp and often asks me to play for her at bedtime. I’ve also learned that if I start playing my harp near her bedtime, it motivates her to get ready for bed faster so she can fall asleep to my playing! So I will probably title that original composition “Sweetest Dreams.”
Tell us more about some of the works you have listed on Harp Column Music:
My arrangement of the Welsh lullaby “All Through the Night” is lovingly dedicated to a precious girl named Macey Elizabeth Paup. Her family are wonderful friends of ours as we’ve helped each other through our daughters’ challenges dealing with Aicardi Syndrome. At 14 years old, Macey peacefully passed away at home surrounded by her family. I wrote this lullaby arrangement to help bring peace to her and her family during Macey’s final days. Both the words and the melody of this song are beautiful and have touched my heart.
“Always Forever” is my first original composition for harp. I titled this song, “Always Forever” because my husband and I often sign our notes to each other, “I love you, always forever.” This song is dedicated to my husband because he has always been so supportive of my harp dreams. In 2014, when I told him that I wanted to learn how to play the harp, he didn’t hesitate, and helped me find the best teacher. And when I wanted to buy my own harp, he didn’t bat an eye at the price or question my decision. He encourages me to play and write, and even bargains with me that he’ll do the dinner dishes if I’ll go play my harp for him.
“Peace in Christ” is my arrangement of the 2018 theme song for the youth program in the church I attend, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Because it’s such a beautiful song, my husband suggested I write an arrangement of it for the harp. However, I knew a harp solo wouldn’t do the song justice, considering that the power and peace of the song were in the words. My daughter Molly, 13 at the time, needed to record a vocal solo for a project in her school’s choir class. We decided that it would be perfect for her to sing this song with me on the harp. It was fun to work with her, and I’m still grateful she let me post her singing on my YouTube channel!
The idea for my “Away in a Manger and Silent Night Medley” popped into my head one morning as I was getting ready for the day. The thought to add a little “Silent Night” refrain in between the phrases of “Away in a Manger” stuck in my head that morning and I knew I had to get it written down. Less than two hours later, I was finished with the arrangement. Today it is still my favorite Christmas song to play.
My harp and flute/violin duet arrangement of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is based on a piano solo arrangement of mine, the very first arrangement I ever wrote. This is the song that launched me into the world of arranging, several years before I ever thought about playing the harp. This hymn is one of my husband’s favorites, and after he had listened to it one day, he told me that I should find sheet music so I could play it on the piano for him. I searched for an arrangement that I liked, but none satisfied me. I decided that I could probably figure out the melody and chords and come up with something on my own. I was surprised at how much I liked the end result, so I started writing other hymn arrangements for the piano. Several years later when I started arranging for the harp, I knew I wanted to translate this piano arrangement to the harp. I also needed a piece that I could perform in church with my friend who plays flute. So this duet was born and it remains one of my favorites.
Where do you look for inspiration?
My testimony of Jesus Christ inspires the hymns that I arrange. I always try to convey a reflective feeling of reverence and peace through those songs. My family gives me inspiration for some of my songs as well. The love we have, the trials we share, the grief we’ve felt, and the support we give each other, all help contribute to the songs I write, particularly my original compositions. I like to feel as if I’m putting my heart on the page and into my harp strings. Notes don’t become music until emotion is added.
Are there any composers/arrangers who particularly inspire you?
I heard Brook Boddie’s “Upon the Willows” shortly after deciding that I wanted to play the harp. I was looking online for sound samples of the harp I was considering purchasing (a Thormahlen Serenade) when I came across Brook’s recording of this piece on YouTube. I fell in love with the song, and the Thormahlen harp he played. I bought the Thormahlen Serenade and vowed to learn “Upon the Willows.” Exactly one year after I started playing the harp, I was able to perform Brook’s song at my very first harp recital. It will always be one of my favorites and one that I look to for inspiration in my own writing. I love Brook’s style and how his songs are simple but sound full and beautiful and convey a feeling of quiet reflection. Similarly, I also enjoy the soothing styles of Rhett Barnwell and Frank Voltz.
What’s your most favorite harp work to play?
It’s so hard to pick just one song that I love to play! I enjoy playing Rhett Barnwell’s “Lullaby.” I love the simple and beautiful melody and how the piece grows with big arpeggios. From my own works, I love playing “Down by the Salley Gardens” with its beautiful ornamentations, and “Here With You” because it is so relaxing and calming. My absolute favorite Christmas song to play is my “Away in a Manger and Silent Night Medley” that I arranged. I love hearing the small refrains from “Silent Night” peek through the melody of “Away in a Manger” in the third verse.
What’s your most favorite harp work to listen to?:
It’s hard to pick my favorite harp song to listen to, but I do enjoy “La Source” by Alphonse Hasselmans. I love the simple melody over the waterfall of descending arpeggios. Another song I enjoy hearing on the harp is Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.” I love that a song written for a grand organ can still translate so beautifully to the harp.
What other music do you enjoy listening to?
I listen to pop and classical music the most. My husband teases me that he always knows when I’ve been driving his car because the radio will be set to the classical station. I also really like songs from musicals, everything from Broadway to Disney.
What do you do when you’re not being a musician?
I am a wife and mother, and spend a lot of time with my family. I’m often with my special-needs daughter at her frequent doctor appointments, or tending to her needs at home. I keep pretty busy teaching my other two daughters piano lessons, helping with homework, and keeping up with all their various activities including band and show choir rehearsals, competitions, and concerts. I also serve as the President of the Young Women’s organization at our church, which means I oversee all the teenage girls ages 11–18. We meet together for gospel lessons on Sundays and have weekly activities as well. I love traveling and especially enjoy camping with my family in our little pop-up trailer. I also love to read and have fun getting together with friends in a book group that I manage. I love the mountains, daisies, sunshine, summer, ice cream, sugar cookies, math, and playing games with my family.
Lightning round! Give three interesting facts you think people would like to know about you:
- I grew up playing several instruments including piano, organ, clarinet, bass clarinet and percussion. I was definitely a band geek and even served as Band President!
- I graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in Math Education.
- My hands are always cold!