Spotlight on Harriet Adie

With 19 works listed on Harp Column Music, U.K. harpist Harriet Adie is one of our most prolific arrangers. We asked her to tell us what inspires her…

(See Harriet’s arrangements.)

What kind of things do you like to arrange/compose?

I specialise in music for harp quartet but also love writing for harp with a combination of other instruments—oboe, cello, soprano, choir…

What’s the arrangement/composition you’re most proud of?

It would have to be either my harp quartet piece Elemental (2012) or my piece for soprano and harp Songs of Childhood (2007). Elemental is probably my most accomplished piece in terms of compositional structure, and also the most ambitious (four movements, totaling about 20 minutes). It also has some very programmatic elements (no pun intended) to the music which really tells a story. Songs of Childhood is very different in term of mood, being a suite of six songs set to words by Robert Louis Stevenson. I think it has some incredibly beautiful harmonies and an overall wistful sort of naivety, which really complements the theme of childhood.

What new works have you published recently?

I’m currently working on a series of ensemble pieces for beginner and intermediate players. Much of what I arrange for 4 Girls 4 Harps is very difficult, and I wanted to create some pieces that were more accessible but still retaining the fun and unique elements of what we do within 4G4H.

What arrangements/compositions do you have planned for the near future?

I am about to start arranging Renie’s Legende for 4 Girls 4 Harps as part of a big project that we have for this, our 15th anniversary year. I am also planning to arrange some pieces for harp duet. My main problem is finding the time due to having a baby and a toddler keeping my hands full!

Can you give us some background or details about any of the works you have listed on Harp Column Music?

Most of the pieces I have listed on Harp Column Music are pieces that I have arranged or composed for 4 Girls 4 Harps. The arrangements are all pieces that I enjoy listening to (mostly orchestral), which I wanted to be able to play. I have learnt a lot from the arranging process in terms of how to lay out parts for four harps, which has also benefitted my original compositions. In addition, I have also listed some of my pieces for other combinations of instruments—most things have come about because I was playing with a certain instrument and we wanted things to play in addition to what was already available.

Where do you look for inspiration?

Unless it is a specific commission, I tend to have the ideas for a piece long before I actually write them. This way I have done a lot of thinking about what the piece is about (nothing to do with the actual music, just the concept). I love to connect my pieces to emotions and abstract concepts (I once wrote a solo harp piece about the idea of a glass being half empty or half full). I am definitely inspired by myths and legends and the fragile beauty in things like snowflakes and waterfalls. Once I start to compose a piece then I tend to spend a lot of time faffing at the harp just improvising and then I will suddenly hit on a great harmony/chord/pedal setting and this then sets my imagination off and the piece or section of music will then just flow. It can take a lot of faffing though to get to this point!

Are there any composers/arrangers who particularly inspire you?

Rachmaninov —I could listen to his music all day long. It isn’t ‘intellectual’ music, but is music that works all the emotions and and for me, this means it stays with me in a way that other music just can’t. I also love Ravel, inparticular, his Piano Concerto in G —incredibly beautiful! I also like the Herbie Hancock version of the slow movement —amazing to see what you can do with a different style of music! This brings me on to jazz—there is a definite jazz flavour to a lot of the harmonies in my compositions and I love listening to jazz: the old classics and latin jazz are all such fun!

What’s your most favorite harp work to play?

I hope I won’t get shot down for this, but I am not that into solo harp pieces. I love the harp when it is part of a larger ensemble —maybe I have got so used to the sound of four harps at once that I don’t feel satisfied by just the one?! In terms of other harp pieces, my hands down favourite has to be Grandjany’s Aria in Classic Style. It is so beautiful and makes my heart melt every time I play it —I even had it played at my wedding by good friend Eleanor Turner!

What’s your most favorite harp work to listen to?

Aside from the Grandjany, probably “Bamyan” by Philippe Hersant—it is quite similar to my style of composing so it really appeals to me.

What do you do when you’re not being a musician?

I spend about 80% of my time looking after my son (aged nearly 3) and daughter (10 months). I have to fit everything else (teaching, arranging/composing, performing, admin and managing 4 Girls 4 Harps —notice that practise time no longer exists!) into the remaining 20%.

Give us three interesting facts you think people would like to know about you:

I grew up in the Middle-East (Oman). My first harp had to have strings made of fishing wire as we couldn’t buy any replacements out there!

I can’t stand baked beans —won’t even have them in the house (my children will grow up never knowing what they taste like….)

I love to cook: if I hadn’t become a harpist then I would have become a chef.

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