Thoughts on Route to the 2011 World Harp Congress
As I sit on an airplane bringing me closer to the 2011 World Harp Congress, I growing increasingly excited about the prospect of being surrounded by 700 harpists from around the world gathered for the sole purpose of celebrating their most prized instrument--the harp. When describing the conference to a non-harpist, the response was "I didn't know there were 700 harpists in the world." The mystic of our instrument continues!
As I approach my destination, there are many things to anticipate. I look forward to seeing Vancouver for the first time, a city that is uniformly raved about by all who have been there. I know there will be harpists from all over the world. This uniquely international flavor will add an important dimension to the conference. The aggregation of talented harpists, harp makers, composers and performers creates an excitement that is palpable. Many have waited a long time for this conference, and have worked hard to make it a reality. It is truly a unique opportunity, and amazingly enough, I will be one of the panelists talking about composing for the harp.
I share the panel with great names in the harp world and feel honored to sit among them. I have spent a lot of time thinking about my presentation. What should I offer this eclectic group of harpists who aspire to be, and have perhaps already become composers of harp music? Although the focus of my talk will be some practical suggestions regarding the workflow of composing for harp, I do have a hidden agenda, and that is one of inspiration.
My main objective is to empower these harpists to believe that they can make a significant contribution to the harp repertoire. Many harp pieces are adaptions of existing works originally written for other instruments. Then there is another category of music specifically written for harp, often requiring great skill and experience to write and perform. The harp is seen as an esoteric instrument, designed for a highly specialized group of musicians.
Although the harp is a challenging instrument, regardless of how simple a piece may be,if it is played with feeling, if the melody is lovely, the results will be deeply appreciated. The sound of the harp is so inherently beautiful that it does not require embellishment to be compelling.
Given this fact, when I learned to play the harp 10 years ago, I set out on a quest to create music that was not too difficult to play, but that sounded appealing and engaging. My original goal was to write primarily for the beginning to intermediate harpist. And yet, to my amazement, my music is played by professionals in all kinds of settings. I have come to realize that even the professional harpist needs some music in his or her repertoire that does not require a steep learning curve, that can be played easily and freely. Perhaps their performances will be intermingled with more difficult and intricate pieces, but the need for accessible harp music continues.
Thanks to Facebook, email, and technology in general, I have heard from harpists all over the world--harpists who play for weddings, events, in therapeutic settings, and as beginning students. I am gratified whenever my music is chosen, and particularly appreciative that someone would take the time to write and let me know what pieces they are playing and in what settings these pieces are being heard.
For any aspiring composer of harp music, one should never be afraid to write what is in the heart, no matter how simple or straightforward. The piece may be the composition a bride chooses as her wedding march. It may be the last piece a dying patient hears. It may be some young harpist's first recital performance. However and wherever it is played, a little part of the composer will be there having made a contribution, having touched the listener. And it will be played on the most beautiful instrument in the world.