While we were at the Ksenia Erdely International Competition, we met Carolyn Lund. Carolyn not only reached the semifinals of a very demanding competition, but did so while teaching fifty harp students a day. Yes, a day, in six group classes, with additional tuition in the evenings as well. That's a pretty amazing achievement, and what Carolyn does is also a pretty amazing job. Hear some of the results now, on camac-harps.com!
Carolyn is the artistic director of the Urban Youth Harp Ensemble, which is a harp education programme for disadvantaged youth in Atlanta, Georgia USA. It was established twelve years ago by Elisabeth Remy Johnson, principal harpist of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and Roselyn Lewis, a longtime Atlanta public schools music teacher known for exposing students to opera and African drums. Carolyn was appointed artistic director when Elisabeth retired from the project, while Roselyn remains at the helm preparing the grant applications that have always been the programme's entire source of funding.
"I see fifty students every day, divided into six classes, plus after-school tuition", Carolyn explains. "They can opt for harp class instead of band or chorus class, and while it is not possible to give fifty individual lessons, the idea is that the daily classes help them to advance quickly. We have fifteen harps, because none of the students are in a position to have their own harps at home, so all practice is done at school.
The students learn to play the harp, but also to read music and develop their general musicianship. Of course, most of them will not go on to be professional harpists, although in fact the programme's first student, Mason Morton, is currently now doing his performance doctorate with Ann Hobson Pilot in Boston - and he has achieved this through scholarships all the way, no loans at all. But whether students want to pursue the harp long-term or not, we have an honours group made up of the best students, and they go out and do professional gigs.
Mason Morton (at the harp) comes back to visit the current class
The idea is to marry intensive private study with the serenity of the course's rural setting. The workshop will develop over a four-year cycle, each time in a different season - so if you attend every course, you can appreciate the how the landscape changes over spring, summer, autumn and winter!
The first course will take place soon: between April 26th and May 1st, 2012. The course has a really nice website, which will tell you everything you need to know, from where it is to how much it costs. It also features beautiful photographs across the changing seasons.
The course has been organised by Berta Puigdemasa Acebrón, who is from Horta de Lleida. She wanted to play the harp from the age of seven, but as there was no harp teacher near her home, it was not until she was twelve that she could begin, with Maria Lluïsa Ibáñez in Barcelona.
Her idea is simple, and beautiful: "One autumn day, over an orange juce with her mother and father, Berta thought it would be great to gather harpists from all over the world in the little paradise of Horta de Lleida, for a few days, to work together and enjoy the fresh air."
Et voilà! Find out more here.
Recently I’ve been lucky enough to attend two masterclasses by wonderful teachers. Last week, Isabelle Moretti was working with the class of the Royal Academy of Music, and this weekend it’s been our great pleasure to welcome Patrizia Tassini to l’Espace Camac in Paris.
Jakez thanks Patrizia Tassini
Harpists have a lonely life. Usually you are the only one at school who plays the harp, before continuing to be alone in most of your professional walks of life - in the orchestra or chamber ensemble, while your instrument baffles composers, conductors and colleagues. This solitary state has its advantages. I was the only member of my former orchestra who was always on speaking terms with everyone, probably because I didn’t have to work closely with anyone. Sometimes you get work a flautist of the same level can only dream of. If you want to, you can convince many conductors that things you don’t feel like practising are impossible. But none of these perks are artistic. They are only opportunistic.
A large harp class such as that enjoyed by London’s RAM, or with Patrizia in Udine, does much to counteract a harpist’s unsplendid isolation. The harp world, though small, is still big enough even for those of us who travel around it constantly to be surprised and to learn, every day. Anyway, mastering any instrument is a Herculean task. Generally you need ten thousand hours of practice to be able to play virtuoso works - which in the profession today is just the beginning.
At the Royal Academy of Music
Listening to a great teacher give a masterclass is like finding many keystones of musical experience crystallised in one person: things you might otherwise need years to find. Even if your own teacher is a master themselves, they have to spend more time on the mundane aspects of your studies: writing in fingering, correcting hand position, pointing out where a run is not even, and so on. Your lesson is also private, focusing on what you alone are doing. A masterclass, on the other hand, is for many people to perform diverse works at concert standard. It is about the big picture: "how things are”, as Isabelle described it in London.
Following on from Edmar Castaneda's new album, Harpblog has another piece of news about the harp in Latin America. It's a very special project for Latin American harp students, that will take place in Mexico between the 25th and 30th of April, 2012. It is: a travelling harp workshop, organised by Isabelle Moretti (France), Mercedes Gomez (Mexico) and Marisela González (Venezuela).
Before this article goes any further, here is an essential practicality: the application form! Closing date: March 10th.
And now, here's some more about the project from the artists themselves!
Isabelle Moretti. Photo: Eric Larrayadieu
After two journeys with my husband, the one to Venezuela to El Sistema, and the other to Mexico with Mercedes Gomez, I became truly aware of how lucky we French musicians are, to have almost everything we need while others have practically nothing. Of course, I had already been aware of this, but these journeys really brought it home to me, almost physically.
The traditional Criolla harp is an instrument widely played in Central and South America, but the “classical” harp struggles to fulfil its potential because of significant difficulties – a lack of instruments, strings and music, but also a lack of contact with the outside classical music world, and little access to teaching (I mean, contact other than on YouTube !). On the other hand, the goodwill, courage and self-sacrifice of certain teachers is not lacking at all!
It was in meeting two of these fantastic teachers, Mercedes Gomez from Mexico and Marisela Gonzales from Caracas, that I very much wanted to do something concrete, by offering my help as a soloist and as professor at the CNSM in Paris.
Mercedes and Marisela know their countries very well. Their knowledge is extremely valuable and after long discussions, it became clear to us that the most useful thing to do would be to create a travelling classical harp workshop. If the workshop travels, this permits the young harpists of Central and South America to take part more easily, by reducing the duration and price of their journey.
We are thinking, in the first instance, of beginning in the two cities of Mexico and Caracas. Following the initial results and level of interest, it would of course be possible to expand our field of action at a later date. It is a journey for us all. We hope that by putting our knowledge together, we will be best able to help all these young harpists who deserve it so much.
THE INFINITE IMPORTANCE OF SHARING
What might some harpists in France, Venezuela and Mexico have in common - besides playing the harp, being women, and enjoying teaching?
Possibly, in this case, it is that the three of us own a dictionary that includes the verb to SHARE. Our project started when Isabelle Moretti (France) was teaching in Brazil. Marisela González (Venezuela) was also working there, and after her course had finished, Isabelle travelled to Mexico, where I live. Marisela, Isabelle and I began discussing the harp world in Latin America, and its difficulties.
We decided to use this verb "to share". We started thinking about how to share our very different experiences. We wanted a workshop in which Isabelle, with her enormous talent and amazing experience, could help us to strengthen the studies of our harp students in Latin America, as we know this needs hard work. We thought a lot about what to call this experience, and decided on TALLER ITINERANTE DE ARPA CLÁSICA, which means the CLASSICAL HARP TRAVELLING WORKSHOP.
Our Taller Itinerante is specifically addressed to Latin American students, who, owing to their political, economic and cultural circumstances, generally have had much less access to opportunities, instruments, strings and scores than students from first world countries. The travelling workshop that will take place in April is a first adventure. We will see how it goes, shape it while it's happening, and keep a fresh, open-minded spirit.
Isabelle, Marisela and I have been practicing our three languages at different levels, thinking “out loud” at our computers (what a crazy image! My grandma would not have a clue what I'm talking about!). We have discussed how to structure the sessions - these will include individual classes, and technique sessions in groups - and how to open the application process.
While the three of us were doing the artistic planning, I contacted schools and institutions in Mexico to see who could host and support the workshop. Janet Paulus and Artemisa González, our generous colleagues and professors at the Escuela Nacional de Música (part of the National University UNAM) jumped for joy at the idea. They spoke with their director, Francisco Viesca, who has respected and supported a lot of our harp ideas, competitions, master classes and other projects over the last few years. Camac Harps also kindly volunteered to sponsor us.
Thanks to this wonderful support, we are ready to launch the project and send out the application forms. I promise to let you know how this adventure will develop. There have already been wonderful benefits, like sharing some Venezuelan and Mexican harp repertoire with Isabelle, her recommending some French teaching literature, and the three of us being very aware and respectful of the different situations and contexts from which we come.
All this, besides making us more aware of how vital it is that artists work together, fills my heart with gratitude and the molto crescendo joy of sharing.
¡GRACIAS, THANKS, MERCI, GOOD LUCK, BONNE CHANCE Y BUENA SUERTE!
Mercedes Gómez Benet, Mexico
Regardless of the challenges we face in Latin America, we are teaching the harp and we will continue to do so! But I also feel we must do something inspiring for our students, who love their instrument so much that they overcome all the difficulties, and keep practising as much as they can.
Last year, after meeting Isabelle Moretti at a festival we had in Brazil, and experiencing what a motivation she was for the students, Isabelle offered enthusiastically to help us. So here we are, with a programme of masterclasses and technical workshops for students of all levels. This way, we are giving a chance to students who would probably never be able to travel abroad to hear harpists other than their own teachers: a chance to play or to hear these masterclasses and workshops in our own countries with a unique harpist. It will be a week of students of different levels playing and re-playing together, watching, talking, observing and absorbing as much as they can. They will also know that this is going to happen again, close enough for them to get to; they will be able, in other words, through this repeated experience to keep growing as harpists. I am certain that our workshop is going to be a chance for sharing: not just experience or knowledge, but the joy of learning and playing together.
Of course I want to thank Isabelle Moretti, Mercedes Gómez, Artemisa Reyes, Janet Paulus and Camac Harps for their generosity and support.
Marisela Gonzalez, Venezuela
It is minus eleven outside as I type this (minus twenty-three in Moscow!), so it's nice to think ahead to 2012's summer schools, whose websites are now mostly updated for this year. On Harpblog's opportunities page, you will now find links to the summer academies with, among others, Isabelle Moretti, Germaine Lorenzini and Isabelle Perrin. I'll be adding to this list throughout the long, cold winter.
The vast, world-wide audience that was glued to CamacCam throughout last year's World Harp Congress in Vancouver will already know about the USA Young Artists' Harp Seminar and Competition. Harpcolumn's Kimberly Rowe kindly talked to our CamacCam cameras about the event - watch it again here!
For those of you who missed CamacCam because - I don't know, maybe because you were not yet born in July 2011 - the YAHS and competition is a great double event, which will take place in the summer of 2012 in Georgia, USA. The competition happens first, starting on July 11th; after that, you can relax and enjoy the seminar from July 14th - 28th.
The competition is open to harpists up to the age of nineteen - find all details about repertoire and regulations (you need to make a video for the preliminary stage) here.
The seminar will be taught by Kimberly Rowe, Susan Bennett Brady, and a fine line-up of assistants and student counsellors, and this year also welcomes none other than Judy Loman as guest artist. The seminar's entire programme is excellently designed to cover all the most important student harp bases - from private lessons to orchestral excerpts, ensemble playing, stage presence, memorisation, music theory, coping with performance nerves and so on.
"What do you mean, your dad changes your harp strings? We did changing strings in your first term. What are you going to do when you're doing your concerto and one breaks, is your dad going to come on-stage and help you out?"
Goodbye, string stress - you can refer your pupils instead to this super video by Elizabeth Jaxon on how to change harp strings. This topic is knot easy (boom-ching) until you get the hang of it, so it's great to have a video aid. Elizabeth has also thoughtfully included a "tips" section at the end, about how to stop high strings slipping off their tags, handling the gut strings that are too thick for tags, and changing bass wires.
Please see the French blog for information about a new audition for orchestral training, with accompanying professional experience, in Strasbourg.