One of the most indelible memories from my childhood in the Deep South was the first time I heard, and saw, an orchestra perform…must have been in the late 50’s, in Memphis. That gilded column of the harp, towering above the sea of instruments, and sounding as golden as it looked!
Many years later, as a music student at the University of Alabama, each morning on the way to theory class in Cadek Hall, I would pass a large room with old glass windows, peeling paint, and a harp, biding its time, smack in the middle. The sun, streaming in, illuminated the harp in its decrepit surroundings, accentuating its loneliness. Feeling sorry for it, I had an impulse to keep it company, which meant learning how to play the instrument. The only instruction available was from a composition professor, Harry Philips, who knew exactly one piece: an arrangement he made of the opening from Richard Strauss’s “Also sprach Zarathustra.” This he played with great dramatic flair, hands flailing, flying, fluttering and falling through the air. Repeatedly. Now, if I wanted to play this harp, I was required to take lessons from Mr. Philips. The lessons were short, and there weren’t many, thanks to an angel. When the Birmingham Symphony harpist heard that lessons were being given by someone who had no training, I was contacted and advised to study with her…which meant a process of physically unlearning everything Harry Philips had taught me. After a couple of years of private lessons, including study in Auburn with Marjorie Tyre, the most accomplished harpist in the Southeast at that time, I progressed very quickly and prepared an audition for the second harp vacancy with the Birmingham Symphony. The audition was never consummated: the prospect of endless hours of practice lost out to endless hours of exploration with free improvisation, and I never looked back.
Since the mid-70s I’ve forged a relationship with the harp that opened up all manner of musical relationships with players in the U.S. and abroad. I often remark that my investigations of sound possibilities with preparations, bowing techniques, and the like, still ongoing, were fueled by a desire to rescue this instrument from being forever stereotyped as a sentimental anachronism. My goal for this page of my site is to post video clips demonstrating an assortment of the extended techniques that I’ve developed for the harp, and the notation devised for them. Until that happens, I’ll update with some choice anecdotes. Upcoming: what studying at the Salzedo Harp Colony with Alice Chalifoux was like; my Corruption in the Capital concert in Montgomery, Alabama, with harp and kayagum; falling off my chair while playing the harp with a vibrator and turning it into a spontaneous death scene with the inimitable assistance of my duo partner, LaDonna Smith.