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“You never know when lightning will strike”: The Orchestral Harpist by Sarah Bullen

For any music student, but especially the aspiring harpist, it is always wise to get comfortable with thorough preparation. According to her students, the American harpist Laura Newell (1900-1981)  who played with the NBC symphony orchestra under Toscanini in the last century, always warmed up her practice with the infamous solo from Ravel’s Tzigane, telling them- “You never know when lightening will strike!”

The Orchestral Harpist by Sarah Bullen

The Orchestral Harpist by Sarah Bullen

Certainly, awareness of core repertoire is the greatest preparation (and defence!) for the orchestral situation, whatever the context. 

However, for harpists, whose modern training usually tackles orchestra excerpts as a means to prepare auditions, this awareness can lack a certain depth. One may not, for example, take account  of the reality that you will at least start your career as a substitute or freelance player. And it is more than likely that you’ll take those first steps as the second harp; a completely different skill and (of course), a completely different part.

I can recall being drilled by successive teachers and auditions on the first harp part of Berlioz’s symphonie fantastique  until I could almost play it blindfolded. Of course, when the longed-for call arrived to play this work with a professional group it was to play… second! The instinct to crash in on all the first-harp entries was so strong that the experience felt a bit like trying to write with my non-dominant hand.

That is one of the things we really like about “The Orchestral Harpist” latest publication from Sarah Bullen (lately of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra). It compiles a list of excerpts that one usually does NOT find in the audition requirements, but which will certainly be encountered in the course of a professional career, and in a majority of cases she includes the second harp part as well.

Sarah Bullen, photo ©Todd Rosenberg Photography

Sarah Bullen, photo ©Todd Rosenberg Photography

All the excerpts are clearly laid out and beautifully typeset, with helpful fingerings and of course, some highly practical edits. All this is prefaced by helpful hints, garnered in many decades in the orchestra. It covers everything from tuning, marking and editing parts, to the more complicated etiquette of being a good harp colleague and managing interactions with conductors who, amazingly, may not always wish to praise you…

Beautifully produced by Harp Column music in a most handsome addition to your library, Camac have a limited number of ‘The Orchestral Harpist’ available through our web-shop. Don’t miss the opportunity to enrich your preparation for, after all, one never knows when lightening will strike!

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