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Grace Under Pressure


Last weekend I had the pleasure of playing three concerts with the Santa Ynez Valley Master Chorale conducted by Chris Bowman. On the program was
Psalm 150 by Cesar Franck and Faure’s Requiem and Cantique de Jean Racine, all of which were new to my repertoire.

The Franck part was very “harpy” with fun pedal changes, at times with both feet on one side of the harp, and some well-placed arpeggios and glissandos.

The harp part for the
Requiem wasn’t too big of a stretch for me but the Cantique certainly was. Some harpists adapt the piano part which consists of flowing triplet figures. Others choose the harp accompaniment written by Marilyn Marzuki (available from harp.com) which is far more interesting and equally more complicated. There are about a zillion pedal changes but it gives the harp some lovely solo moments and full rich harmonies that weave nicely with the other string parts. I did some creative editing on the Marzuki version so the harp got to shine while the part remained playable for me.

Since there were only two live rehearsals with the chorale and orchestra before the performance I found another way to get familiar with the music. YouTube has several videos of various ensembles performing the pieces I was working on so I practiced
Psalm 150 with a choir in Budapest and Faure with the Bow Valley Chorus from Alberta, Canada. Rehearsing with a recording is helpful but with the YouTube videos I also had the advantage of being able to see the conductor giving the cues. You gotta love the internet - how else could I play with international ensembles from the comfort of my own music studio and without even having to move the harp?

harp with SYVC concert

In the second performance of our concert I was given a good lesson in grace under pressure by Brendan Statom, the double bass player. Due to a pre-existing crack and then an inadvertent tap against the music stand as he played, his bow dramatically self-destructed with a loud shattering sound during the first movement of the
Requiem so he was left with just a handful of splintered wood and dangling strands of horsehair. He simply shrugged, tucked the remains of the bow into the holster, and calmly carried on playing his part pizzicato for the duration of that movement. It sounded great and I doubt most of the audience even knew what happened. Then the conductor took a 60-second pause while Brendan sprinted out to his car to fetch a spare bow and when he returned we launched into the second movement.

If my harp ever snaps a bass wire in the middle of a performance I hope I can remember to maintain the same composure!