Opinions in music

There are plenty of – not all, but there are more than a few – harp pieces, no matter how beautiful your sound, how flawless your technique and how touching your musicality, that are just badly-structured, sugary, derivative, lacking in imagination, boring, cheesy, whatever – we spend hours discussing so-called major repertoire no pianist would do more than sight read through before returning the music to the library.

The Harp Blog

Lately, I started wondering about the harp repertoire. I’ve read similar comments to the one above and I’m always wondering – how do people come to such conclusions? Especially as they often recommend modern pieces* written for the harp – there’s no exception, it’s hard for me to like those pieces.

Is this because I lack certain insights in music theory? After all, I used to hate technical death metal and now I enjoy it and it helps me focus while writing things like internship reports that need to be finished in three weeks Or Else. I’ve forced myself to listen to a few pieces that are often recommended but that doesn’t really help. I only like the Third movement of the Ginastera harp concerto because Elizabeth Jaxon made a very nice video about it – it’s a funny melody but I wouldn’t say it really touches a string within me. This also applies to compulsory pieces for competitions, even for amateur competitions, there’s usually a modern piece that was specifically commissioned by the competition. How could I spend hours learning such a piece I don’t ‘get’?

And then you start thinking. I set mastering Fauré’s impromptu as a goal – when I’m 40 I want to be able to play that. I think Fauré is a very good example of the unimaginative pieces mentioned above – but somehow, that piece really resonates with me, something other pieces of music fail to do.

And I keep wondering – what is it that allows people to like modern classical music? I am really interested in an honest answer – I’d gladly like modern music but I’ve found, I can’t. I hope that doesn’t make me a lesser musician…

The point of this post? Very bold statements as to the quality of musical pieces without supporting argumentation can make people feel very unsure about their abilities to discern good music. (I like death metal, perhaps that speaks for itself…).

Disclaimer:

I’m very bad at naming classical music genres. I can easily explain most metal genres, but I haven’t really put thought into classical music genres. So all I know is that there’s really classical (Bach/Mozart/Handel) and more impressionist (Debussy) – and, well, modern. Salzedo / Grandjany / Renie are probably also modern but I like that music. I mean the music that involves weird tonalities, strange saw-like sounds coming from strings etc. etc.

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4 Comments on “Opinions in music”

  1. I agree with you. I’m primarily a folk harpist so I’m not trying to master the ‘standard” harp repertoire, whatever that is. But I’ve learned three Grandjany pieces that I absolutely love, because my heart sings when I hear them, and when I play them. I am unschooled in the criteria for deciding what makes a piece “good” or “not so good.” I can only base my judgement on whether I like how I feel in my body, and whether my heart resonates, when I’m listening to a piece, no matter the genre. And at this point in the journey, if I don’t love it, I don’t want to invest the time and energy in learning how to play it. It’s just too hard to learn to play something that I know I don’t want to keep playing.

    • CT says:

      Which Grandjany pieces? 🙂 At the moment, I’m working on Siciliana from Petite Suite. Very beautiful piece. And I agree, why invest in things you don’t like? My teacher is a conservatory student and we’ve discussed the ‘modern’ harp repertoire. She has also other preferences but she says, if you work on it long enough, eventually you’ll start to see the beauty of it… Well, I’m very happy that I’m still in the position to choose what I work on myself :).
      On this blog, I mainly discuss classical music, but I’m also trying to learn folk (perhaps I should also do a post about that? :P). Folk as in, Irish, breton music etc. There are very few teachers in the Netherlands who teach this, so whenever I get the opportunity, I attend workshops etc. But usually I study on my own, which doesn’t really work (I still can’t do the triplet! ARGH.).

      • The Grandjany pieces are Reverie, Nocturne, and Barcarolle in a collection misleadingly titled Three Easy Pieces. All three can be played on a lever harp, though Barcarolle has to be played in C instead of in C-flat as it’s written. My teacher assures me that they are NOT easy and that they contain a lot of subtleties that must be brought out.
        Perhaps when you are through school you’ll have a chance to go to Ireland and study traditional Irish harping. I went to Janet Harbison’s SummerSchool three years ago, and learned so much about both harp and traditional Irish music. She has some easy to follow books available on her website that might help you with the self-study. But those ornaments – they just take time and repetition, and one day they’ll surprise you by rolling off your fingers like you’ve been doing them al your life. Except maybe the triplet – I can’t do that one either. :>)

      • CT says:

        I’m almost finished with Petite Suite – well, I’ve almost finished all pieces which are sort of possible without a pedal harp. So perhaps these are nice pieces to continue… Indeed, I agree that pieces like that can be deceptive – I’ve seen youtube video’s of little children playing the Siciliana on which I’working right now, but it are the subtle things that make it so hard to play well…
        Wow, awesome that you went to Janet Harbinson! Apparently, she taught all the irish harpers whose music I love… (Grainne Hambly etc) 🙂 It is definitely on my wish list, though I’m very curious what it is like. I’ve looked though the shedule etc, is just a week enough time to really learn something?
        I’ve got various books containing traditional irish music (I’ve got Grainne’s book as well), but it’s quite hard to keep going without a teacher. Well, most harp teachers over here think they can teach traditional folk, but I hadn’t heard about ornaments and rythms etc. until I finally had a workshop with a ‘real’ folk harpist… So I’d rather focus on the things my teachera can teach me. There is progress, however, I can finally do a cut! I was never able to do grace notes in classical music, but after learning how to cut on a tin whistle, I could suddenly do it on the harp as well :). Too bad there aren’t any lessons from tradlessons.com for harp…


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