A small, dimly lighted apartment is not the ideal quarters for a music room. But the sound radiating from that Skidmore College suite is simply heaven.
This cramped flat on campus is providing rehearsal halls for the Saratoga Harp Colony. Fifteen players and harps, along with music stands, cushioned benches and dollies to move the massive stringed instruments, cram into a tight formation. The players shift, making certain their protruding elbows don’t interfere with their neighbors’ fingering. And then with a point of Kimberly Rowe’s finger, the room fills with the lush harmonies of Bach.
On the harpists’ very first day, without a minute of rehearsal, they sound wonderful. Rowe thinks so, too. But it is her job, as well as the other faculty at the colony, to refine these players, transforming them from prodigies to professionals.
Founded by the principal harpist for the Philadelphia Orchestra, Elizabeth Hainen, the colony accommodates harpists of all ages for three weeks in August. During that time, Hainen’s goal is to advance the participants’ musicianship and help them mature as artists.
“Mainly, I would hope to give them a sense of ethics,” said Hainen, as she waited in her Saratoga Springs rental for her next harp student to arrive. “Yes, I want them to play better, to be better musicians, instrumentalists. I want to give them a sense of pride in what they do and a set of basic ethical principles to follow. You want them to be knowledgeable and give the harp the best reputation it can have.
Saratoga Harp Colony concert schedule
Sunday: “Sounds of France, Germany and Persia,” 3 p.m., in Filene’s Recital Hall at Skidmore College, North Broadway. 580-5000.
Sunday, Aug. 17: “Solos, Duos & Trios,” 3 p.m. in Filene Recital Hall, Skidmore College.
Saturday, Aug. 23: “Afternoon in the Sunken Cathedral,” 3 p.m. at the Ballroom of the Adelphi Hotel, Broadway. 587-4688.
All concerts are free.
In addition to concerts, the Saratoga Harp Colony will offer open master classes with Susann McDonald.
McDonald will lead classes from Tuesday to Thursday, Aug. 12 to 14, from 10 a.m. to 4:40 p.m. at the Adelphi Hotel, Broadway.
More information is available at www.saratogaharp colony.org.
“Music is a very competitive field. And there aren’t very many of us. Competition can be a good thing when it is healthy. You will go a lot further if you are not stepping on other people’s toes. At the same time, they should keep their ears open, to listen. Everyone has something to offer. I guarantee they will learn if they listen. That’s what makes us want to be better at what we do.”
Hainen, who has been playing the harp since she was 11, said most harpists toil in isolation. So the colony also offers a rare chance at camaraderie.
“It’s so important to have that opportunity,” said Hainen.
She understands the benefits of attending a harp colony. Though she never made it there, Hainen rhapsodizes about the Carlos Salzedo harp colony in Camden, Maine, which Rowe, a Saratoga Harp Colony faculty member, was lucky enough to attend. When that colony closed in the 1980s, Hainen was disappointed she missed her chance and was keenly aware of the void. “It was a tremendous loss,” said Hainen. “It was a place to go and take harp lessons. It was also a place to return to for professional harpists to be renewed and re-inspired.”
Of course, as a professional symphony harpist and on the faculty at both Curtis Institute of Music and Temple University in Philadelphia, Hainen does not have a lot of spare time. Yet as a resident of Saratoga each August with the symphony, she is familiar with the city’s cultural charms. She knew it could be a perfect respite for harpists.
“It’s in the Northeast, a beautiful Victorian town. The Philadelphia Orchestra is here. What better place for harpists to come? Before I knew it, I was knee deep.”
The colony has done well. In its fourth summer, the retreat has reached maximum capacity — 16 students for three weeks with an additional four coming in for the second week of master classes with Susann McDonald. Chairwoman of the Indiana University harp department, which is the largest in the world, McDonald taught Hainen. She will lead group lessons from 10 a.m. to 4:40 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in the Adelphi Hotel, on Broadway. The classes will be open for public observation.
“People can come off the street with a small donation. They can hear her words of wisdom and listen to how it affects the players and hear differences in the sound,” said Hainen. “It is a fascinating thing.”
The colony players will also perform three concerts — two in Skidmore’s Filene Hall and one in the Adelphi. In between rehearsals and ensemble lessons, the colony participants take private lessons with Hainen and Rowe, as well as Nancy Lendrim, principal harpist of the Toledo Symphony Orchestra, and Sarah Fuller, principal harpist of the Delaware Symphony.
The students also undergo mock auditions and are coached by members, other than harpists, of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
“That’s the most valuable thing, to have other instrumental viewpoints,” said Hainen. “It broadens one’s mind.”
In the evenings, they attend the dozen orchestra concerts at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
She finds that many of the harpists, after a stay at the colony, win competitions and secure seats with symphonies.
“They have done tremendously well,” said Hainen. “They have all taken something away from it. I think that our influence on these young harpists is worthwhile and making a difference. It’s invigorating.”