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A New York harpist trying to figure things out - and the mishaps and adventures that inevitably ensue.

From a Studio in Brooklyn to Carnegie Hall

Kathryn Sloat

Last week I had two different gigs in two very different venues. 


In the first one, I played Donizetti’s opera Lucrezia Borgia with the Loft Opera company. Loft Opera (www.loftopera.com) is an organization in Brooklyn that has an unconventional approach to presenting opera. Many of their productions are in warehouse spaces, with the audience circling the stage and the cast right up close. Their production of Lucrezia Borgia was in LightSpace Studios, a place usually used for photo and film shoots. I sat in the orchestra with my back against the benches where the audience sat - close enough to literally rub elbows with them. Everyone seemed interested in the harp, and I had conversations many of the people seated next to me - including a couple from the UK who were in New York visiting their daughter, and a woman who turned out to be the star of Loft Opera’s fall production of The Barber of Seville (along with her composer husband). 

I had wanted to play with Loft Opera since I started going to their shows over a year ago, and it felt really great to get my foot in the door. It was just as much fun as I imagined it would be!

(Photo filched from Stephanie Babirak)

On top of all that, it was my birthday last week! What an excellent way to spend it. 

Running from the Fraud Police

Kathryn Sloat

Have you ever had the feeling that you are just kind of faking your way through life? That you don’t really know what you’re doing, and sooner or later someone will find out and call you out on it? 


Rock musician Amanda Palmer calls this “someone” the Fraud Police - the fear that there is some secret police force that will find out that you’re faking it and will come and take you away. I often have this feeling, especially when I am being paid more money to play a gig. In the back of my mind there is always that nagging feeling that I don’t really belong there, and at some point someone will point at me and say hey, what is this kid doing here? Couldn’t we get a real harpist to play?


I am still figuring out how to beat the Fraud Police, but I think what it comes down to is self-confidence. Knowing that while you certainly aren’t perfect, you are a good musician and you deserve to be where you are. I’ve learned how to take compliments, and not dismiss them in my mind - although it still surprises me sometimes when I get them. For example, I am currently playing a musical, and I worked really hard on the part. I was sitting at a dinner table where the one of the trumpet players was talking to the music director about the show, and suddenly he pointed at me and said, “Hey. She sounds GOOD.” I was surprised, but gratified, that someone noticed the effort I had made. 


Take that, Fraud Police. 


I still make rookie mistakes (like playing this musical without picks, and now I’m paying for it with a blood blister), but it’s important to forgive yourself and move on. No one does everything right all the time, and I have the sneaking suspicion I’m not the only one making it up as I go along. 


Fake it till you make it, right?


Anyone know how to get rid of a blood blister?

Super Bowl/Symphony Sandwich

Kathryn Sloat

This past weekend I went to two symphony concerts (and in the middle was the Super Bowl - get it?), and neither of them was the New York Phil. 


Friday night, I went to hear the Chelsea Symphony play Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. I sat in the balcony and had a really good view of the harp (I was VIEWING, not creeping.). The harp has such an awesome part in the orchestral suite - too bad Bernstein didn’t put it in the original musical. 

And on the flip side of Super Bowl Weekend, I went to hear One World Symphony play a Game of Thrones themed concert. I really enjoyed this one, and not just because I’m a fan of the book and tv series. The performance was comprised of opera scenes that related to different GoT characters. The story is so operatic anyway, really all that needs to be done is to add music. They included scenes from The Ring, Rigoletto, Salome, and lots more. One of my favorites was a song that featured only the harp accompanying one of the singers. 

This time I did not creep on the harpist, Kristi Shade, but went up and introduced myself afterwards. See? My people skills are improving!



Oh yeah, and there was a football game in the middle. How about that halftime show?!

In Case You Were Wondering What Happened To That Band On America's Got Talent

Kathryn Sloat

That band on America’s Got Talent was the Sons of Serendip, and it was possibly the first time a harp has ever been seen onstage at this competition (someone correct me if I’m wrong. (William Close’s Earth Harp, however cool, is not a real harp. I mean really. The thing sounds like a cello. Why not call it Earth Cello? Whatever.)). The band consists of Micah Christian (vocals), Cordaro Rodriguez (piano), Kendall Ramseur (cello), and Mason Morton, the harpist. I know Mason from a summer festival that we both attended several years ago when I was in college. 

I have to be honest, I don’t ever watch shows like America’s Got Talent, or American Idol, or Dancing with the Stars, or whatever. For one thing, I don’t have television. And for another, none of those shows start with a “B” or end in “uffy the Vampire Slayer.” But Mason Morton posted the first clip of Sons of Serendip playing on AGT on Facebook, and I was immediately hooked. I actually had one of those Will Ferrell (you know, from Elf) moments - I jumped up and down and yelled, “I know him!" 

It is pretty cool to see a harpist that you know on national television. It is pretty cool for harpists to see any harpist on national television. One of my students came in to her lesson one day all excited - "Have you seen America’s Got Talent? There’s a group that has a harp in it!!” When I told her that I had met him before, she was amazed. For one lesson, I was the coolest harp teacher on the planet to this girl.

ANYWAY, Sons of Serendip just came out with their first album and I’ve been listening to it almost nonstop for the past couple of days. They play covers of popular songs, which sound very interesting given their unique instrumentation. I’m not really into pop music either (wow, I really suck at the whole pop culture thing) so I’m not familiar with all of the songs on the album. The ones I do know are:

1. Somewhere Only We Know (Originally by Keane) - this was the first song that they performed on America’s Got Talent. The youtube video shows shots of people crying in the audience. Seriously, it’s that beautiful. 

2. Bring Me To Life (Originally by Evanescence) - I know, right? Sounds like a weird choice for a band that isn’t some kind of pop-trying-to-be-heavy metal group, but this cover is actually really gorgeous. And when that chorus comes in it sounds like some kind of pop music opera thing. SO COOL. 

3. Don’t You Worry Child - this is the second time I’ve heard a cover of this song, and I still don’t know the original. The other one is, of course, Postmodern Jukebox’s version, which is very different but also awesome. 

4. Hallelujah (Originally by Leonard Cohen) - this is probably the 483759379th cover of this song that I’ve heard, and I am still not sick of it. 

If you’re up on your pop music, you probably know all the other songs - Wicked Game, How Will I Know, I Can’t Make You Love Me, and Ordinary World. They all have a similar gorgeous, silky smooth sound. And obviously, things are better when they involve harp. After following the group through America’s Got Talent, and now listening to their first album, there are two things that I’m wondering. A) Will we hear some original songs (they did post one on Facebook awhile that I really liked)? and B) What would they sound like playing a more upbeat song? 

Maybe on the next album?!

I got their songs on Amazon. I think they’re on Spotify now, too. 

Happy listening!

What To Do About The Last-Minute Gig With Heinously Difficult Music

Kathryn Sloat

1. Agree without questioning it too much, because you are a freelancing musician who needs to eat. 

2. Get the music; despair of ever learning it all in three days on top of the other gigs and rehearsals you have. 

3. Send pointless email to organizers about how they should have hired a harpist months ago. 

4. Get an absolutely pitiless email in reply. 

5. Cry.

6. Over the next two days, freak out about how you have no time to practice. 

7. The night before the first rehearsal, ditch all of your plans in order to practice. 

8. Procrastinate by starting a book that you just got. 

9. Spend the night practicing, stopping only to eat a box of couscous and a Clif bar. 

10. Swear never, EVER to agree to something so ridiculous ever again. 

THE END.

Weighing in on "Klinghoffer"

Kathryn Sloat

I’m late, I know. The Metropolitan Opera’s production of “The Death of Klinghoffer” is over, so it doesn’t really matter what I think. 

I did mean to write a more timely and relevant article. I meant to rush straight home after seeing the show and immediately bang out my thoughts. 

Instead, I found that I needed more time to process what I had seen (several weeks worth of time, apparently). 

First of all, whatever “side” you fell on with Klinghoffer, watching this opera was ROUGH. I often go to concerts and shows by myself, but this time I brought a friend, and boy did I ever need her. The whole story was sad and scary, and I was in tears by the end. And we’re not just talking watery eyes, we’re talking full-blown bawling. I snotted all over myself. Seriously, it was gross. But my friend was there to hold my hand. 

I’m not going to re-explain the whole controversy over the Met’s production of Death of Klinghoffer, so if you missed it, just Google “Death of Klinghoffer controversy” and you’ll get it. 

Personally, I did not think that the opera was biased in either direction, nor did I think that it tried to justify any of the violence depicted or discussed. As I often think when someone who criticizes the government is described as “unpatriotic,” I do not believe that criticizing or pointing out wrongdoing necessarily implies hate. It is possible to criticize a country’s actions without becoming their enemy. What is perceived as wrongdoing will vary depending on your point of view, and the opera showed different points of view. 

As for the argument that the opera portrays the terrorists as humans - well, yeah, they are humans. I thought the moments where they spoke rationally about their lives and terrible things that have happened to them certainly made them sympathetic characters - but only for a moment. Those moments, to me, only served to make their evil even more grotesque. Isn’t it scarier to think that they’re not just monsters, but humans, and that human beings are capable of such terrible things? This was especially illustrated in one scene where one of the terrorists sings very beautifully about losing his brother to the conflict. The captain of the ship, who is listening, tells him that if he could talk like this to his enemies, peace would come. The terrorist immediately snaps back that the day they all sit down in peace is “the day our hope dies.” They do not seem to hope for peace, but hope for revenge - a sentiment I do not think many in the audience would be sympathetic to. 

The Klinghoffers and most of the other passengers were, to me, the characters most people would be likely to identify with. Leon Klinghoffer, in particular, is the only person we see standing up to the terrorists. I saw the death of his character as the murder of an innocent person, in no way forgiven or justified. 

These are just my thoughts on the opera, and I completely respect the fact that many people disagree with them. What I don’t necessarily respect is that many of the most vocal protesters seemed to be judging the work without ever seeing it. I don’t think reading the libretto would be good enough in this case. You would really need to see it. I realize watching it would be offensive and possibly painful for many people. It was a painful experience for me, and I have no personal involvement in the issues of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I would never tell someone they were wrong to be offended by it. Everyone will interpret the opera based on their own experiences and feelings, and that is, obviously, completely valid.

Sorry this was so late, and also so jumbled. I had this idea that I was going to write a really great and coherent piece on this topic, and it ended up being kind of word vomit-y. I think my feelings on the controversy of whether or not the terrorists were the more sympathetic characters can be summed up in the fact that it was not any of the terrorists’ arias, but Marilyn Klinghoffer’s final scene where she sings about the death of her husband, that made me cry (a lot). 

PS - Stupid thing to forget, but I forgot to say - I thought the music and the performance itself were AWESOME. Again, there were many people who disliked it and that’s fine, but I thought it was great. The music was beautiful, the singers were amazing, and the orchestra played its heart out (I’ve seen the harp part, and man, is it difficult). One of the most impressive parts of the show was the chorus. There is a huge choral component to Klinghoffer, and the Met chorus did a fabulous job. The only parts that kind of lost me were some really prosy sections, where the music and poetry were lovely, but I didn’t really know what they were talking about. But besides that, I thought, really a magnificent piece of work. 

Adventures in Vermont and International Territory

Kathryn Sloat

I had two very interesting orchestra experiences last week. In the first, I got sort of a last minute call to play in the UN Orchestra. As in, an orchestra made up of UN workers who like to play their instruments. UM, WHAT. Although it was an amateur orchestra, it was so much fun to play with them, meet people from all over the world, and to see their enthusiasm for classical music. One of the more intimidating things was actually going to the UN (which is, in fact, International Territory and does not belong to the US) for rehearsal (the concert was at Symphony Space). I was warned in an email ahead of time that I would, of course, have to go through security, and that they might have to bring out dogs to sniff around in my car (that didn’t end up happening, I was kind of disappointed). 

The two pieces I played with them were Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante defunte and Katchaturian’s Violin Concerto. What impressed me most was that the violin soloist was one of the UN musicians! It’s such a big concerto, and he did an awesome job. The audience was made up of a lot of other UN workers, who were also super enthusiastic about seeing their colleagues perform. I could tell it meant a lot to the soloist to have all of his friends and coworkers there cheering him on. 

The day after this concert, I left very early in the morning for Vermont to play with the Eleva Chamber Players. We were playing this little-known piece (at least, I had never heard of it) called African Suite, for harp and strings. It was written by an African composer named Fela Sowande. I’m going to get off on a tangent, but - has anyone ever heard of him?? I never have. This sounds ridiculous, but I don’t think I had ever actually heard of any western art composers of African descent, who were born in Africa. I am currently organizing a concert of music by female composers, and this made me realize we really need to have more concerts devoted to music by racial minorities as well. I love the dead European guys as much as the next musician, but damn, our concert repertoire needs some serious diversifying. 

ANYWAY, back to my story. The other thing that made this concert different was the fact that the Eleva Chamber Players are a conductor-less chamber orchestra. I had never played in one of these before, and I was rather nervous. It really made me realize how much I depend on the conductor to help me keep track of what beat we’re on, the keep up the tempo, to remind me where we are when I lose my place, etc. I thought I was a good  counting person before, but playing in a large-ish group of string players really forced me to step up my game.  I counted like a crazy person, and I didn’t lose my spot!

As much as I love New York City, it was really great to get out and be in the country for awhile. There were still a few of Vermont’s famous autumn leaves on the trees, and as I got further north, it actually snowed - my first snowfall of the year! People in Vermont apparently cook ridiculous things, like homemade waffles with homemade blueberry sauce made from  blueberries that they picked in their own backyard. Since the only thing I could make from the contents of my backyard would be garbage stew, and maybe a roast rat, I was in food heaven. 

Thanks so much to the Eleva Chamber Players for having me!! See you next year?! ;)

Peter Pears has come back from the dead as Ian Bostridge

Kathryn Sloat

Saturday night I went to see a(nother) Britten opera, Curlew River. This show was a part of Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival. Although I paid an arm and a leg for my ticket (no student prices, huh, Lincoln Center? HMMM), it was totally worth it. If you know me you know I’m obsessed with Benjamin Britten, so I wasn’t going to miss this chance to see one of his rarely performed operas. 

This production of Curlew River was fantastic. As this is one of Britten’s church parables, the performance was, fittingly, in a church. The scene was set as soon as you entered the hall, with a light haze of smoke and the smell of incense hitting you right away. The audience was situated on both sides of the stage, which was a long, narrow platform running down the middle of the church. The orchestra - which was very small, consisting only of viola and bass, harp and organ, flute, horn, and percussion - sat at one end of this stage, and a screen was at the other end. The stage transforms into a ship for most of the show, and the screen acted as the sail - clever, eh?

One of the things that made this production so cool was their use of lighting. I feel like sometimes multimedia can be distracting, and detract from the overall show, but this was a perfect complement to the experience. Different things were projected onto the screen - and the stage itself - throughout the performance. These things included Japanese characters (a nod to the fact that Curlew River was inspired by Japanese Noh theater traditions), and also different lighting effects to make the stage look like water, or like a cemetery. It was simple and effective. 

The musicians in the orchestra, the Britten Sinfonia, were amazing. Having played Britten’s Burning Fiery Furnace with Opera Brittenica this past spring, I know from experience how intimidating playing in such a small ensemble can be! Everything you play is exposed and important, so it’s very different from playing in a large orchestra, where very often I feel like I’m blending into the texture. They also performed it without a conductor (the keyboard player directed occasionally), which was even more impressive. The sound from this unusual instrumentation was usually very light and transparent, but also capable of a bigger, more ferocious (can you tell I like that word??) sound. 

And oh yeah, the singers were fantastic too!! This opera is also unusual in the fact that all of the singers are male (this is another example of Britten’s imitation of Japanese Noh theater traditions). Ian Bostridge played the main part, the role of the Madwoman - this was the part originally sung by Peter Pears, Britten’s partner. When I listen to Britten I usually listen to the original cast, with Pears singing the lead tenor. Because he has such a unique and distinctive voice, I sometimes find it hard to like other people singing his roles. When Ian Bostridge started singing offstage, though, I just about fell out of my chair - he sounded EXACTLY like Peter Pears!! Seriously, for a second there I wondered if they were piping in a recording of Pears’ voice (or if they had raised him from the dead or something). But nope, turns out Ian Bostridge is just awesome. I have added him to my short list of tenors that I like singing Britten (which also includes Nicholas Phan, Joshua Collier, and no one else, yet). Anyone have any other suggestions??

The rest of the singers were really great, too. Usually with opera you need sub/supertitles, because it’s difficult to understand what singers are really saying, even in English. There were none for this production, but their diction was so good, I didn’t really feel like I needed them. 

So happy to have heard another Britten opera - one more off my checklist! While I was at the show, I was also thinking of my friends in Opera Brittenica in Boston - they were performing their production of The Turn of the Screw on the same weekend. Congrats to everyone involved in both shows! Lots of Britten, hurrah!

Another Sivan Magen Concert

Kathryn Sloat

Tonight I went to my second Sivan Magen concert in a few weeks (I really hope he doesn’t think I’m a stalker or anything). This was one of the most amazing solo recitals I’ve ever been to. He played one of my favorite pieces, Marcel Tournier’s Sonatine, but he also played a bunch of pieces that I had never heard before, including a world premiere by Sean Shepherd called ribboned/braided/spun. It was a very interesting piece with fast fingering and quite a bit of foot-stomping. He also played a lot of his own transcriptions of works by Brahms, Debussy, and a couple different Bachs. These all worked surprisingly very well. I don’t usually like it when harpists play a whole lot of transcriptions on their recitals because I think this can give the false impression that there isn’t any solo music written for harp, but I can only assume that he has played all the harp music and has gotten tired of it. 

Sivan’s playing was, as always, magnificent. Two things that really struck me tonight were his beautiful tone and also the precision of his muffling (Because harp strings do not stop after they’re played, like a piano key, they sometimes must be stopped with the hand, and that can be difficult). It was quite a long solo concert, at least an hour and a half of strenuous, virtuosic music. He must have been exhausted - but not too tired to give us an encore (which sounded quite familiar to me but I could not for the life of me place what it was!). 

Needless to say, I was mesmerized. 

I’m sure I’m not the only musician who has conflicting feelings about seeing a performance by a virtuoso on their instrument. On the one hand it’s a completely amazing and uplifting experience to hear someone play like that, but on the other, it can be a little depressing when you think to yourself, “Wow, I will never be able to play like that.” It can be difficult for us as musicians (or really, for anyone) to compare yourself to other people in your field and feel like they’re so far above you, but I think that you can train yourself to only focus on what you’re working on, and not worry about what other people are doing (and what you aren’t). It’s something I’m still working on, but I’m much better at it than I used to be. 

So tomorrow when I sit down to practice for my own solo recital, I will choose to be inspired by this fantastic performance. I may never play at such a high level, but I can definitely try. 

Improvising as an Orchestral Robot

Kathryn Sloat

As you probably have realized, I am a classically trained harpist. When I am given a piece of music - whether it’s a solo, or an orchestra part or for a chamber piece, the goal is to replicate exactly what is on the page. It’s not that there isn’t room for interpretation, but the correct notes, rhythms, dynamics, etc. all have to be there. 

That’s why, on the rare occasions when I’m called upon to improvise, I tend to freak out. “Wait, you’re not going to give me exact notes?” I say. “What about rhythms? How long should I play for? Whaddaya mean it doesn’t matter???” My brain kind of goes kaplooey. 

But a few weeks ago I got an email from one of the guitar professors at Mannes, about a performance opportunity with this composer called Elliott Sharp. Not one to turn down a chance to play, I signed up, and kind of forgot about it. The email seemed to imply that not everyone would get called, so I assumed they would let me know if I was needed. 

About two weeks later I got an email back to the effect of, “Hi! Here’s the music, see you at the concert tonight!” HUH??? This took me totally by surprise. “I have a day to learn the music? Aren’t we going to rehearse beforehand? What’s concert dress??” All of these typical classical musician thoughts flashed through my brain. 

I printed out all twelve pages of the part, and did my best to look it over before that night. I didn’t really do any research on the piece or the composer (in my defense, I had a lesson and work and orchestra rehearsal, which pretty much took up my whole day), but if I had I would have realized two things: First, that Elliott Sharp is apparently a big deal. His bio describes him as “A central figure in the avant garde and experimental music scene in New York City (actually it’s probably a good thing I didn’t know this, or I would have been even more nervous).” And second, the piece, called Syndakit, is improvisatory. 

The first part of the evening was a lecture by Elliott Sharp, talking about his music and about Syndakit in particular. In the second half, the ensemble of performers (which consisted of me on harp, a few string players, and a bunch of dudes on electric guitars) got onstage, and Elliott taught us how to play the piece. Each of us got one of the twelve pages (on which were written several self-contained patterns of notes and/or rhythms) at random, and were told that we could play whichever patterns we wanted. Or, you know, whatever we felt like playing. The idea was to listen to the other musicians, and imitate something you heard someone else play, and to improvise your own pattern that someone else could imitate. 

I was rather skeptical at first, but this turned out to be the one of the most fun (funnest?) times I have ever had performing. We played it several times, and by the third try, I was probably the most relaxed I have ever been onstage. It’s not like you can mess up when you’re improvising, so if you decide you don’t like something that you’re playing, you can just stop and do something else. Listening and imitating the things I heard in the ensemble was such a different way of interacting with fellow musicians, and starting a pattern and then realizing that someone else was imitating ME was probably the coolest thing ever. 

In his lecture, Elliott Sharp referred to orchestral musicians as robots, not relaxed or confident enough in themselves to just let loose and play what they feel. I think this is often true. I know that I, at least, can get so hung up on playing the right notes at exactly the right time that sometimes playing in an ensemble can be more stressful than enjoyable. I think that improvising is an important thing to do, if only to just allow yourself to relax and have fun. 

Think of it as letting yourself have pie for breakfast every now and then. 

I Took my Knitting to the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn to see Mikaela Davis

Kathryn Sloat

Yes, I did actually bring my knitting to the Knitting Factory - which, if you don’t know, is a trendy rock club in Brooklyn. I went to see my friend Mikaela Davis, who is a harpist/singer/songwriter, play a solo show. 

I always enjoy hearing Mikaela play, and she seems to be coming out with something new every time. The last time I went to see her at Rockwood she had started using an effects pedal on the harp, which was really cool. This time I noticed she had started using a loop pedal (are they different pedals? I don’t know!), which allowed her to layer sounds so that it seemed like there were multiple harps playing at once. We got to hear a couple of older songs, as well as a bunch of new ones that I hadn’t heard before. I especially liked one with an extended harp solo section, in which she used a pitch bending effect very, well, effectively.

She was actually one of the opening acts for Kate Davis (of bass cover “I’m All About That Bass” fame), and during Kate’s set the two of them (“the Davis Sisters,” as they called themselves) played a super cute cover of the 59th Street Bridge Song. 

www.mikaeladavis.com. She is playing next in my hometown, Albany, NY in two days!

A Trio of Friends at (le) Poisson Rouge

Kathryn Sloat

Tonight was a night of trios - the Debussy trio instrumentation of flute, harp, and viola, to be exact. I went to the cd release concert of the ensemble Tre Voci, comprised of Marina Piccinini (flute), Sivan Magen (harp), and Kim Kashkashian (viola) - all of them superstars on their instruments. It was my first time going to Le Poisson Rouge, a very cool concert venue downtown in the village. I invited a friend of mine who plays the flute to come along, as we had played the Debussy Sonata a year ago. Completely by chance (FATE???), she saw a violist that she knew from Loft Opera and we all sat at a table together. We talked about forming our own trio together. It’s going to happen. 

The trio played a trio of trios - a transcription of a work by Rameau, a newer work by Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina, and of course, the piece that started it all - Claude Debussy’s Sonata for flute, viola and harp. 

I heard Sivan play once before, about a year ago, and I was immediately hooked by his performing abilities. He has an amazing range of sound and emotion in his playing - one second his tone is light and delicate, and the next, harsh and loud. All of his movements are extremely precise, and confident. He is absolutely fearless. 

Tonight’s performance was no exception. The Baroque piece by Rameau was all grace and delicacy. His playing is so clean - whereas I tend to fumble through scales and nitpicky passages, his every note was completely clear. 

The more aggressive side of Sivan’s playing really came out in the Gubaidulina, in passages of ferocious glissandos and fast notes that ripped up and down the harp. There were a number of extended techniques used in this piece to great effect, including paper harp (sliding a strip of paper through the strings), as well as using what looked like a screwdriver to bend pitches and buzz against one of the bottom wire strings. 

And then, of course, there was the Debussy. As I said, my friend and I had played this piece about a year ago, so we were very excited to hear it again! The Debussy trio is not only not easy to play, but it is very difficult to put together. There are so many fluctuations in tempo that it is not the kind of piece you can just sit down and play through - I remember each little section required painstaking rehearsal, and then stringing it all together required lots of practice, as well. This was really where the superior ensemble skills of Tre Voci really showed. They appeared to be of one mind, anticipating all of the tempo changes and interacting seamlessly with each other.

I suspect they may have invented musical telepathy. Seriously, it was scary good.

And just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, we were treated to an encore! They came back and played the last movement of a transcription of Ravel’s Sonatine, by Carlos Salzedo. One of my chamber coaches was trying to convince us to play this last year, and I’m glad we didn’t, because yikes. Extremely difficult. 

And, I got another cd signed by Sivan Magen! When I show up to his solo recital in a few weeks (at Carnegie Hall, on October 21st!), he may suspect that I am stalking him. Oh well. Totally worth it.

New Music for Harp Duo, Coming Your Way in Spring 2015!

Kathryn Sloat

This past summer at the Fresh Inc Festival in Wisconsin, a trio of young composers approached me and Christina and told us they wanted to write a new piece for harp duo (really, we didn’t coerce them or anything!). Obviously, we were thrilled! Since they are all located in the midwest, they decided to write a collection of three pieces - one by each composer - that would depict the landscapes of the midwest. Dan Morel is in Kansas City, MO; Alex Cooke is in Cleveland, OH; Bret Bohman is in Ann Arbor, MI. 

They came up with an interesting way to pay for the new pieces to be written - a consortium project, in which multiple harpists and harp duos would sign on and pay a fee to have the exclusive rights to perform the piece for the first year. We have all been busy contacting harpists, advertising, and trying to get the word out, and the project has attracted some interest - we were even on the homepage of the Harp Column!

We are now TWO WEEKS away from the contract deadline, October 15th! We are trying to get these awesome composers all the support we can, so if you are interested in this project, please let us know (email 94lilac@gmail.com)!! 

Displaying Lilac 94 and Composers.jpg

A lovely picture of Lilac 94 and the composers, from Fresh Inc.

I was so tired this week, but MAHLER

Kathryn Sloat

I was so tired this week that on Friday I almost fell asleep at work, totally forgot that my lesson that afternoon had been cancelled (thank god, or I would have fallen asleep during that, too), and realized too late that the New York Phil’s Friday concert was at 11 o'clock in the morning, not 8 o'clock at night. 

Thankfully there was another performance on Saturday night and I recovered sufficiently to get myself to Lincoln Center.  Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 was on the program, and if you know me, you know that I can’t resist a good Mahler symphony (I mean, is there any other kind??). 

The first piece on the program was Unsuk Chin’s new work, a Clarinet Concerto. Although I suppose this kind of new music isn’t for everyone, I kind of liked it. It was weird - by turns bizarre and ethereally beautiful. The solo clarinet employed lots of strange sounds, such as multiphonics. The second movement, titled “Hymnos” was especially haunting. I sometimes felt like I was listening to music from Mars. The clarinetist was really fun to watch - he really got into the music, bobbing his head and moving around. It almost looked like he was dancing. There was harp in the piece, too - mostly sharp, accented single notes or chords, though we got a few good, short, percussive glissandos* in the last movement!

And then we got Mahler 1. I hadn’t heard this piece in awhile, and I was really looking forward to it. Mahler’s first symphony has a special place in my heart, since it was the very last piece that I ever played with my college orchestra. 

Like I said, it’s been a few years since I heard the piece, but it came back to me immediately. Of course it’s impossible to forget the iconic Frere Jacques of the third movement, but I remembered quite a bit of the other movements too. I had to keep reminding myself not to hum along, but I sometimes couldn’t keep from tapping my toes and bopping my head (Yeah, I’m weird. Oh well.). 

I’ve always liked how Mahler uses the harp - it’s not flashy, just very effective. He especially makes good use of the lower register, which is usually tough to make audible above the rest of the orchestra. He seems to have cared less about making the harp heard OVER the orchestra, but rather, making it come through as an important part of the texture. His parts usually look simple enough on the page, but sometimes turn out to be deceptively difficult. 

The New York Phil delivered a great performance of one of my favorite symphonies - the applause that exploded with the very last note was well deserved. 

Awesome first night back at the Phil! This year’s New York City concert season in general is going to be a really great one for Mahler. Although I can’t get to all of them, here is the run down, as far as I know it:

Sunday, October 12th at 3pm - Mahler 9, with the Met Orchestra

Friday, October 31st at 8pm - Mahler 2, with the Philadelphia Orchestra

Wednesday, November 19th at 8pm - Mahler 7, with the San Francisco Symphony

Friday, April 17th at 8pm - Mahler 6, with the Boston Symphony

This means that, if you were really dedicated, you could see more than half of Mahler’s symphonies this year. And all of them, besides the one I just went to, are at Carnegie Hall.

Is this normal for New York City?? If so, I will be deliriously happy, also broke. 

YAY MAHLER.

*I know the proper term is glissandi, but I always feel really pretentious writing that word. 

10 Things To Do In Rehearsal While Waiting For Your Entrance (With Contributions From The Percussionists)

Kathryn Sloat

This past Saturday, I traveled out to Long Island to play with the newly formed Crane Alumni Festival Orchestra. This concert helped to raise money for festivals and scholarships for my alma mater, the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam. This concert was fantastic because it was made up of mostly music teachers. I’m totally not being sarcastic - the people on the podium of your average high school band or orchestra rarely have the opportunity to play their instruments anymore, so they were super excited about getting to perform again. I had a lot of friends playing in the orchestra, so it was like a big Crane reunion!

This concert was less fantastic because I only played in one piece, Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide. This means that I sat around for long periods of time with nothing to do. Because this happens to us harpists a lot, I’ve compiled a list of fun ways to pass the time (with contributions by the Mannes percussionists, because they have a lot of the same problems we do!). 

1. Knit. This is my top choice for what to do when I’m bored in rehearsal. I once knitted a whole sock during an opera performance. 

2. Read a book. Duh. This is my second favorite thing to do, although I sometimes get nervous that I will be so absorbed in reading that I will miss when my piece is called. I had this same problem with reading on the subway - I have, on multiple occasions, missed my stop because I was too busy reading. 

3. Take a nap. Just make sure you have someone to poke you when it’s your turn to play. 

4. Do yoga. This may elicit some strange looks from the rest of the orchestra, but if you have an hour to wait for your entrance, you might as well get in a yoga sesh. 

5. Play a board game. You can team up with the percussionists for this one. I once played a holiday concert where we played Risk during the breaks.

6. If your conductor has a catchphrase, count how many times he says this catchphrase during rehearsal. No comment. The Cranies will get this one. 

7. Exchange funny faces with your friends in the wind section. They may be annoyed with you for distracting them, but that’s their problem. 

8. Live tweet the rehearsal/concert. Obviously don’t do this when you’re onstage for a concert, but I think it’s totally acceptable during a rehearsal or while you’re backstage. I once live tweeted a whole opera performance from backstage (the same performance in which I knitted a sock, and also read Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. I think I played a total of 10 minutes for the whole show… it was bad.). 

9. Do your homework. I haven’t done this one in awhile, but it’s the perfect time to get that theory worksheet done. It’s kind of like the music students’ equivalent of doing your homework on the bus.

10. And, of course, write a blog post about what to do during rehearsal. Which I tried to do on Saturday, but I quickly got annoyed with typing on my phone. So I’m finishing it now!

So what do you do in rehearsal to pass the time?

Straussed Out

Kathryn Sloat

There are a few pieces the mention of which are enough to strike fear into every orchestral musician’s heart. One of these is Richard Strauss’ infamous Don Juan. 

This piece is hard for EVERYONE. It shows up on audition lists for pretty much every instrument. I’m convinced that if you study an orchestral instrument long enough, sooner or later you are forced to learn this part. 

I have never played Don Juan in concert, but I have studied the harp part over and over again since I was in college. I have only once, basically by accident, had the opportunity to play it in context. At Eastman, most graduate students are recruited to play in the conducting orchestra once a week. This ensemble exists to give the conducting students a group to practice on. On this rare occasion, we were playing a piece (I forget what it was) that required two harps, so I sat with another harpist - who was also going to play Don Juan - waiting for our turn to play. Shortly before the rehearsal for Don Juan was scheduled to begin, my friend had to leave to make an emergency phone call. She asked me, “Can you cover for me if they start before I get back? It won’t take me too long.” And she left. 

Well. I sat there in shock, feeling like I had just been asked to fly a fighter pilot against the Death Star. I tried not to panic. The first page of the harp part consists of a few glissandos and chords, which are not difficult, but later on there is a whole arpeggio section that goes terribly fast and is almost impossible to play without memorizing. So you can understand why I was terrified. 

Luckily I only had to play the first section before she came back, but my heart was pounding about a mile a minute! At that moment I swore I would attempt to avoid playing the whole thing in context, if at all possible. 

So, guess what we were assigned for our first orchestra reading tomorrow?

Yep, you guessed it. 

Welcome back, Mannes kids. LET’S DO THIS.

So I've been in a coma for most of the summer. But I did work hard before that.

Kathryn Sloat

Besides the first month or so, this has been one of my laziest summers, ever. 

The last time I didn’t spend the summer practicing my butt off at an orchestra festival was in 2008. I am relishing the amount of time I have had to:

Laze around at the pool. 

Bake scrumptious things.

Fifth House Ensemble came to give a workshop. At this point I was realizing that I didn’t want to be an orchestral musician, and I was trying to figure out what I did want to do. Along came this group that I had never heard of before, and as they described what it is they do, something clicked. This group did everything that I was interested in - they gave all kinds of creative performances, they were active in community outreach, and they taught kids about music. After the workshop I read up about them on their website and began following them via their blog and just about every social media outlet I could find them on. 

I’m a little creepy, I know. 

So fast forward about a year and a half, and I was researching music festivals that I could apply to for my harp duo, Lilac 94, and I wasn’t having any luck. Most of the festivals that preformed groups can apply to are really only looking for string quartets. Then I realized - Fifth House has a chamber music festival! We sent in an application to the Fresh Inc Festival, and to my (almost complete) surprise, we were accepted. 

So in June, Christina and I packed up our cars and headed off to Kenosha, Wisconsin for what was probably one of the busiest and most inspiring two weeks of my life. While at Fresh Inc, we:

Met lots of cool people,

(photo courtesy of SnoStudios Photography)

And played in some really awesome venues.

(SnoStudios)

Me and Christina with our fabulous flutist Melissa Snoza and composer Wei Dai

“Alchemy” for two harps and flute, by Wei Dai

and

“The Juniper Tree” for two harps, by Rebecca Larkin

We - Christina and I - are working with three cool people from Fresh Inc on a new project. I will post more about it when it becomes official, but I will say this: Awesome things will be happening, and it is all because of Fresh Inc. 

Special thanks to the Fifth House Ensemble, we had such a great time!!

(Yes, you guessed it - SnoStudios Photography. Thanks, Eric!)

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Symphonie Fantastique

Kathryn Sloat

1. I practiced it for weeks ahead of time.

2. I listened to it a lot. It’s a pretty badass piece of music. 

3. I discovered that it’s SO much more fun to play it with an orchestra than alone in your practice room. 

4. The conductor actually took it at a reasonable tempo.

5. I sat through the rest of the rehearsal and got a lot of knitting done. 

6. I thought about how insane and messed up the plot is. 

And, oh yeah…

7. The concert also contained Wagner’s Magic Fire Music, so Berlioz was the least of my worries. HA!

I have now conquered Symphonie Fantastique and Magic Fire Music in a professional orchestra setting. Done and done.

I thought North Carolina would be warmer in January?

Kathryn Sloat

My friend Christina and I started playing harp duos together the very first semester we got to Eastman for our master’s degrees. I think that our teacher accepting two graduate harpists together in the same year was a little unusual, so we were very happy that we both got in! Both of us are very quiet people, so I think that we decided to take chamber music together as a way to become friends. 

Anyway, it worked! The two of us took chamber music together our first year, and then began gigging together our second year. We played at a school, lots of retirement homes, and finally at an art gallery where several dancers from the University of Rochester performed with us in a routine they had choreographed themselves (which was one of the coolest performances EVER). We were getting to the end of our time in graduate school together when we finally said hey… we should do this for real. 

We decided to form an ensemble and attempt to play professional concerts together, and so Lilac 94 was born. I have to say, coming up with a name for our group was tough! I’ve never gotten a tattoo, but I imagine it’s a similar process - you want to choose really carefully, and make it something meaningful. We wanted a name that would reference Rochester or Eastman, hence the lilac part - the flower of Rochester is a lilac. 94 is the number of strings we have between our two harps. 

Since after graduation Christina moved to North Carolina and I now live in New York City, getting together to play is a little more difficult than it used to be. We have had several trips planned together, the first of which was this past January, when I went to North Carolina on my winter break. We played several concerts together - a children’s program for the students at Wilmington Christian Academy, and a concert program that we recently came up with, “The Harp is a Drum,” at a local church. We were also hired by the Friends of Music on Bald Head Island to come out and play a concert for them, which turned out to be our most interesting adventure yet. 

For starters, Bald Head Island is, well, an island. So we had to take a ferry to get there. 

We got our harps like this to the venue, which was a cute little chapel a short distance away. 

We got dinner at a local bar/restaurant. I had a salad and these fried cheese things, which were AMAZING. 

I mean, it was fresh mozzarella, fried. Way better than those crappy fast food cheese sticks. How could you go wrong?

The bar was covered in doodled-on dollar bills.

Oh yeah - and the concert was great, too.

I had such a fun time playing harp duos. I can’t wait for the next time (concert dates in New York coming soon!!!!)!!!!!!!!

Mikaela Davis @ Rockwood Music Hall

Kathryn Sloat

Tonight I had the chance to see my good friend Mikaela Davis play at Rockwood Music Hall, which is in the Lower East Side. I didn’t know this, but my roommate says it’s hard to get a gig there, so - go Mikaela!

Although Mikaela usually plays with her bandmates, Alex and Cian, this was a solo show. I love hearing the full band, but this gave me a chance to hear what she is doing with the harp parts for some of her newer songs. The last time I talked to Mikaela, she told me how her harp writing was being influenced by the classical composers she plays in school. This did not become completely obvious to me until I heard one of her new songs, called “Fortune Teller.” Much of the harp part is made up of downward arpeggios, with the top note acting as the melody - pure Marcel Tournier. And in another song (I can’t remember which) there was a section of glissandos that sounded very much like Carlos Salzedo's Scintillation. It could be just my imagination, but it seemed to me like Mikaela’s songs are getting more complex, both in terms of how involved &difficult the harp parts are and in terms of the harmonies. In a world of pop music where every thing is I-V-I, it was definitely a breath of fresh air. 

Another thing that has changed since I last heard Mikaela play a solo show is that she has added an effects pedal (pedals? I couldn’t tell). Obviously we’ve all heard this used on electric guitar, but I don’t think I’d ever heard it used on pedal harp before, and sounded very cool. Though when I first realized she was using this all I could think was, “Really, Mikaela? The harp already HAS seven pedals. Was that not difficult enough for you?!” But she seemed to manage the extra footwork without a problem. 

Mikaela is currently fundraising for her EP “Fortune Teller,” which will be released in January of 2014. Please consider donating (HERE), there are lots of great goodies if you do! Mikaela, Alex, and Cian are also going to be touring for the month of January to promote the new EP, so you can look up their tour dates on her Facebook page or on her website, mikaeladavis.com

Lovely to see you and hear you again, Mikaela!