News / USA

Harp 'Olympics' Draws Finest Talent

Winning international competition can jumpstart a young harpist's career

Lena-Maria Buchberger, 25, came from Germany to compete in the USA International Harp Competition, a 10-day event.
Lena-Maria Buchberger, 25, came from Germany to compete in the USA International Harp Competition, a 10-day event.

Multimedia

Audio
Erika Celeste

Harps can provide some of the most ethereal and magical sounds in the modern orchestra, yet they are seldom heard as a solo instrument.

Two decades ago, the prestigious Jacobs School of Music, on the campus of Indiana University changed that with the creation of the USA International Harp Competition, or IHC, what's now considered the Olympics of Harp.

Harp Olympics

Every three years, during the 10-day International Harp Competition, Indiana University is filled with unmistakable sounds.

This year 39 harpists, from 19 countries including Iceland, Italy, and Taiwan, were selected to compete for the 2010 title.



Twenty-five year old Lena-Maria Buchberger came all the way from Germany for a chance at the gold. She's been mesmerized by the harp since she heard it in a concert when she was only six.

"Maybe the point of fascination is that you cannot really put it into words, it just pulls you towards it," says Buchberger. "You feel that it is yours. I don't specifically know what I love so much about it, but I know it every day."

Because many contestants are from overseas, most do not bring their instrument with them. Therefore, they must juggle for practice rooms, diligently working behind closed doors, and scrambling for extra time on the harps loaned by the prestigious Lyon & Healy Harp Company of Chicago.

Scoring points

Harpists are not only judged on technical merits, but also presentation and implied values, such as work ethic, diligence, and generosity.

Every contestant plays four memorized solo pieces on stage, choosing their music from a list of 20 IHC selections. This helps the internationally assembled jury determine skill level, so they can cut the number of contestants in half.

"Even if you don't advance to further stages, you're going to learn a lot, just from preparing," says Buchberger. "That's why I'm here."

While advancing their knowledge is a bonus, IHC Executive Director Andrew Bratton explains there are several more important reasons most musicians compete.

The winner of the harp competition wins a custom-made Lyon and Healy gold concert harp valued at $55,000.
The winner of the harp competition wins a custom-made Lyon and Healy gold concert harp valued at $55,000.

"The gold medalist, the first place participant in the harp competition wins a custom-made Lyon and Healy gold concert harp, made specifically for the USA International Harp Competition. The harp is valued $55,000."

Stringing along

And winning the competition can jumpstart a young harpist's career.

Past winners are now playing for Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet, the Paris Opera, and the Vienna Philharmonic. Many have also received recording contracts and gone on to professorships with esteemed academies and universities.

Something that is especially important in the current economic situation.

"Many orchestras in the past had carried two harpists all of the time, now there are very few, maybe even just a handful that have more than one harpist as part of their regular orchestra," says Bratton. "So many of the students that are studying here have the prospect of looking at very limited job possibilities, or only semi-fulltime job possibilities, much like a struggling actor or artist."

The competition means so much to Maryanne Meyer, 28, a graduate of Indiana University, that she's back for her second try.

"There's no bows, there's no hammers, there's no keys, it's just your fingers on the strings," says Meyer. "So it's a very direct way to create music and communicate that with your audience."

Maryanne Meyer, 28, was one of 39 harpists from 19 countries competing in the USA International Harp Competition.
Maryanne Meyer, 28, was one of 39 harpists from 19 countries competing in the USA International Harp Competition.

Career builder

That's what Susann McDonald was hoping to give the world when she created the competition.

A renowned musician in her own right, McDonald built an unheard of career as a solo harpist in the 1950s, and later helped establish harp programs at UCLA, Julliard, and Indiana University.

"So to have this chance to really hear the harp in all of its glory, to realize the vast tonal possibilities of the instrument in all the styles that can be played so effectively, I think everybody comes away loving the harp," says McDonald.

The eight semi-finalists perform music they've selected as well as a new work for the harp.  

"We have a composition winner contest, where we've selected a new composition for solo harp and all eight of those contestants must play that composition," says Janet Smith, a board member. "And then three of the eight will be selected to be finalists. In the final stage, all three play a concerto with the summer music orchestra."

There's a lot at stake for these young musicians. Maryanne Meyer says she overcomes contest jitters by treating the competition as she does any performance.

"I wasn't out there today, trying not to make mistakes, or trying to impress the jury. I was just trying to give a good performance for my audience, to reach them and give them something to smile about, and remember when they go home."

While neither Maryanne Meyer nor Lena-Maria Buchberger won this year's IHC, both say the experience left them smiling. This year's top prizes went to harpists from France, Japan, and Russia.

You May Like

Will Cuba Follow the Southeast Asia Model?

Decision to restore ties between US and Cuba has some debating whether it will lead to enhancement or regression of democracy for Communist island nation More

Kenyan Designer Finds Her Niche in Fashion Industry

‘Made in China’ fabrics underlie her success More

Report: CIA, Israel's Mossad Killed Senior Hezbollah Commander

The Washington Post story says Imad Mughniyah was killed instantly by a bomb "triggered remotely" from Tel Aviv by Mossad agents More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Lateri
X
Deborah Block
January 31, 2015 12:12 AM
Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid