About the method
Primarily I’ve been developing the method with an aim of changing the common attitude towards the harp as “a big exotic mesmerizingly gurgling thing”. Even professional musicians still have an old-fashioned opinion about this instrument: they see it as a not so serious instrument that can successfully enrich the sound of an orchestra, but is totally unbearable for your ears after a 5-minute solo performance. Unfortunately, such an opinion had reason to evolve.
The harp is a relatively young instrument in its modern form. The increased sound range and double-row pedal system greatly expanded its capabilities in comparison with the simple diatonic or even lever harp. But these improvements occurred quite recently (about 150 years ago) on the scale of the millennial history of the instrument, and unfortunately while they have granted more opportunities, at the same time they have substantially complicated the technique of performance. So it had to accelerate getting out of the cradle of simple traditional music-making with a natural scale and softly stretched strings, and fly straight to the heights of virtuoso classic solo performance. There was absolutely no need to perform complex technical elements on the predecessor of the modern concert harp; it did not take a lot of muscle strength to extract the sound; the unpretentious repertoire of that time did not have high demand for speed or accuracy of the fingers; and there was nothing much to make interpretations of.
Piano, violin, flute and other classical instrumental schools, step by step, generation after generation evolved and grew up, stimulated by the ingenious, complex, and deep works of Vivaldi, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven. They developed a colorful palette of their instruments, searched for new expressive possibilities, mastered and learned not to mix different styles, deepened musical concepts and learned interpretive skills. Meanwhile, harpists had to be content with a primitive folklore repertoire, and vocal and instrumental accompaniments that did not require high technical skills or great musical thought. And only a few pieces were written for the harp (and more often for organ or harp) by great composers. With the development of the instrument, harpists began to enthusiastically enrich their repertoire with their own, for the most part virtuoso, but shallow works.
It is only with the advent of the first outstanding virtuosos, who proved that the newly developing instrument has many unique advantages, that the harp finally attracted the attention of classical composers. There emerged a whole layer of romantic and impressionistic music; however, it was not that significant. In attempt to further expand their repertoire, harpists began to turn to piano, harpsichord, organ or guitar music. Yet the performing technique on the young improved instrument turned out to be so complex, that simple and accessible pieces for beginner pianists were often completely impossible to perform even on the modern concert harp. Moreover, the harp school, which had just begun its rapid but rather narrowly localized development noticeably, lagged behind the organ and piano schools, which have rich history and wide distribution. Not to mention the schools of other classical instruments, which have been developing for centuries, and use an extensive original repertoire.
For harpists the twentieth century was marked by the vigorous development of performing techniques. However, the desperate desire of the twentieth century harpists to catch up in their development to the level of other musicians was not supported by repertoire and pedagogical traditions. As a result, the harp school became imbalanced: developing technique at the expense of music. The modern world being in a hurry and rarely engaging in deep reflections unfortunately only worsens the problem.
I dare to declare, based not just on my conviction, but having proven times and again through working with my students, that the harp in its technical and musical expressiveness potential not only can, but should in no way yield to other more widely used solo instruments.
Our repertoire now numbers not hundreds, but thousands of interesting solo and ensemble works worthy to be performed on high professional stages. A great contribution to its enrichment was made by composers of the twentieth century. There were created many wonderful transcriptions and arrangements. Both listeners and future performers are steadily getting interested in the harp as a classical instrument. And we, the current harpists and teachers, must resolutely move beyond amateurship, and elevate our beautiful and beloved instrument to the highest professional level it deserves.
All it takes is consistent and methodical approach to not just teaching technical skills that allow to avoid any difficulties in performing the most virtuoso repertoire, but also tocomprehensive musical education using the most diverse classical repertoire that has become accessible to harpists as a result of the advances of the instrument. After all, technical fitness for a musician is not a goal in itself, but merely a means of being free in his possibilities of artistic expression.
For the past 30 years I have been engaged in the development of exactly such a methodology covering all aspects of musical performance.
To date the method has been tested and polished on my most consistent students, all of whom have reached the highest peaks of excellence in the shortest possible time regardless of their initial natural abilities and have repeatedly won various national and international competitions.
What principles is my method based on?
To be brief, I can name seven most basic principles:
Hand position and the development of the apparatus are strictly focused on maximum convenience in the performance of any complex technical elements without compromising the evenness, depth and, beauty of sound. By and large in this matter, I am a follower of the Posse-Slepushkin school.
Among other things, it includes exclusively using a modern pedal concert harp even for the youngest beginner harpists. I consider preparatory training on a traditional lever or especially a diatonic harp impractical.
My resolute opinion in this matter is that it’s absolutely impossible to effectively teach playing this most complex instrument without a regular help of a mentor. Any guidance manuals (including my own) can only provide a student assistance and support in addition to mandatory individual lessons with an experienced teacher.
However, unlike traditional methods, my method alters the learning process itself, transferring it from the domain of usual (and in my opinion ineffective) short weekly lessons to a new sphere of intensive 5 to 10 day long individual courses with a teacher, alternating with long periods of self-study according to the schedule strictly laid out by the teacher. This makes learning available even for students from remote areas of the planet, where there is no opportunity to receive weekly qualified assistance from a harp teacher.
The repertoire plays a very important role in my method. Having been carefully selected and strictly built from simple to complex, it is an ideal didactic material that allows you to consistently and confidently step up from level to level, mastering the full range of necessary technical and musical skills at each step.
The pieces selected for training are sorted into 7 conditional levels – from a very beginner to a virtuoso that does not experience any technical difficulties. Each level contains a selection of pieces representing different styles, genres, and moods. Each new level represents a leap of complexity based on the skills learned at the previous level.
Work on any single sheet music material (whether it is a whole piece or a small excerpt from a musical piece) is divided into 7 consecutive stages, none of which can be disregarded on the way of mastering a specific piece by the harpist. The three initial stages almost exclusively relate to the technical side of the performance, and become the base for the four subsequent stages, allowing to comprehend and organize the musical material into a complete and perfect work of art.
All stages, depending on the tasks and deadlines, can and should be carefully pre-planned and scheduled. This allows the process to be consistent and incremental. Specially for this purpose I’ve designed a schedule template.
Being lazy, just like any normal person, I am a proponent of a conscious approach to performing any tasks, striving to minimize the physical effort and the time spent. It always helps taking time to think and find the best way to achieve your goal rather than enthusiastically knocking your head against a brick wall of intractable difficulties.
Therefore, in my method, I ensure both the physical mechanisms of movements, forces, and inertia, and the psychological and neurophysiological mechanisms of formation of memory and motor skills servie our performing goals. This allows using the method I offer to drastically reduce the gap between the state of “I will never succeed” and “oh, this is so easy!”.
Having received a comprehensive classical music education, having mastered both practical skills of solo, ensemble, and orchestral performance, and diverse theoretical knowledge, I cannot overestimate the importance of a systematic and all-inclusive approach to developing the future professional musician. It makes no sense to master the movements of arms and legs necessary to extract sounds from an instrument without mastering the entire vast field of musical knowledge and musical experience necessary to transform a set of individually extracted sounds into a clear musical language capable of transmitting the entire depth of human emotions and soul movements.
Therefore, for professionally oriented students who are unable to obtain comprehensive knowledge in one music school, I strongly recommend that you take care of your general music education yourself. It should include both the main theoretical subjects – such as solfeggio, theory and history of music, and the greatest possible auditory experience – listening to recordings of various, preferably the best, instrumentalists (not only harpists) and orchestras led by the best conductors and visiting live classical music concerts.
One of the most important principles of success in any field of human activity is motivation. Not everyone will be able to remain enthusiastic and work long and hard if the success and the result of his work is something very distant in time, quite uncertain and almost unrealizable.
That’s why a tangible success and a sense of satisfaction from the achieved goal, obtained at each stage of learning, whether it is a week of intense training or a two-minute exercise, lie at the very core of my method.