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Competition Watch: Dutch Harp Competition

April 1, 2012

Hi everyone,

Today the second Dutch Harp Competition (the first having happened in 2010) released the results of its final round.

Here was the repertoire for the entire competition:

Preliminary round

Audio recording, preferably on CD or MP3 which must be send to the Competition Secretariat before 15 November 2011

  1. One etude chosen from:
    W. Posse — Konzertetudes [1-8]
  2. From C. P. E. Bach — Solo in G, Wotq. 139:
    movement II. Allegro or III. Allegro

Quarter-final round

  1. C. P. E. Bach — Solo in G, Wotq. 139 (without repeats)
  2. M. Flothuis — Pour le tombeau d’Orphée
  3. From P. Patterson — Spiders, op. 48:
    movement IV. Tarantula

Semi-final round (max. 40 minutes in total)

Solo recital which must include the compulsory work:

  • C. Debussy — Danse sacrée et danse profane for harp and string quintet

The rest of the programme is chosen by the contestant and must be presented on stage by him- or herself.

Final round

  1. J. Rodrigo — Concierto de Aranjuez for harp and orchestra
  2. A freely chosen encore

Here were the results, by round:

Quarter-finalists (aka passed the prelims)

Alexandra Katelyn Mullins (United States)
Anastasia Sissy Makropoulou (Greece)
Andrea Voets (The Netherlands)
Anna-Livia Walker (Italy/United States)
Christa Emmerink (The Netherlands)
Emmanuel Padilla Holguín (Mexico)
Eva Verheyen (Belgium)
Ingrid Bauer (New Zealand)
Ivana Dohnalová (Czech Republic)
Joana Daunyté (Lithuania)
Katrina Szederkenyi (Hungary/Canada)
Liliana Safikhanova (Russia)
Mariam Fathy (Germany/Egypt)
Marina Ganshin (Israel/Russia)
Markus Thalheimer (Germany)
Nick Scholten (The Netherlands)
Oksana Sidyagina (Russia)
Ritsuko Arima (Japan)
Valérie Milot (Canada)
Victoria Davies (United Kingdom)


Sarah Verrue (Belgium)
Antonia Hentze (Germany)
Valeria Kurbatova (Russia)
Ruth Bennett (United States/United Kingdom)
Mami Segawa (Japan)
Joel von Lerber (Switzerland)
Amandine Carbuccia (France)
Anna Steinkogler (Germany)

*Unfortunately Antonia Hentze had to drop out of the competition at this point due to illness*


Amandine Carbuccia (France)
Ruth Bennett (United States/United Kingdom)
Sarah Verrue (Belgium)

Final results:

First Prize (€10,000 and concert tour in 2013): Amandine Carbuccia (France)

She additionally won the Omroep MAX Award, consisting of a concert or studio registration.

Second Prize (€5,000): Sarah Verrue (Belgium)

Third Prize (€2,500): Ruth Bennett (United States/United Kingdom)

Winner of the Fiordifrutta Audience Award (€ 2,500) is Amandine Carbuccia (France). The award was presented by harpist and The Voice of Holland-winner Iris Kroes, who gave a magnificent performance during the jury deliberations.

The Festival Classique Originality Award, given to the semi-finalist with the most original recital programme and presentation, was handed to Anna Steinkogler (Austria). She will develop and perform a concert format during Festival Classique 2013.


Great job, everyone!

The Dutch Harp Competition has some progressive ideologies  that you might find interesting. You can find all the relevant information on their website. On a superficial level, isn’t is great that they have a performance going on during the jury deliberations?

Happy practicing!



What’s your order?

March 25, 2012

As you’ve begun to get some performances under your belt, you’ve likely thought about the order that you will play your program. Choosing the order is probably rather easy if you’re playing only two, three, four, or even five pieces. It can be a bit more complicated if you’re playing a larger program, especially if you have lots of small pieces. Here, I’ll go over the process that many musicians use to determine their program order. Some of the reasons may seem rather intuitive, but deliberately enumerating them can help you think of all perspectives and can be helpful later when you have other programs to order and the order doesn’t jump out immediately.

A tried and true order that many musicians swear by is chronological. The logic here is that each period of music served as the basis for the next, so hearing classical/baroque era music will prep the listener for romantic/impressionist music, which will in turn prep the listener for modern music. Of course, you might have to make some adjustments if some of the pieces were written very close to one another. There, simply use the logic behind the basic rule; if you have three pieces written in 1950, 1953, and 1957, then order them so that the most modern or progressive sounding is last while the piece that looks backward in time should be played first.

However, there are some issues with that model. What if the last piece you play by the method is a very slow, and rather unimpressive. Is that really the final note you’d like to leave the listener. Ditto for the first piece. Also, what if you’re playing 6 pieces, all from the same decade? They probably all sound the same, so how should you order them.

Although I largely agree with the chronological order logic, at the same time, I firmly believe that the performer has other considerations. For instance, he would probably like to start and end with a bang. On top of that, if there is an intermission, he should consider whether or not he’d like to move into the intermission with exciting music, or some more peaceful.

Furthermore, considering the audience is important. You will not want their ears to get tired by listening to music that is the same style or the same intensity level for too long. On top of that, you’ll want to make sure that you give yourself breaks during the program by inserting more manageable pieces into the middle.

Here’s an example. For my high school senior recital, I performed the CPE Bach Sonata (1700s), Renie’s Legende (1903), Grandjany’s Rhapsodie (1923), and the Britten Suite (1969). Right there is the chronological order, but the final order ended up being: Grandjany, Bach, Britten, Renie. The logic here was the Grandjany is an impressive piece, so its a great opener. In fact, the piece is intended as a recital opener, so that logic is sound. Next, I proceeded in chronological order. I played Renie last since the piece is impressive, and the ending is especially so. Placing Britten right before Renie makes sense using the chronological order (if you take at face value that Renie should go last) because it comes after Bach, but it is also an excellent segue because the very end of the piece allows the performer to calm down before having to expend so much energy for Renie. Moreover, the beginning of Renie and the ending of Britten have similar intensity levels, so the transition is smooth for the audience.

Hopefully seeing the process has been helpful, and happy practicing!


Revisiting audition tapes

March 4, 2012

This week I thought that I’d discuss audition tapes some more, especially the recording process, since I spent nine hours over the past two days making my own audition tape. Actually going through the recording process conjured up bits of info that I think you might all find helpful but that I had forgotten since my last recording session (which was about a year ago).

The hardest part about recording a relatively new piece, at least for me, is actually making it through the entire piece. Of course, there are several levels within “making it through the entire piece.” The lowest level might just be literally playing all the way through. Another level might be playing it all the way through with no wrong notes or pedals. Another one might be playing it through with no buzzes. Ideally, your recording will represent the highest level of “making it through the entire piece” that you can imagine. However, several things make it inherently difficult to do so (as if you didn’t already know).

One of the biggest culprits, I conjecture, would be all the detail level work that we do when practicing. Don’t get me wrong, that attention to detail is crucial to playing a piece well, but its awful for making the entire piece come together for the first time. Take this situation. You’re playing a piece, and it has two sections, A and B. A and B are distinct, and the difficulties that each present to you are very different. There are many details that you pay attention to for each, but since the piece is somewhat new, you have to go through a “calibration period” where you have to play section A, for example, several times before you can actually play it and incorporate all the details that you want to. Sometimes this is due to the newness of the piece itself (you just can’t get those darn arpeggios without playing them a few times first – this fades with time) and other times its due to a “tracking error” – it’s hard to remember all the little details at once before you start the section for the first time! Here’s the issue: section B has an entirely different set of problems that could be described as the ones from section A. You can play section A perfectly after a few warm up tries , and you can do the same with section B, but if you play section A (perfectly or not) and then go right into section B, it’s as if all your detail   work for B went straight into the garbage! Familiar feeling?

Recording forces you to be at such ease with the piece that you are able to anticipate all of these details ahead of time so that you can execute them successfully. Hopefully, you’ll  be able to incorporate some of the details into your subconsciousness to so you don’t have to actively think of them. For instance, it’s okay to have to think to yourself, “Don’t buzz here!” but eventually, your fingers should know what to do without your conscious effort. This allows you to focus on more difficult and/or more important details.

For this reason – that recording forces me to stitch together all the little patches of fabric that are the sections of my piece – I think that recording is an excellent tool to use before a performance. I can understand why someone might want to perform before recording: it allows them to minimize recording time since they won’t be starting and stopping when something doesn’t quite go as planned, the assumption being that several performances of a piece will force the piece together just like a recording session or two would. However, I prefer to be as comfortable as possible in my first performances of a piece, so making sure that its one cohesive piece rather than a string of sections is work that I like to do before I play it for the general public.

Of course, recording is not only for use before a performance – it’s an excellent aid afterward or any time, really. You can view my past post on “Recording as a practice aid” if you’d like to read more on that topic.

Happy recording!


When no one will listen…

February 26, 2012

So let’s say that you need some performance practice, but for whatever reason, you haven’t been able to secure any performance opportunities. What do you do?

Well, in order to simulate a performance experience, you need to delineate the characteristics of a performance.

For one, you won’t be used to the performance conditions. You’ll likely be in somewhat unfamiliar clothes (especially shoes!) and an unfamiliar place.

Depending on how you specifically react to nerves, you might feel your heart pounding, you might get sweaty palms, or your hands might be shaky. Etc.

In simulating performance for practice purposes, try to recreate as many of these conditions. Sometimes, you have to be creative.

For instance, to get your heart racing, try running up and down some stairs before playing. After finishing, run back to your harp and immediately start playing. Have your shoes ready to put on immediately (if you’re wearing shoes) and ideally you should have your pedals set (although having to set your pedals could be good practice too). Try playing – the feeling of your heart pounding will make the experience eerily similar to an actual performance. The reason you need to transition from exercise to playing as quickly as possible is because your heart rate will slow down as you play, and you don’t want it to slow down too soon. You can compensate, if you’d prefer, by doing more strenuous exercise beforehand, as this will make sure that your heart rate will remain elevated for the duration of your practice run.

To help with clothes and locations, I’d recommend practicing in the clothes you will perform in. Also, try practicing in different rooms, if it’s possible, so you can get used to compensating for the sound and for the visual aspect.

The essential lesson here is that performance is, in many ways, the opposite of practicing. Things will be different, so try changing things up during practice, when you can comfortably adjust without pressure. Play with only one shoe on. Play in your underwear. Play with the bench at the wrong height. Quickly put your pedals in a random setting and begin playing a piece – see if you can reset them while playing. Set up distractions for yourself. This is a chance to be really creative!

Have fun, and comment if you have any favorite ways to change things up!


What next?

February 19, 2012

Assuming you’ve got your audition tape made (and you probably don’t yet), then next step is to compile the application materials and mail it off! But what comes after that?

After recording, your level of playing probably made a significant leap. The simple fact that you forced yourself to be able to run through the pieces means that the pieces are in good shape. In other words, your standards for the technical ability, endurance, etc. are high, and you’ve probably met them if you are happy with the tape. Of course, you should have a nicely developed interpretation at this point too, but now I would suggest working with your teacher to make sure that your new found technical ability is really making the music live up to its full potential.

After a few more weeks letting everything simmer together, it’s time to start performing. Every one will have different opportunities, but most of us have access to student recitals of some level. You could also ask schools, religious institutes, community centers, retirement homes etc. if they would like a complimentary performance!

Don’t be discouraged if your first performances don’t go quite as well as you hope (but of course you knew that!). Rest assured, they get better! Each time you perform, you’ll become more comfortable, and so the next time around you’ll feel less nervous to begin with, and that always helps. Additionally, every time you give a “bad” performance, you’ll become motivated to practice those specific sections which didn’t go so well.

This step is pretty self-explanatory, because the more you perform, the better you get at performing – there isn’t much in the way of specific things you need to do to make this happens.

Good luck, and happy practicing!

Next week, I’ll discuss ways to practice performing when performances are scarce.


Audition Tapes part II

February 13, 2012

Hey everyone!

Last week I wrote about equipment and setup when making an audition tape, and this week I’ll discuss the process itself.

When first sitting down after hitting the record button, most of us will feel relatively normal as we begin playing. However, as you continue playing, you’ll find the experience stressful, and you’re likely to mess up. The process isn’t quite like a performance, but you’ll soon feel the same stress of trying to play everything perfectly in one shot. Suddenly, you’ll realize that you’re not quite as strict with yourself during practice as you’d like to think. This is the main reason why I like to set aside a few weeks to complete the recording process.

I do not plan on making any final recordings during the first week; instead, I focus on changing my playing based off of the quality of recording I’m making. In fact, I usually find this time period to be one of my most productive during competition preparation. For once, you’re actually listening to yourself in the way that an audience member (or your teacher) is, and because of that, you will hear your playing in an entirely new light. By spending the first week or so ironing out all the parts that you want to change (or that you’re messing up/forgetting), you’ll become much more confident. This will allow you to be comfortable when recording and will boost the quality of your real performance too!

When you’re making your recording, it’s easy to hear what you would like to change. However, that doesn’t mean you know exactly what the judges will be listening for in your CD. Remember that when listening to a CD, the listener has only his ears to evaluated you by, so you can’t hope that any glaring deficiencies will be hidden by a domineering stage presence or any other non-aural component of a performance. Therefore, you must be strict in the following areas; make sure you do everything exactly as written unless you have a convincing reason not to (and this should be discussed with your teacher):









Simple, right? Not so much. It can take a lot of work for some of these elements to come through very clearly in a recording. Basically make sure that everything is right, that you’re playing musically, and that you sound confident and solid. Notice, though, that tone is not included. Most competitions will not evaluate your tone during the preliminary round simply because recording conditions, equipment, differences between harps, etc. can all unfairly give an  advantage or disadvantage. That’s not a license to play harshly, though. I know that you won’t officially be evaluated on those terms, but part of me is certain that a good tone through a good recording is going to help, at least subconsciously.

You might be interested in seeing an evaluation form from the Young Artist’s Harp Competition, which is to be held this summer. Note that this competition requires a DVD for the preliminary round, and that’s why “Memorization” and “Technique” are not marked “live round only” (though buzzing could fall under the category of technique).

Happy practicing!


Audition Tapes Part I

February 5, 2012

Hey everyone!

It’s that time of year again… when so many harp (and other music) students start making audition tapes for summer festivals, competitions, and a variety of other musical events.

If you’ve never made an audition tape before, the process can be daunting. Hopefully, I’ll be able to help you through it (at least somewhat). Today, I’ll start at the beginning, and for making an audition tape the beginning is the equipment and setup.

You can use a variety of different devices around your home to record yourself. Most computers (specifically laptops) have microphones these days, and phones do as well. Almost any video camera will have some decent audio input, and you might have a dedicated audio recording device like I do. Needless to say, you’ll want the best audio quality possible. For the competitions I’ve entered, the basic premise has been that you want the audio quality to be good enough for the judges to hear the intricacies and subtleties of your playing, but at the same time they won’t judge your tone, since that can be quite distorted on tape, even if the tape is very good. That being said, do NOT go to a recording studio unless doing so is specifically requested by the competition/festival. It’s a waste of money. For me, since I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to making recordings, I like to endlessly make recording after recording until everything is right. You simply cannot do that in a recording studio. The ideal is that you know your music well enough that you should be able to do it in just a few takes, but recording at home affords you the same luxury even if you don’t really need it, and you’ll save money too.

Now in terms of actual recording devices, I use a Zoom H2, but you can use whatever you want if you think it makes a relatively clear recording. However, speaking of clear recordings, you’ll need to do some noise management. Ideally, your recording space will be perfectly silent. I would do a “diagnostic test” on your recording space by first adjusting the mic gain (the feature that makes your microphone more or less sensitive to loudness) so that your harp is easily heard. Next, make a recording of the silence of the room. Now listen to this recording in a different room. Can you hear any humming? Random noises? Chirps? Pitterpats? Etc.? Try to eliminate as many of these as possible, and maybe even change recording rooms if it makes a big difference. You’re also going to want to make sure that you don’t have any relatives or pets that are making any noise. You can’t always get everything exactly as you want, though, so just do your best. Also, remember that speaking and applause are usually forbidden. Page turns are acceptable, but to expedite the process I would make sure that everything is memorized – but don’t sacrifice recording time in order to memorize your music. Do whatever is most comfortable, but in the long run the most comfortable should be memorized.

Next, you’ll want to make your CD. Most audition tapes forbid editing of any kind, except between pieces and movements (and this is nice since you can do multiple takes of the same piece in a row, then). So you’ve got that covered, as there’s editing to do. The only adjustment I might make (and I do this with the free, downloadable program called Audacity) is to volume, just so that the judges can actually hear me in case the recording was too quiet by itself. Next, you simply need to burn these audio files onto a CD.

My recording device has the capability to make a file contained within the device (like a picture in a digital camera) or to save this file directly onto my computer. I do the latter. My device is also capable of recording in MP3 formats or WAV. WAV are generally better, but are much larger sized files. I go with MP3 simply because it’s standard and most definitely good enough.

Finally, what is your setup going to look like? You’ll have to do some experimenting with the placement of your microphone. You want to make sure that it’s close enough to hear your articulation, but far enough away to hear the ringing of the harp. You’ll also want a good balance of high and low tones. Distance away also affects volume – too close and the mic will be overloaded and you’ll hear a nice static-y sound. Too far away, and it sounds like you’re playing on the other side of a football field. Every harp, room, and mic is different, so this part is really up to you. Make sure to try different heights as well! The more life-like your playing sounds like, the better the placement of the mic is.

As a last, quick note, some competitions require video of your playing. The same principles go for this, and I use my audio device to record better sound than my camera could. I later sync the audio and video in Windows Movie Maker. Just remember to look nice!

Happy practicing (and recording) and remember to comment!