The Young Composers Project offers young harpists a unique opportunity to share their original compositions!

The Young Composers Project

Photo: American Harp Society, Inc. Young Composers Project 2017 Featured Composers in Northfield, Minnesota.

Photo: American Harp Society, Inc. Young Composers Project 2017 Featured Composers in Northfield, Minnesota.

The Young Composers Project is a biennial national educational program for harpists-composers ages 25 and under. The project provides an opportunity for young harpists to broaden their relationship with their instrument by composing an original harp score and applying to become a featured composer at the 2019 Summer Institute in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Selected featured composers will perform their original compositions in concert during the Institute and engage in compositional workshops, masterclasses, and one-on-one personal feedback sessions led by our distinguished 2019 YCP faculty, Dan Locklair and Alyssa Reit. Today we talk with harpist-composers and members of the YCP committee, Julia Kay Jamieson, Laura Zaerr, and Rachel Brandwein about the benefits of composing and how young harpists can best prepare a composition or start the composition process.

What makes the Young Composers Project a unique educational program for young harpists? 

Jamieson: The Young Composers Project gives each participant valuable feedback, encouragement, and opportunities to grow as an artist. It welcomes harpists to write in any style they like and for exactly the level that they are. Most importantly, it’s a program that highlights creativity and expression! 

Brandwein: Many broader writing opportunities are geared towards experienced composers who write for an array of instruments. The YCP is unique because this is not a competition; rather, it serves as an opportunity for young harpist-composers to share their writing projects with their teachers and peers, receive feedback, it gives them a fun goal!

How is composing beneficial to young harpists? 

Zaerr: As young musicians we need to focus on building technique and repertoire.  But we also need to explore the creative range of our instrument, and our own expressive voice.  The Young Composers Project allows an opportunity to explore the nitty-gritty of how pieces are put together.  In the process of writing our own music, our analytical skills are enhanced, making it easier to understand other composers and how other pieces are put together. 

Brandwein: Writing music fosters growth in understanding music theory and developing the ear--among other factors, like personal expression. This exercise helps transfer these skills to standard harp repertoire and, in turn, hones students' musical levels and artistry.

Any tips for young harpists to prepare a composition or start the composition process? 

Zaerr: Have fun with the sound of your instrument.  Light a candle, or play in the dark.  Start with a rhythmic motif, and set the pedals weird.  Sometimes a phone number or a birth date can be the impetus for a theme:  1=A, 2=B, etc...   

Brandwein: If students are having a tough time starting a piece, ask them if they can hear any music in their head (melodies, rhythms, or colors of music). Sometimes this is a great place to start. They can then spend time at their instrument and compile these ideas.

Jamieson: Find inspiration! It can be in a story, a person, a news topic, a color, or a simple melody. Experiment and be playful. Brainstorm musical ideas! Ask yourself - What do I want to say with your piece?

Any tips for teachers to help their students prepare a composition? 

Zaerr: Be open minded to all styles.  Keep a light hand on issues of form.  If they can play it, they can write it. 

What do you hope young harpists gain from being a part of the YCP? 

Zaerr: I hope for each participant, whether chosen to be featured or not, would gain a richer understanding of the under-pinnings of music, and most importantly, a deeper relationship with your own unique creative process.

What do you love about being a composer?

Jamieson: I love goofing off on my harp- trying new sounds and thinking of ways to musically illustrate different ideas. I love thinking about and working on the shape and construction of a piece. I love sharing what I have written with audiences. One of my favorite parts is sharing what I have written with other musicians and hearing them play it! 

Zaerr: I love the process.  I love that anything is possible;  a path that could go any place, or floating down a river, and you don't know what's around the bend.  The immensity of possibilities draws me as I imagine sculpting time using sound. 

Brandwein: I love the sound of the harp. I love blending colors, registers, textures, techniques, and the personality of the instrument into a story of my own! I also love the feeling of reaching the goal of finishing writing a piece of music, as well as sharing it with others.

2017 Young Composers Project

Featured composers were mentored by Libby Larsen & Rachel Brandwein in Northfield, Minnesota.

Be inspired this summer!

A recording of the outstanding 2017 Young Composers concert is available for viewing online as well as in the Video Library of your AHS membership portal.  Learn more about the program and criteria, and apply online by midnight on March 14, 2019.