How to Choose a Harpist in the Charleston, SC Area

The term “professional harpist” is a very subjective term.  Anyone can advertise as a professional harpist in Charleston, SC since there are no legal requirements, licenses or any type of professional certifications needed.
Harps are lovely to look at and far too often the public hears the harp with their eyes, not listening to the quality of playing but rather watching a large, beautiful and unusual instrument being played.  In addition, the harp is a forgiving instrument for a beginner, opposed to most other instruments in which a beginning player with limited skills is very obvious.  The harp can be used in a solo capacity and it becomes very easy for an amateur or even a beginner harpist to solicit work and to assume the title “professional”.   Many also charge fees equivalent to and sometimes in excess of professionals.

Unfortunately for a client planning a wedding or other special event in Charleston, he or she may be dependent upon a referral list or help from a third party and has no method of determining the true ability of the harpist in question.

The following suggestions may be useful in determining the proficiency of a musician.

Who is referring the harpist?

Many times referral lists are comprised of vendors who asked or even paid a fee to be placed on a list.  These lists are not screened in any way and the vendor distributing the list, while meaning well, may know nothing of the quality of the referrals.  Simply contacting any harpist for a referral or a price quote is a common mistake since the musical ability from one harpist to another can vary dramatically.

Ask if the harpist is a full-time performing musician

Professional musicians are like other highly trained professionals.  Similar to athletes, trained musicians play one instrument to a professional standard just as athletes in their professional sports careers or physicians in their respective specialties.  We do not have additional employment since music performance is our chosen career- a highly demanding career choice. 

Ask questions regarding training and qualifications

Note the education of the harpist.  A conservatory performance degree is ideal for it indicates years of formal training and coursework.  It also indicates that in many cases, the harpist sought out world class instruction as oppose to taking some lessons with someone with questionable training him/herself.  A current, full time position in a symphony orchestra also indicates a high level of skill as these positions are very competitive and mandate a very high level of proficiency.  Many people play an instrument as a hobby but very few can pursue a formal education in music with the full range and level of skills that we must possess.  Unfortunately, many confuse hobby with profession when choosing a musician.

Ask about performance experience

The number of years that a harpist has performed playing engagements can be misleading as to true expertise.  Experience shows itself in many ways.  It shows in the harpist’s ability to work successfully with a musician, amateur or professional, whom the harpist has never met prior to that specific performance. It shows in your harpist’s ability to perform standard literature well, using advanced, professional arrangements of music, or the ability to learn or to sight-read a request which culminates immediately in a successful performance.  Experience is reacting quickly to misinformation or logistical problems.  A professional harpist can make seamless adjustments to an awkward situation. A well trained, experienced harpist can easily handle all of the above referenced scenarios.

A true professional brings an entire package of high level skills and experience, the same standards we expect of other professionals with whom we conduct business.  Ascertain who you are hiring before signing a contract, keeping in mind that qualified professionals make a tremendous difference in raising the standard of your special event.