Dr. Shirley Blankenship's help with the markups of my harp part for my Mother's Day piece for strings and harp, Lullaby for Mom, was invaluable. Fingerings, hand placements, distribution of notes between hands, location of pedal marks---all these things that the harpist would normally have to review and markup on her/his own are taken care of ahead of time, and so the finished part is way more readable than it would otherwise be. Shirley is very professional in her collaboration and fast---she turned out the edits super quick and reviewed the proofs without delay. And she took the time to work person to person over Skype---and that made things really click, even though she lives in Illinois and I live in Las Vegas. I learned a lot about harp in the process. Thank you Shirley very much for your dedication and efforts in the harp project, and I look forward to collaborating with you on future compositions.
Perhaps the most daunting instrument for a composer to write for is the harp. Unfortunately, my formal music education did not include an in depth study of this often misunderstood and intimidating instrument. This is why the Harp Legacy Project established by harpist and composer Dr. Shirley Meyer Blankenship is of significant importance to all composers who desire to learn how to write idiomatically for the harp. Dr. Blankenship asserts on her website that "It has been all too often that I have encountered harp parts that were, at best, awkward and, at worst, impossible to perform." A truer statement could not be made by a professional harpist about the regularity of, and difficulty in, deciphering and playing a poorly written harp part. Thankfully, there is hope!"
My experience working with Dr. Blankenship was enlightening, productive and enjoyable. If you are a composer in need of a patient, meticulous and highly competent expert to guide you in making your harp part both playable, professional looking and the best it can possibly be, look no further!
I posted a select screen grab of some of the harp edits, to which composer friends of mine (all who have their masters of doctorates in composition) asked what the heck was going on while harpist friends of mine simply responded "YES!!!". Its a perfect example of the disconnect between a composer's education and writing well for the harp.
Working with Dr. Blankenship on my extensive score has been equivalent to taking private composition lessons for the harp. Even after working with a harpist on the rough draft of my score, I was completely oblivious to issues that harpists of contemporary music face-issues that primarily come from composers. Having a beautifully edited score will cut down tens of hours of rehearsal time for any soloists who want to tackle my piece and make my work more attractive to soloists and publishing companies. Editing my piece along side Dr. Blankenship has given me a wealth of knowledge that I had not even come close to obtaining in my undergrad or masters programs in music composition.
About 10 years ago I came in contact with a harpist/multi-instrumentalist who expressed an interest in performing my music. Inspiration to compose for the ‘daunting’ harp was a given and my first composition for harp was written quickly that evening. She had various projects at the time including singing in what was eventually being described by the press as a ‘porn’ opera, a particularly ‘well’-choreographed rendition of Tannhäuser. Needless to say her singing career ‘took-off’ and the piece went to rest in the bottom of my closet until I came across Shirley’s Harp Legacy Project. My interest to unravel the mystery of the harp was renewed.
Shirley is very detailed and able to concisely relay the intricacies of the harp. Her unique composer/harpist expertise played an important part in my decision to contact her and I was certainly not disappointed. Her varied background is a plus and provides a beneficial liaison between composers and harpists of any music genres. I am very grateful for the numerous hours she has spent with me and do not hesitate in recommending her to anyone else.
O-listers, and especially fellow composers,
On Saturday I had a Skype conference with harpist Shirley Meyer Blankenship for consultation about the harp part for a Christmas piece I'm working on for chorus & orchestra. Shirley provides this service for a modest fee. She was most helpful and very thorough. Though the score in question does not have complex harp writing, nonetheless, with her advice, I now have a much more practical, more playable harp part.
The process: I first emailed a PDF of the harp part to Shirley, which she marked up with edits and suggestions. She then emailed a scan of her edits back to me. But the Skype conference is where the learning takes place. As I looked at her edits, she carefully explained each one so that I would understand *why the change would be for the better. She was also very generous with her time in answering my questions. (I am talking about issues far beyond those covered by orchestration texts.) Also, with Skype, there is a setting that allows the person on the other end to see what is on one's computer screen if one so wishes, so Shirley could see my Sibelius file in real time as I implemented her suggestions, given us the opportunity for her to say, for example, "not there, move that to the right."
I was most pleased with the consultation and highly recommend her services to you.
I wanted to let you know that the piece on which you provided editing of the harp part was performed Saturday at Ohio Northern Univ (an excellent student orchestra), and during a student-composer Q&A session after the dress rehearsal, the student harpist made a point of commenting on how idiomatically the harp part was written. I let them all know about our Skype collaboration, mentioning you by name, and how helpful it is for a composer to consult with instrument specialists. Thanks! The piece went well.
- Jesse Ayers Dec. 17,2014
Words cannot express how grateful I am for all of your passion and hard, meticulous efforts in bringing about a beautiful, simplified and play-worthy rendition of my harp part for my opera "The Dream Maker". May you continue to bless many composers with your unique and cherished gifts in the musical realm! God's Many Blessings!.
In January through May of 2012, I worked closely with Shirley Meyer Blankenship, DMA, editing the 48-page score of the 43-minute violoncello-and-harp duet, Progeny of Memory, which I'd composed in 2006, and which had been recorded in 2010 (Centaur Records #3077). Dr. Blankenship emphasized the practical needs of harpists throughout, and over numerous hours of back-and-forth, we worked out a new notation for the entire piece--a notation which will save harpists many hours of preparatory time, thus encouraging them to actually play the piece.
The notational expectations of harpists are uniquely esoteric, and they mainly share them with each other, not with other musicians. So Blankenship offers a vital service in patiently and painstakingly working out these details. She brings to the task a general musical background from her years as a pianist and composer, which not every harpist possesses. Where her proposed solutions to practical problems ran afoul of my compositional needs, I found her readily able to comprehend the issues and offer alternative proposals.Additional testimonial:
And especially for the composers on the list, as well as any harpists, I'd like to tell about a project I just concluded: the marking up of the score of my 2006 cello-and-harp duet, "Progeny of Memory", with the help of University of Illinois harp professor Shirley Meyer Blankenship. There's nothing like working with an expert instrumentalist and consummate musician on such a project. And we composers often have surprisingly little interaction with harpists, so we may go through life ill-prepared to write well for them. "Progeny of Memory" is a 42-minute, 11-movement work (recorded on Centaur Records No.3077), and the 50-page score initially presented harpists with about 50 hours of preparation and calculation before they could start rehearsing. The marked-up score modifies notation to give an initial division of tasks between the hands, to show not only pedal changes but full pedal dispositions at likely rehearsal points, to indicate placements of the hands which facilitate playing passages, some detailed fingerings, and many other details which should allow harpists to begin practicing and rehearsing right away. Shirley is a pleasure to work with, and a tireless perfectionist. Please see this comparison of the score before and after this project, for a glimpse of just how much work we did. The musical content is almost exactly identical between versions, but the notational differences may be an eye-opener.
Excerpt from a post left on Orchestralist.
A couple weeks ago I contacted Shirley Meyer Blankenship regarding my composition "Liturgie Rouge." Shirley responded almost instantly. While I was at first reticent to work with her on my composition, I quickly realized how foolish I was. Her first set of edits were extremely insightful as to how the instrument works and how it is played. Every suggestion made by Shirley made realizing my piece easier and the ideas in it more effective. If there is anyone who can help you make your piece playable on harp, it is Shirley Meyer Blankenship. Her attention to detail and enthusiasm along with her experience and honesty make her a truly wonderful person to work with. I will remember the things she told me about harp for a long time.
Earlier this month I contacted Shirley Meyer Blankenship to seek her advice and assistance with the harp part of a trio that I had recently written. Her expertise and knowledge of the harp was evident almost immediately when I spoke with her on the phone the first time. And within only a few short hours over a three or four day period, we were able to transform my piece into a truly delightful work of art - it went from good to great! Her suggestions to alter, adjust and even rewrite portions of the part made it completely playable and viable for live performance without compromising the integrity of the work. I couldn't be happier with the outcome, and the feedback I've received on the piece since has been extraordinary. As a result, a premiere performance is in the works!
Bravo, Shirley! Thank you for the passion you have for your craft!
I have worked extensively with Dr. Shirley Blankenship and have found her to be extremely competent and helpful as an editor/consultant for my compositions. As a composer herself, she understands what a composer is trying to do and can help him (or her) accomplish it. The Owl and The Pussycat, for harp and flute, is a highly chromatic work. Dr. Blankenship assisted me in revising and editing the score in order to make the notation viable for the harp. Shirley is also a virtuoso performer, as can be heard on her performance, in collaboration with Amanda Pond, of The Owl and the Pussycat. This work is available on the CD entitled Metamorphosis, Collaboration III.
I had a wonderful experience working with Shirley Meyer Blankenship on my composition “Quinquagenarium”. Preparing the parts for the Champaign-Urbana Symphony performance on February 19th, 2010, I was particularly concerned about the harp part, which contains several solos and exposed passages. Shirley was extremely generous with her time, suggesting revisions, looking over the part and ensuring that every measure was idiomatic for the harp and could be performed to maximum effect. She explained each adjustment to me in great detail, always giving me several options which she demonstrated. Her work on “Quinquagenarium” not only had a great impact on that composition, but gave me a much richer understanding of the workings and possibilities of the harp. In addition to being a great virtuoso and composer, Shirley has proven to be an invaluable advocate for the harp and adviser to composers writing for this wonderful instrument.
In the spring of 2011, I was asked to write a choral piece for the 32 voice adult choir of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Prescott, Arizona. Around the same time, I read about Dr. Shirley Meyer Blankenship’s “Harp Legacy Project in the Society of Composers Inc. online publications. It seemed Dr. Blankenship, a composer herself, was quite an advocate for the creation of new works for the harp and was very interested in working with other composers in that regard. After several email communications with Dr. Blankenship I became convinced that I should write for the harp, seeing a potential challenge and what would be a certain learning experience.
Now, I had two projects ahead of me. I would then begin writing a choral piece, as well as a solo work for the harp. As I sketched ideas for each, the two seemed to complement each other and I found myself with a work for SATB choir and harp. The piece would be for choir and harp, not choir accompanied by harp. After doing a bit of research and beginning the piece, I found out how much I didn’t know about the writing for the harp. I did not realize what harpists must do to play the instrument correctly. I did know that there are seven pedals and I had to take care when requiring pedal changes, but that was about it. There is so much more. I found Dr. Blankenship to be quite inspiring and informative, as she guided me through the process of creating my new piece. I was able to submit several drafts of the work via email, and even had a couple of phone conversations with Dr. Blankenship. She was very meticulous in her recommendations as we went over the piece note by note, and measure by measure.
The end result was very logical and “performer friendly” harp part. The harpist who premiered the piece was very impressed with the edition, and greatly appreciated the attention to detail.
I enjoyed the experience so much that I wrote a second piece, “Meditation for Flute and Harp.” I highly recommend Dr. Blankenship as an advisor/editor to composers who might be interested in writing for the harp.
It has been a pleasure to work with Shirley Meyer Blankenship of The Harp Legacy Project during her editing of the score for Le synchronisme, a composition for solo harp. Her expertise, accuracy, technical skill and attention to detail have made a tremendous difference and I recommend her without reservation.
Clear and precise notation is vital to the communication of musical ideas. Insight from an expert can often make the difference between a part that is unnecessarily challenging for a performer and a part that impeccably expresses a composer’s intention. I found Shirley Meyer Blankenship to be an ideal expert where notation for harp is concerned. Her knowledge of harp and her experience with experimental music helped me elevate a needlessly intimidating part to a more idiomatic representation. More importantly, after working with Dr. Blankenship, I am confident that the deeper understanding I now have for the harp will have a positive impact on any future music I write for the instrument.