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How-to-play-the-blues-and-improvise-on-a-harp-within-one-hour @ Runnels School, Baton Rouge, USA 

by Sabine Meijers 

October 2011 

 

This year's Jazz Harp Academy was a special one, because we could add a new project to our program. A project that contributed greatly to one of the main goals of the International Jazz Harp Foundation: reaching a bigger audience for jazz harp.  

In order to reach this bigger audience, we needed to get out of our safe little harp world and step into another one. On the day preceding the Jazz Harp Academy weekend at Louisiana State University, with great help from Baton Rouge harp teacher Rebecca Todaro, we stepped into the world of an extraordinarily musical group of teenagers in Baton Rouge: the students of Runnels School.  

 

On this remarkable 22th of September, Brenda and I conducted our learn-to-play-the-blues-and-improvise-on-a-harp-within-an-hour project with approximately 150 students, about 30 at a time. We actually got harpists, pianists, violinists, choir members and other music students to swing on the harp, play some blues and even improvise, the non-harp-players being carefully assisted by their fellow harp-students. 

 

Class full of great students learning to play the harp and the blues at the same time. The eye (and ear) catching black and pink electric lever harps provided by Lyon & Healy made their solo improvisations even cooler.  

 

Runnels School provided a dedicated music room in their arts department, over 20 harps, and many curious students as well as their caring and enthusiastic music teachers. They also arranged presence of the press from the local newspaper to spread the word and not to forget a very warm welcome and a tasty lunch beautifully set up in the school's ballet classroom, a great and much needed escape from our intensive program that was, as always, bursting at the seams. 

 

We especially liked to be invited by this particular school because Runnels is a school with an 'artful' view on development, I quote from their website: we believe that increasing in technical academic knowledge, social skills, and physical well-being is not enough for a complete education. We believe that a very important part of a child’s growth is developing an appreciation of the arts. We strive to inspire this appreciation in many ways, and also provide an opportunity for self-expression in the arts. 

 

Music is one of the means by which Runnels achieves this goal. The school has four music electives: band, chorus, string orchestra and harp. Harp being one out of four electives is very special of course, and we, as harpists and harp teachers, were thrilled to hear this. But we were even more excited when we learned that on top of that there are harp classes for each student, every day of the week (yes, you read this well, every day, meaning 5 days a week, a one-hour harp class for each student). Most lessons are given in groups of 3 - 7 harpists. All harp classes are taught by Rebecca Todaro. She started 3 years ago with just a few students, and was able to build a class with no less than 33 harp students by now, some playing lever harp, some playing pedal harp. What an amazing job! 

 

We are very grateful that in collaboration with Runnels School and Rebecca Todaro, we could launch and fulfill this educational project as a pre-academy program to the Jazz Harp Academy and we want to thank the faculty and students from Runnels for a wonderfully swinging day that we won't easily forget. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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