Erica Goodman, harpist

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most
important influences on your musical life and career?

My father, Hyman Goodman, was a prominent violinist and became concertmaster of the
Toronto Symphony the year that I was born, having already played in it for many years. Our
home was a virtual Garden of Eden of musical activity be it chamber music rehearsals or my father’s practising. My lullaby was listening to him ploughing through the Kreutzer Etudes as I fell asleep. When I was very young he would play Brahms Lullaby for me at bedtime, and I remember weeping not out of sadness but because he played it so beautifully. After I started playing nursery school songs by ear on our piano, my father took me to Toronto Symphony rehearsals which is where I discovered the harp. I fell totally in love with it and the passion that overcame me regarding the sound and the beauty of it still remains. I was lucky to have music teachers in my early years who were extremely gifted with young people and who made the process of learning fun. I spent eight glorious summers at the Interlochen Music Camp (Michigan, USA) starting in the beginning harp class and winding up playing 1st harp when the High School Orchestra performed at the White House with President Kennedy in attendance.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Playing the concert harp in itself is a big challenge because the instrument is large, difficult to move, and must be in mechanically perfect condition. Shipping it is expensive and complicated and there are very few technicians who are qualified to work on the complex “double action” which enables the harpist to change key by employing seven pedals. Often, arrangements must be made to rent or borrow harps which might be of inferior quality. Allof this makes touring very difficult.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

Regarding performances: At age 15, I had to play first harp with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on short notice due to sudden illness. I was already playing 2nd harp on the concert but had to
combine both harp parts of Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales and Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun. My father was concertmaster and I could see him on the other side of the stage radiating with pride. He and I played often played violin and harp recitals together when I was very young which hold a special place in my heart. Playing the Harry Somers Harp Concerto at the inaugural concert of the National Arts Centre Orchestra at Alice Tully Hall in New York, playing chamber music with Heinz Holliger at the Tanglewood Festival and in Toronto, playing at Rideau Hall in Ottawa before Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip and Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and other dignitaries when the Constitution was brought back to Canada, playing at Canadian embassies throughout Europe with long-time colleague flautist Robert Aitken and his New Music Concerts Ensemble, playing the music of Toru Takemitsu with the composer present at the Yatsugatake Music Festival in Japan and the music of Luciano Berio when he came to Toronto, playing several concerts with Peter Serkin and his group Tashi.

Regarding recordings: I am proud of my BIS recordings as soloist and in collaboration with flutist Robert Aitken and French hornist Sören Hermansson (with whom I toured extensively in Sweden), also proud of my Trio Lyra recordings with flutist Suzanne Shulman and violist Mark Childs.. And I am proud of my recent three flute & harp CD’s with Suzanne Shulman which are Serenades and Sonatas on Naxos, A Net of Gems and Being Golden produced by Wolftone Media.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

My favourite music is that of 19th and 20th century French composers, particularly Ravel and Debussy. I was fortunate to have the chance to record Ravel’s 10 minute concerto gem, Introduction and Allegro, for CBC Records. I adore the orchestrational colour palette of French composers and they seem to relate to the special sonorites of the harp which I love to show off. I have also played a great deal of avant garde contemporary music, some of which requires extended techniques. It can be very challenging, but I enjoy using all the colours a harp can produce. It is almost an orchestra unto itself.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

There are so many bad things going on in the world that one can become very cynical. I like to counteract that by searching out the beauty in nature as well as the arts and the senses in general. As a child, I studied ballet and modern dance and thus appreciate greatly when they are done magnificently. I also love to watch figure skating and how music is such an important part of the artistic expression. I discovered the wonderful work for strings and harp by William Alwyn called Lyra Angelica through it’s use in a skating routine of the great Michelle Kwan. I am hoping that one of my recordings will be used in a skating routine some day. And I like to listen to performances of past great artists of all instruments that have preceded us. Youtube is especially helpful, especially for young artists who do not have to attend concerts to hear what great musicianship sounds like. However, hearing great artists in person as I had so many opportunities to do in my youth is still an incomparably inspiring experience.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I am often requested to play certain repertoire, especially for Christmas concerts with choirs. Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols is a standard request. Fortunately, it is also a great work whose challenges are never tiring, nor can they be taken for granted. John Rutter’s Dancing Day has also become very popular. Otherwise, I try to take the type of audience into account when programming recitals, and I try to include some Canadian content. Marjan Mozetich and Milton Barnes have written several pieces for me, both solo and ensemble, and though contemporary, they are largely tonal and have immediate audience appeal.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Not too large and with a hollow floor that resonates is best for the harp. I played once at London’s Wigmore Hall and the reviewer said he thought the harp was artificially amplified which it wasn’t! I considered that to be a great compliment…..but I did write to the newspaper with a
correction. In fact, I like to play intimate house concerts the best. People can get up close to the harp and see details of how it is actually played including the constant and (hopefully) silent shifting of the seven foot pedals. It is also easier to fill a room with sound without having to force one’s tone. Many concert halls in Canada are equipped with rubberized floors for dance companies which absorb sound, so one must work hard to project with dramatic effect.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

Education in schools is where it starts. It is sad that the first thing to go when school boards cut budget’s is arts education, especially music. I have done tours where we played at four different schools each day for a week or two. The ones with principals who really cared about music and included it in the curriculum had the most attentive audiences. But even when we played for relatively disinterested groups, one always hoped to have reached students who might be inspired to play an instrument at least as a hobby which usually leads to concert attendance.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Hearing Mstislav Rostropovich when he first played with the Toronto Symphony. My father came home from rehearsal saying the soloist that week was some new Russian cellist who was extraordinary. The concert was a kind of collective spiritual experience, especially the Bach he played as an encore. No one wanted to break the spell he had created with applause. Also, hearing Artur Rubinstein at Massey Hall in Toronto was very special. He walked on to the stage, sat down, all with great simplicity, and the magic began. His tone was spectacular in person. And as a Canadian, we must not forget about Glenn Gould. He used to come to our home and play chamber music with my father when he was about age 24. However, it was better to listen and not watch all his antics!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Fame is fleeting and often manufactured. For me, success is getting closer to that star of perfection. Although it sometimes seems to be in reach, it always somehow eludes us. But that is a good thing because the striving makes us improve. So I would say that becoming a finer and more thoughtful musician with a technique that serves the music well is my definition of personal success. Also, receiving positive feedback, having an audience member say that he or she was transported to a magical place, away from daily cares and worries…..this is the pinnacle of success for me.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I think young musicians today need to know how to market themselves through social media and every other kind of media. It is a tall order as one must also spend hours and hours practising. There is no shortcut to acquiring absolute mastery of an instrument which one must have in order to achieve musicality. And I think everyone needs a mentor. At some point, perhaps towards the end of study, it is helpful to have a teacher that can connect a talented student to performance or at least audition opportunities. And, a young player must be consistently outstanding and reliable, in other words, totally professional at every gig, no matter how unimportant it may seem. One never knows who might be listening.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Healthy enough to be able to continue being a professional musician.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

To have a soulmate partner with whom to share the challenges and jubilations of life, and who understands how much courage it takes to be a musician. Dealing with stagefright, playing at a high standard when your body or soul are not co-operating….these things take a lot of determination and a positive mental attitude. I can count on one hand the concerts I have played where everything is right such as the temperature of the hall, the acoustics of the hall, the condition of the instrument, the condition of my body especially in winter when it is difficult to limber up, having had enough rest especially if touring and travelling within a tight schedule etc.

What is your most treasured possession?

My three harps

What is your present state of mind?

The pandemic has challenged everyone’s state of mind and I am no exception. The constant state of fear over the first year especially when nobody knew what was causing illness or how to treat it was not a good thing and I feel I have deteriorated somewhat physically. However, resuming playing after the lockdown has been therapeutic and I am hoping for better things to come, especially more recording as I truly enjoy the intimacy of the process.

A native of Toronto, Erica Goodman is acclaimed as one of the world’s outstanding solo harpists. She received her training at the Royal Conservatory of Music (Toronto), the National Music Camp (Interlochen Michigan) and the Curtis Institute of Music (Philadelphia). Already a concert performer in her teens, Erica played under the baton of Igor Stravinsky when he recorded in Toronto. While at Curtis, she was a concerto soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Upon finishing her studies, Mario Bernardi chose her to be a member of the newly formed National Arts Centre Orchestra. He further gave her the honour of playing Harry Somers’ Suite for Harp and Chamber Orchestra at the orchestra’s New York debut performance.

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Photo credit: Shjaane Glover