This is apropos of nothing on this blog but I just discovered that a former teacher of mine died in July at age 100. Now that I've written the word teacher this line of thinking seems more appropriate here but my interactions with her were far removed from a traditional classroom.
She was Alice Chalifoux. I spent two summers studying with her at the Salzedo Harp Colony in Camden, Maine. By the time I was lucky enough to learn from her she was in her late eighties. The mystique around the harp colony was so great for me before my first trip there that a friend suggested I would be studying with the Yoda of harpists. It was a surprisingly accurate description. She was a tiny woman with an impressive force of personality. I was constantly intimidated by her. In spite of that she pushed me to greater heights as a harpist (which probably helped me reach mediocrity).
This weekend I will play for a Christmas party for the seventh (or so) year. As a result, I've actually been doing some real practicing recently. I think this must be what got me thinking about Alice Chalifoux. The amazing power of the web quickly led me to this video of her on Johnny Carson in 1988.
I can't begin to do her justice in this brief post. She was the principal harpist in Cleveland long before women played in orchestras. She taught at three different schools in Cleveland and ran the harp colony each summer up into her late eighties. She was the grand dame of the harp world, something she probably found amusing. The harp is known as a sedate, elegant, classy instrument. Alice could be all of those things, but none would be her natural state. She was strong, outspoken, witty, and often off-color. The harp world will shine less brightly without her.