Magazine article American Harp Journal

The American Youth Harp Ensemble: A Model of Artistic and Educational Excellence

Magazine article American Harp Journal

The American Youth Harp Ensemble: A Model of Artistic and Educational Excellence

Article excerpt

The Teachers Forum is a regular feature of The American Harp Journal. Submissions should be sent to Linda Wood Rollo at

How does one go about starting and building a youth harp ensemble? The American Youth Harp Ensemble (AYHE) is a nationally recognized model of music education, youth development and mentorship. The following is a brief history of the AYHE along with some secrets to success in creating a world-class youth harp ensemble.

Beginning in the Public Schools: The AYHE has its roots in the Richmond, Virginia, inner-city public school system where Lynnelle Ediger-Kordzaia was the director of the middle and high public school harp program. Lynnelle had a broad perspective of the types of performances and level of training required to create life-changing opportunities for youth interested in playing the harp and for developing a truly outstanding ensemble including students who might otherwise never have access to music education, much less to the harp.

Transitioning to Non-Profit Status: In 1999, consistent with her vision of enabling every interested child, regardless of financial means, to play the harp, Ms. Ediger-Kordzaia started the HARPS Foundation, a community-based nonprofit organization that encompasses the American Youth Harp Ensemble. Initially, the ensemble used instruments owned by Ediger-Kordzaia, but the very day that the HARPS Foundation received its letter of non-profit status, it also received its first donated pedal harp. The donor offered the harp on two conditions: 1) she wanted to give her harp to a nonprofit organization and 2) she wanted it to benefit youth. Interpreting this as the good omen that it was, Lynnelle departed that evening on the three-hour drive to Maryland to retrieve the instrument, and the American Youth Harp Ensemble was officially launched.


Developing Feeder Groups: The AYHE began with thirty students, committed to rehearsals three days a week after school. Today, the American Youth Harp Ensemble numbers over two hundred harpists who practice and perform on rotating schedules in four ensembles, which reflect the differing levels of musical accomplishment. Outreach and mentorship programs, developed through partnerships with area organizations help develop new young harpists and feed directly into the AYHE.

Building Parent and Community Support: Like most founders of new enterprises, in the beginning, Lynnelle Ediger-Kordzaia had to wear all the hats of the organization. Her tireless work was a labor of love. As she now says, "It became critical to identify parents who could be workers. Our board started at a kitchen-table and evolved into a board of recognized individuals with wide spheres of personal and professional influence. We now have regular donor and fund-raising events and a comprehensive development calendar. We've become one of the highly visible arts organizations on our city landscape.

Transitioning from a Full-Volunteer to a Professionally-Staffed Organization: The AYHE parent volunteer network is now supported by a professional staff of six. A big part of running a non-profit organization is the business aspect of securing funding from individuals, corporations, and foundations. The staff provides more freedom for Ediger-Kordzaia and her assistant to focus on artistic elements such as arranging and transcribing music, commissioning works, and presenting concert seasons or series that are wide in scope and make a difference in the community.

Requiring Commitment and Service/ Building a Mentorship Program: The mission of Ediger-Kordzaia is to connect to the community and be an ambassador of the harp. She states, "The part of this organization that makes us really unique is our core value that regardless of financial means, students who are interested will have the opportunity to play the harp. We've created the outreach programs which provide children from all socio-economic levels access to harp instruction. …

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