Symphony Spotlight: Elisabeth Remy Johnson

By Phillips, Julie Smith | American Harp Journal, Summer 2017 | Go to article overview

Symphony Spotlight: Elisabeth Remy Johnson


Phillips, Julie Smith, American Harp Journal


IN this edition of the Symphony Spotlight Series we get to know Elisabeth Remy Johnson, the principal harpist of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for the last 22 years.

"I was appointed principal harpist of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in 1995, during my senior year at Harvard. The ASO typically has 2-4 concerts per week on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and/or Sunday, with rehearsals Tuesday through Thursday, with a program changing every week. Some weeks we also have education and outreach concerts. I like to get to the hall 45-60 minutes before rehearsal so I can tune in relative quiet and get a nice warm-up in before rehearsal.

"In addition to performing with the ASO, I teach at Emory University, Georgia State University and Kennesaw State University. I also teach through the ASO's Talent Development Program (TDP), which provides free musical training to African-American and Latino students. In 2000, I co-founded the Urban Youth Harp Ensemble (UYHE), which provides harps and ensemble instruction to students in the Atlanta Public Schools. Though I resigned as artistic director in 2010, it has been a true joy to see several UYHE students accepted in the TDP over the years, and to teach them privately. I resigned the UYHE position when I was expecting my first child--something had to go! My children are now 3 and 5, and an utter delight. I was practicing Scintillation the other day, and during the "scintillating" section, my son started chanting 'Go, Mommy, go!' How can you top that?!

"The ASO certainly went through an economic rough patch, with lock-outs in 2012 and 2014. We lost our summer season, which was a tough blow, but successfully resisted the 2014 attempt to eliminate our complement (minimum number of musicians in the orchestra.) There has been a very successful fundraising campaign to build our numbers back up, and whole atmosphere is a lot more optimistic now. The lock-outs also galvanized the community, and we felt a lot of support for the players. Though I don't see the summer season coming back in the near future, on the positive side, I've been able to reconnect with an old friend and colleague to form the Parsa Duo (harp and cello). We had our first summer season last year with concerts on Cape Cod and in NYC, and have another season planned for this summer. I also am looking forward to playing at the Grand Teton Music Festival.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"You asked how I stay at the 'top of my game' to be physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared for performance and my job each week. This won't be news to any parents reading this, but it is tough!! Neither of my children were/are great sleepers, so there are certainly concerts when I walk across the street, imagining that I'm sweeping any remaining functioning brain cells into a little pile, and just praying that they work together! Keeping a sense of humor about the busy schedule certainly helps, and I'm so grateful that music is part of my life. If I were to offer advice to young harpists, I would say, when you have time to practice, practice! I know for sure that all of the years of dedication have provided the foundation I need, so that if I'm up all night with a kid, or the sitter is late and my warm-up is minimal, I have the basis I need to still play the way I want to. Time management is essential (I'm writing this in the musicians' lounge during a Mozart piano concerto)! Balance is really important--I love to run to clear my mind, and used to do marathons and triathlons until a multiple fracture in my foot two years ago, though I am building back. I also have to say that mental discipline is key. I aim to show up and give it my all at each concert, and I love hearing what other artists do to keep it fresh and genuine. …

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