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DVD Review: Harp Dreams: Inside the USA International Harp Competition

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Competition is an odd thing. Some people avoid it at all costs—they are the peacemakers, their motto is “we all can get along,” and they are often disappointed. Then there are those who thrive on it—the ones who not only enjoy victory (if they should achieve it) but also the crushing of their competitors’ dreams and the hollow thrill of being “the first” or “the best.” Sometimes we don’t know we’re in a competition until somebody declares “victory!” over us, beating us out of something trivial or meaningless. Somehow, despite the efforts they put into their battles, the “victors” are not satisfied, and keep on plotting secret competitions.

Harp Dreams—Inside the USA International Harp Competition chronicles real competition in which talented musicians who have worked hard at their art and devoted themselves to perfecting it are pitted against each other. In 2007, 32 young harpists competed in the triennial USA International Harp Competition. These competitors vied for high stakes—money, premieres in New York and London, a recording contract, management, and, perhaps the grandest prize, a one-of-a-kind, handmade Lyon and Healy concert harp (value: $55,000). “Careers are made at this competition.”

Traveling throughout the world Harp Dreams introduces its audience to competitors like Maria Krushevskaya in Russia and Mai Fukui in Japan. There are  visits with host families in the United States, competition judges, competitors’ teachers, and family members.

Of the 32 competitors, only three will make it to the final round and then will be ranked first, second, and third. Harp Dreams allows the viewer to see inside the preparation and to appreciate the harpists’ dedication to their art. It also provides glimpses into some of their non-musical endeavors: dress shopping, cooking, a birthday party, driving lessons, as well as the construction of the first prize winner’s harp—“difficult to build and harder to play.”

There are four rounds to the competition; the first takes three days in which all the competitors play three pieces in 20 minutes. A jury of eight professional harpists and teachers selects the top 17 who will proceed to round two, again playing three pieces.

Eight players will go to the third round on the sixth day of competition. Only three will be chosen for the final round (day 10)—a solo piece and a  complete concerto with orchestra. Harp Dreams holds our attention and keeps us in suspense as we watch these earnest virtuosi play their way through each level and wonder who will be in the final three. Who will win? Throughout, of course, we hear them play.

Harp Dreams is an appealing look into a competition that is, in many ways, like the Olympics, in which the participants must be physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared. They are judged on their technical abilities, and more heavily on the artistic—how they connect with the music, and convey that connection to the audience, particularly the judges. It entertains while being both impressive and inspiring.

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About Miss Bob Etier

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/alan-kurtz Alan Kurtz

    I saw this documentary recently on TV. At least, I thought I saw it. Your first paragraph makes me wonder if I watched the same show as you.

    You muse about those who thrive on competition, “who not only enjoy victory … but also the crushing of their competitors’ dreams and the hollow thrill of being ‘the first’ or ‘the best’ … beating us out of something trivial or meaningless. Somehow, despite the efforts they put into their battles, the ‘victors’ are not satisfied, and keep on plotting secret competitions.”

    I got no sense of that from this film. The winners did not enjoy “crushing their competitors’ dreams.” They didn’t treat being first or best as a “hollow thrill.” The three finalists did not regard their prizes as “trivial or meaningless.” And to say they will “keep on plotting secret competitions” is wholly presumptuous.

    The young women in this film were talented, poised beyond their years, and gracious in both victory and defeat. You make them seem like female wrestlers on Vince McMahon’s fully scripted WWE SmackDown.

  • the real bob

    For some reasons I cannot post a full comment here. Therefore, I am going to attempt to do it in two posts.

    Alan,
    The first paragraph is musings on the nature of competitions WE sometimes find we are victims of in our daily lives. The type that put us on the receiving end of a SmackDown, unwillingly. I don’t find them to be “inspiring” in the least.

    Paragraph 2 begins: “Harp Dreams—Inside the USA International Harp Competition chronicles real competition…”

    The emphasis is on REAL. This is a documentary about dedicated people who spend their lives following their own dreams, not crushing someone else’s. Competition here is trying to be the best, not make others look inferior (by the way, those who didn’t make it to the finals were in no way inferior) to make themselves feel superior.

    The difference is that some people put in the effort to be the very best at whatever it is they dedicate themselves, while others (in our lives) don’t put in the effort to better themselves–they think they prove their higher value by making others look or feel bad. Which is why their victories are “hollow,” they actually haven’t proven themselves, except as insensitive, untalented creeps.

    Since I’ve never been accused of being subtle, I am going to have to apologize for being unclear. Ironically, we are in agreement on the competition, the competitors, and the documentary. –the real miss bob

  • the real bob

    Never mind–the problem was in “preview.” I apologize for any typos due to the fact that I couldn’t preview my comments before posting.