Interview with Monika Stadler
Monika is featured as a jazz harpist at Seduced by Harps VIII in Lommel, Belgium, on February 25, 2012. Time for an interview.
When did you start playing the harp, and do you remember why?
I started playing the harp when I was 12 years old. I began on the Austrian Folk Harp (Single action harp). The harpist from an Austrian folk group became pregnant and didn´t want to play with them anymore. They were looking for another harpist, and asked my mother if I would like to take her place. After about 2 years I left the group and started playing the classical double action pedal harp.
Who was your teacher / were your teachers?
I had several teachers. The most important ones have been: Berta Höller (Austrian Folk Harp), Annemarie Zangerle (Salzburg, classical music), Professor Blovsky-Miller (University of Music in Vienna, classical music), Deborah Henson-Conant (Boston/USA, Jazz & Improvisation), David Clark (bass player, Boston/USA, Jazz and Improvisation).
Which music did you grow up with?
At home my parents only listened to classical music, but I liked to listen to pop music and jazz - Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Egberto Gismonti, Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny, Ralph Towner, Ella Fitzgerald and Carlos Jobim.
When did you start to include jazz influences in harp your playing and why?
During my training as a classical harpist at the University of Music in Vienna, I developed the desire to play more improvisational music and jazz. I could not see myself playing in an orchestra or in an opera house for my career. After I finished my diploma (more than 20 years ago!), I started to look for a teacher who could show me how to impovise and play jazz on the harp. At this time it was very difficult to find someone in Europe. Therefore I went for one year to a very good jazz piano player Dejan Pecenko (Bruckner Conservatory in Linz, Austria) and afterwards to Deborah Henson-Conant (Boston, USA).
Did you have trouble to find your place in a jazz band with the harp?
Because I perform mainly my own music I never looked for a 'typical' jazz band with bass, drums and sax. I just chose the instruments I wanted to play with and explore their different sounds. I played in duos and trios with mouth organ, tuba, Native American flute, piano, sax, acoustic and electric bass, guitar, digeridoo, gongs, harps, clarinet, violin, cello, percussion, and vocalists.The harp is like the piano in that it covers all the musical functions, melody , harmony and rhythmn. It depends on which instrument I play with as to which function I fulfill with the harp. With a bass player I play differently than with a melody instrument. With a percussionist I play differently again.
Which (jazz) musicians inspire you most?
At the beginning Pat Metheny, Keith Jarrett and Carlos Jobim. Later on I heard so many good musicians and different styles of music, it´s hard to list them all.
What do you think about when you improvise? Do you think about harmonies and form while playing, or do you rely on only ears & flow?
I combine both.
How do you practice?
This depends very much on which projects I am doing at the moment and which concerts are coming up. Sometimes I practice voicings, sometimes harmony and chord changes, sometimes rhythms and grooves, sometimes I search for new ideas for new compositions.
What are you trying to improve these days?
I try to extend my musical vocabulary, so that my compositions don`t always sound similar.
Are you working on a new CD?
Yes, right now I am recording my ninth CD with mainly my own compositions, including my arrangements of “Concerto de Aranjuez” and “Summertime”.
What are your plans for the years to come?
To finish the recording and to release my new CD :-). Continue performing and teaching. I have a project for a new music book, this time arranged for piano.
Do you have any advice for beginning jazz harpists?
Listen a lot to different musicians and musical styles. Find out which music/musician touches your soul. Follow your own taste and feelings. Don´t give up, and enjoy playing the harp.