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Giant steps for harp: New approaches to the pedals

Stickney, P. F. (2021). Giant steps for harp: New approaches to the pedals. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, City University London)


This Creative Practice research project begins with the observation that harpists seem to spend more time thinking about their hands than their feet, and addresses the essential but possibly under-appreciated harpist/pedal kinaesthetic relationship. It asks: ‘How can harpists have a deeper, more musical, dialogue with the harp’s pedals?’ In addition, the project seeks to create a research structure which might serve as a model for future musicians seeking to add research elements to their artistic practice.

The project, which employed a multi-mode Practice as Research (PaR) methodology, consists of a Creative Portfolio of compositions and performances, that was created in concert with a Critical Commentary.

The initial impetus for the research was ‘Fast 7ths’: a chromatic approach to dominant 7th chords, that was developed prior to this research by the author. This approach was then combined with an exploration of several pedal techniques, particularly multi-pedals (moving multiple pedals with one foot) and pedal slides (pedal glissandi), which were contextualized in pedal harp history from the 18th century to the present, and then used to create the materials in the Creative Portfolio.

The Critical Commentary, in addition to providing the contextual / historical framework also traces the genesis of the Fast 7th system via an autoethnographic exploration of three significant moments in the author’s early harp development which directly led to his discovery of this system. Finally, it interrogates the elements in the Creative Portfolio, making explicit the aspects of the Portfolio which are better explained using text.

The Creative Portfolio consists of performances of three harmonically complex ‘impossible’ jazz standards, made playable with the use of these pedal techniques, twelve compositions by Stickney, including ten Pedal Etudes, two additional pieces, and new pieces by nine non-harpist composers.

The ‘impossible’ jazz standards are performed in video format, and include a dynamic graphic pedal map I developed, which animates a traditional pedal notation system to render the pedal movement more visible.

The compositions utilize a new harp pedal notation system, developed as part of this research, which features a dedicated third stave, allowing for greater rhythmic accuracy and graphic clarity. Additionally, one of the pieces is a ‘meta composition’, a DAW-based system which proposes a bank of harp elements specifically created to allow composers to create pedal-rich compositions without the precondition of possessing specific harp pedal knowledge.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > MT Musical instruction and study
Departments: School of Communication & Creativity > Performing Arts > Music
School of Communication & Creativity > School of Communication & Creativity Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses
[thumbnail of Stickney thesis 2021 PDF-A.pdf]
Text - Accepted Version
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