Timonium woman operates unique summer camp for aspiring harpists
By Elizabeth Heubeck
Jul 19, 2017 | 6:00 AM
Harpist Jacqueline Pollauf poses for a photo outside her home in Timonium, MD on Wednesday, July 12, 2017. Video by Jen Rynda / BSMG
Jacqueline Pollauf is a slight woman with an open face and a quiet, soothing voice who uses her delicate hands in a manner of graceful expression when she speaks — and plays the harp.
Pollauf, a Timonium resident who trained in her instrument at The Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University, has performed often for audiences at prestigious events such as the Eleventh World Harp Congress, in Vancouver, Canada and at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
She also finds enjoyment in guiding her students as they make music. In addition to working as a private instructor, Pollauf is on the teaching faculty at the Baltimore School for the Arts and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
She also is the founder, director and sole instructor at the annual week-long Baltimore Harp Camp, which rotates to different locations in the Baltimore area each summer.
Since 2009, the camp has offered children ages 8 – 18 who are interested in honing their skills as harpists a one-week intensive day camp that exposes them to playing in a harp ensemble; teaches them music theory, history, and ear training; and entertains them with guest musicians.
The camps is one of only a few such summer camps in the Mid-Atlantic region, according to Harpcolumn.com, an online resource for harpists that posts a list of summer harp camps across the nation. According to its website, there are no other such other summer harp camps for children in the Baltimore area and about 25 nationwide.
This summer's edition of the Baltimore camp will take place July 31-Aug. 4 at Lutherville's Havenwood Presbyterian Church. Pollauf said she chose the location because it is close to her Timonium home, she's familiar with the site as she's played recitals there, and she considers it central enough for the camp's participants, who come from all around greater Baltimore area, to reach with relative ease.
Catonsville resident Sue Gilliam said she won't hesitate to make the drive across town to the camp each day with her daughter Kate, a rising seventh grader at Resurrection-St. Paul, in Ellicott City. Kate, who is returning to the camp for the fourth time, looks forward to the experience; she says it makes her a better player and allows her to meet other harp players.
The Gilliams learned about the camp from Pollauf, who also teaches private harp lessons to Kate. Gilliam chuckles as she recalls her daughter's initial reaction to her beloved harp teacher.
"Kate said to me, 'When you told me you were going to find me a harp teacher, I thought it would be someone old and mean. Not someone like Miss Jackie.'"
Sydney Zimmerman, a rising senior at Friends School of Baltimore, also takes harp lessons from Pollauf and has attended Baltimore Harp Camp in the past. Planned college visits will prevent Sydney from joining other harpists at this year's camp. But the teenager hopes to use her acquired harp skills, which she attributes to Pollauf, as a hired musician at local events this summer.
"Miss Jackie's the best teacher I could ask for," Sydney said. "She's nothing like the stereotypical strict [music] teacher. I feel I've learned a lot more from her than I would from someone who would be force-feeding me the techniques."
'Entranced' by the harp
Like many of her students, Pollauf began playing the harp as a young girl.
At age 5, the Toledo, Ohio native first heard someone playing the harp; she recalls being "entranced" by its sound. Pollauf immediately began pleading with her mother to let her take up the instrument. They compromised with piano lessons.
"There was a fear of the unknown," Pollauf said of her parents' initial resistance to the harp. But when Pollauf was 10 and still asking to play the instrument, her mother acquiesced.
Playing the harp "was everything I thought it would be," she said, describing an intimate, razor-focused relationship that can occur between harpist and harp.
"Your fingertips create the sound and nuances; there isn't a bow or a piano key between you and the sound," Pollauf said. "I really like the chance to zoom in so closely, to focus on something at a miniature level. But at the same time what you're creating is so much larger."
Pollauf enrolled at Peabody in 2004 and graduated with a Bachelor of Music in 2006 and a Master of Music in 2007. She decided to stay in the Baltimore area after graduation because of the professional network she'd begun to develop here.
The single mother of a 14-year-old daughter (who prefers not to reveal her age) continues to make her mark as a performer, teacher, composer and all-around champion of the harp. She heads the Baltimore chapter of the American Harp Society, which welcomes all harp aficionados—from students to professionals—to join in its goal of increasing awareness of the instrument.
Pollauf's busy concert schedule includes regional performances as a soloist and ensemble member. She plays regularly with a trio, Trio Sirènes, rounded out by flutist Marcia Kämper and violist Karin Brown. In the upcoming season, her performances will include an appearance at the opening concert of the BSO's Chamber Music by Candlelight Series, and as a concerto soloist with the Salisbury Symphony Orchestra.
'The best we can be'
While she enjoys performing, Pollauf also welcomes the challenge that comes with teaching budding harpists of all abilities. "Sometimes I'll have a whole cluster in middle school, sometime a wide age range," she said of her camp's students.
Pollauf points to the benefits of teaching students who widely vary in age and skill level, saying the differences can facilitate mentor–mentee relationships between individual students.
Though she humbly fails to take credit for her pupils' success, Pollauf's students are quick to praise her teaching skills.
"She's very good about tailoring the camp to our abilities, and making us the best we can be," Sydney Zimmerman said.
Pollauf achieves this partly through composing music specifically for the students who attend her camp, she said.
After finding that using pre-existing music didn't adequately meet every participant's skill level, she began the painstakingly process of composing music with each of her students in mind — striving to strike a chord, so to speak, that will challenge but not overwhelm them.
"I enjoy seeing students really think of themselves as harpists," she said. "I just want them to explore music to whatever level they're interested in. Some of them might go on to become very serious musicians."