What to Ask
Have a preliminary conversation with anyone you are considering and ask the following:
How long did they study or how long have they been playing?
Be wary of someone who is self-taught or very new to the instrument. If they mention a degree in music, did they major in the instrument you want them to play?
Do they use contracts?
Any professional musician should be willing to give you the details in writing. Insist on a contract for your protection as well as theirs.
Where can you hear them?
Professional musicians may have a steady engagement where you can hear them play or a demo tape or other recording as a sample of their work. Make sure you listen to them before hiring them.
What is in their repertoire?
Most professionals will have a repertoire list that includes titles of the music they can perform. Confirm they have sufficient repertoire in the style you want.
What is their cancellation policy?
Have they ever canceled on a client? What is their policy if you must cancel? Do they send substitutes without notifying you?
What to Look For
If possible, try to either observe the person you are hiring at another event or check with any references they provide. Look for:
- Appearance: They should be well-groomed and dressed appropriately.
- Promptness: They allowed sufficient time to set up and were ready to start on time.
- Programming: Their program flowed steadily from one piece to the next without long lapses or conversation between songs.
- Conduct: They behaved professionally, not like a guest.
- Flexibility: They were willing to work with the client, taking last minute changes in stride.
Other Suggestions and Considerations
Watch out for embellished résumés and distinguish fact from exaggeration. For example, if someone tells you they have won several awards or have an advanced degree in their "chosen instrument," question whether the award/degree was for performance and whether their chosen instrument is the one you are hiring them to play.
Look for distinguished accomplishments
Look for accomplishments that distinguish them from the crowd (e.g., national recognition, awards, acknowledgment by their peers, etc.) Most musicians have played at prestigious venues at some point. Find out whether this was an ongoing contract or a one-time event. Were they the "main attraction" or the substitute at a steady engagement?
Become a discerning listener
You must listen and compare before you might recognize a difference between harpists. Take the time to hear anyone you are considering.
Do you need other musicians in addition to a harpist?
The harp is a wonderful solo instrument, just like the piano. If you hired a string quartet, you would have 4 instruments that only play one note at a time. The harp will produce more sound and more notes at one time than an entire string quartet.
Don't make price the deciding factor
With musicians, there are many variables to consider, such as experience, training, and talent. If someone offers a discounted rate, there is a reason. Are their limitations worth the savings? Are you willing to risk disaster for something as important as the music at your wedding? Hire a pro. You will be glad you did!
This checklist has been adapted from information provided by and used with the permission of Jan Jennings, author of THE HARPIST'S COMPLETE WEDDING GUIDEBOOK, and a nationally renowned harpist herself from the Orlando area. Please visit her Web site at http://www.harpbiz.com/.
Another excellent resource is Anne Roos' book THE BRIDE'S GUIDE TO MUSICIANS - LIVE WEDDING MUSIC MADE EASY AND AFFORDABLE. It is published by Hal Leonard Books, © 2010, ISBN 978-1-4234-8290-1. Please visit Anne's Web site at http://www.celticharpmusic.com/.