Living a Musical Legacy

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Each of us is a product of our upbringing. That’s no less true in music than in a family. Our teachers have a profound effect on us. For those of us who go on to make music an important part of our lives, we realize the impact of our teachers in our work every day. We recognize the place we hold, the responsibility we have to continue traditions and walk further down the musical road.

My teacher, Marilyn Costello, embodied the harp for me, since I began studying harp at age 8. I had long wanted to play the harp, and my piano teacher insisted that my parents take me to play for her. We lived in the Philadelphia area, and it was relatively easy to arrange an interview.

Miss Costello did not usually take young students, so she arranged lessons for me with a Curtis student for my first year. After that, she took me on herself. I studied with her until my graduation from Curtis, and was privileged to know her well long after that.

But she shaped my musical experience in other ways as well.

She was a student of Salzedo, having studied with him at Curtis, so the Salzedo tradition became mine too. It went deeper than just the legends and the stories, and even deeper than the technique. Salzedo was a palpable force in her teaching and playing. Sometimes, especially when I was at Curtis, I could almost feel his presence in the room, pushing me to do better, to do more and to do it right.

And then there was the repertoire. Some of the pieces I most closely identity with Miss Costello are Salzedo compositions. I loved to hear her play the Five Poetical Studies in the Modern Study book. Those were pieces she studied with Salzedo, and yet she made them her own in every note and every gesture. I remember feeling honored and a more than a little apprehensive when she assigned them to me. I still play those pieces, and I feel a connection to her every time.

Even more importantly, she taught me how to be a generous teacher. She felt the responsibility of sharing what she had been taught, and building on that foundation to help her students. Through her teaching and performing, she lived the legacy she had earned and passed it on to her students. And through her example, I strive to do the same. It is the most important thing I do.

I think what I will always remember about her is her remarkable hands. They were strong, calm and made the most warm, rich, liquid sound I ever heard. For me, her sound WAS the sound of the harp. And to a great extent, it always will be.

What is your musical legacy?

Note:  Miss Costello did not like photos of herself, and she would not have liked this one. But it was taken at my house after my Philadelphia Orchestra debut, and so it’s special to me.  I also think it shows her characteristic vitality and humor.  So I present it here with my apologies…

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  • Alexandra

    I started out as a pianist taking lessons with my mother at the age of 3. Then I went to Mrs. Brumbaugh, the piano teacher in the neighborhood, who gave me fruit juice and cookies before my lesson. The juice was exotic (apple!), and the cookies were upscale, and that is what I most remember.
    When I was 9 or 10 I started lessons with Miss Zarzecna, who taught at Curtis. My mother drove me to my lessons at her home, 45 minutes away.
    We paid for half hour lessons, which I seem to recall were $20, but Miss Zarzecna extended those lessons for an hour, and often much longer. These lessons were at night, so I probably wasn’t getting home until 9:30, or later. Miss Zarzecna focused on production of singing tone, and musical line and interpretation.
    My interests turned to lever harp when I was in my 30’s, and I now rarely play my piano, but Miss Zarzecna’s teaching is still with me.


    • Anne Post author

      Miss Zarzecna was my secondary piano teacher at Curtis. She was a fabulous musician, and I loved my studies with her. One particular memory: I was playing Brahms and Chopin, and she kept after me to use elbow weight with my right arm, especially as I jumped to some of the high notes. I know it annoyed her to have to remind me constantly. One day, I told her in the most respectful way I could manage, that I had spent the last 12 years learning to hold my elbows up for my harp playing, and that I was pretty much incapable of putting elbow weight into anything, but I would try to do my best. She took it very well and my lessons were better after that!


  • Sharon

    Lovely words and a lovely story…….


  • Sonya Wiley

    I have a Nutcracker CD Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy circa 1980’s; I was told the harpist was Ms. Costello. I must have listened to the cadenza and pas de deux a jillion times just to hear her. Now to find out her history with you and Salzedo! i love reading about the orchestral harpists and their backgrounds, i find it fascinating.


  • Robert Stone


    Thanks for submitting this story & tribute. As you know, 31 years ago, I contacted Ms. Costello about helping me find a teacher for harp lessons and she referred me to you. Even though 28 years passed when I was able to resume lessons with you, I never would have thought to contact anyone else. This can be attributed to your dedication and passion for the harp which you inherited from your teacher and which Salzedo passed on to her. That’s quite a responsibility since the standards are so high! Thanks for keeping the “flame” going and your own patience & perseverance. I am inspired by your lessons and recordings, to keep going, even when the goal ahead seems so far away(and the hands won’t cooperate)!


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