Barbara Dyer: Carlos Salzedos’ harp colony in Camden
If you had been in Camden in the late 1930s and 1940s, you would have seen group of lovely young girls, and their harps, giving a concert in the Garden Theater (or Bok Amphitheater, as it is called by many) on the Camden Public Library grounds.
Carlos Salzedo had students come from all over the United States and other countries to take harp lessons from the man who was known as the greatest harpist in the world.
Residents who had an extra bedroom would rent it and board the girls, who practiced eight hours a day.
Mr. Salzedo was so particular that he would visit the home to see what the girls were eating, as he did not want them to be fat to play the harp.
We lived on Harbor Road, which went from High Street to the water. Carlos lived a street above, on Marine Avenue, which also went from High Street to the water.
When I was approximately 9 years old, I visited his summer home. I have no recollection, so many years ago, why I was there, but his dining room left a lasting impression on me. It was painted Navy blue, with a rose colored stripe that went up one wall, across the ceiling, down the other wall and across the floor. Any legs from the table that came in the rose strip on the floor was painted a rose color. Anything near the walls that came within the stripe were painted that color. I think it must have been art-deco design, but I had never seen anything like it.
The interior and furniture he had designed by a French architect and decorator, Jules-Bony, and it remains intact. Only two rooms have been painted since 1932.
Carlos Salzedo was born Charles Morse Leon Salzedo on April 6, 1885 in Arcachon, France, to Isaac and Therese Salzedo.
Both parents came from noted Sephardic families; Isaac was a singer and Therese was a pianist.
Leon Charles began playing the piano at age three, and wrote his first composition that was published when he was only five.
After a year of study with a harp professor, he became a full-fledged harp player at 13. At his debut recital as harpist and pianist (at age 16) he won a Steinway grand piano. And on that day he decided to change his name from Leon Charles Moise to Carlos.
He went on to bigger and better thing and left France for America. He was world-famous and sought after by all. He also taught in New York and also in Camden at his summer home. He taught at the Curtis Institute of Music until 1961.
The Salzedo Method calls for a finger to touch the palm after plucking, so when all four have played (the fifth finger does not pluck), the performer's hand is closed almost to a fist; reopened only after the arm descends to play another phase.
Carlos was very temperamental. He was so short that he wore heels on his shoes, which I had never seen before at age nine. But, he was regarded by many as one of history's great harpist, pianist and composer plus he even developed two new kinds of harps.
He died in Waterville August 17, 1961 on the way to judge a Metropolitan Opera regional audition at Bates College.
He had named a former student, Alice Chalifoux, to teach students, after his death, at his summer home in Camden . She had retired in 1960 as first harpist for the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra after 43 years there. She taught the students from 8 a.m. To 6 p.m., or later six days a week.
Barbara F. Dyer has lived in Camden all of her life, so far.
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