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Gloria Galante – Bucks County’s queen of the harp

by Fern Brodkin

Gloria Galante is a world-class harpist and educator and she has lived in the Morrisville area for the last 23 years. She grew up in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Northeast Philadelphia and attended St. Cecelia’s Elementary School.

It was there that she started to play piano. It was serendipity that she found the harp, or rather that the harp found her.

When she entered Cardinal Dougherty High School, she wanted to play in the school orchestra. She was told to pick an orchestral instrument and the only instruments available were trombone, tuba and harp.

They told her, “‛The harp’s like piano, you’ll like it,’” she explained in a telephone interview. “I loved it the very first time I saw it and played it and I couldn’t believe that I didn’t have to buy one. They had a harp there and I could just play and it was wonderful.”

Gloria has gone on to have a successful career in music as a performer and teacher. She has proven that the harp is not only relevant in classical and Celtic music.

She had a love of jazz since childhood and she has established herself as one of the premiere jazz harpists around. It all started with “bribing” her piano teacher to teach her jazz songs.

“For example, she wanted me to learn [Beethoven’s] ‘Für Elise.’” She recalled that her teacher said “‘If you learn ‘Für Elise,’ then I’ll give you this Fats Waller piece’… so we kept making deals and I would learn the music she wanted me to learn, and then she would give me the jazz pieces, so I really learned a lot of jazz style on piano.”

Because of Gloria’s skill on piano, she was able to easily adapt to the harp and develop a strong technique. She did a dual major in music performance and education at West Chester University.

Gloria was fortunate to get work right out of college. First she went to Puerto Rico, where she worked in a restaurant at a casino. While there she had the opportunity to perform and record with the Jose Feliciano Orchestra, Danny Rivera, Julio Iglesias and other renowned artists.

After Puerto Rico she worked for three months performing in Australia.

“When I came back from Australia, that’s when I decided, ‘I want to play jazz.’”

In order to become known in the Philadelphia jazz community, Gloria began going to the jazz jam sessions at the now-defunct Blue Note, which was in the West Oak Lane section of Philadelphia. It was certainly an unusual sight when she showed up with her harp to jam.

“[WRTI radio deejay] Bob Perkins was the host, and Warren [Oree] and all his band was there leading the jam, and [vocalist] Jeannie Brooks, and [drummer] Jim Miller, and Tyrone [Brown] and everybody was jamming. And I got to play with all those guys.”

Before long Gloria was an accepted member of the jazz community. She formed her own jazz trio and later the band Kusangala with renowned bassist Tyrone Brown, who is best known for working with legendary drummer Max Roach.

Gloria also developed the harp program at West Chester University. She started out in 1987 with 1 student and 30 years later the program is going strong and hosts a harp festival every year.

Gloria also just started the West Chester Harp Endowment Fund, to help ensure that the harp program continues and to assist students with the significant costs associated with the instrument.

She continues to perform with a number of different jazz groups. She also is the principle harpist in the Divine Hand Ensemble, an unusual classical group that features the theremin as well as two harpists.

It is through her association with Divine Hand that she got the world’s first carbon fiber harp, which was designed to be much lighter than a traditional harp and is easier for harpists to transport.

As if all that wasn’t enough, Gloria participated in a groundbreaking study as part of the Music Healing and Transition Program at Abington Reproductive Medicine, where they studied the effects of live harp music on patients before, during and after surgery. In addition she’s a Certified Music Practitioner and donates time to Jazz Bridge, where she performs therapeutic harp music for patients.

“It’s a lot of juggling around a teaching schedule, but that’s the beauty of music – you can have all these opportunities.”

For more information about Gloria Galante visit www.gmgstudios.com.

You can see her with the Pope-Galante Jazz Quintet at Crossing Vineyards and Winery on August 4th. The group features Odean Pope on saxophone, Warren Oree on bass, Alan Nelson on drums and special guest vocalist Ella Gahnt.

PHOTO CAP: Gloria Galante. Photo by Fred Vandenberg.