"Playing at McDonald's is definitely out of the question. The harp is extravagant and ornate, and we usually go to finer places," says Leslie Stratton, 26, who performs at the Commodore Perry Restaurant in the New Otani Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. "It's all part of the image, the glamour, the mystique." Stratton has created an appropriately romantic stage presence, "but really," she says, "I'm just a farm girl from Ohio. To play in Ohio, all that matters is that you can play well. Here in Los Angeles, you have to look good too."
"No one really masters the harp," DeWayne Fulton says. "To really play it means to devote all your time to it--seven days a week for the rest of your life." Fulton, 48, has played harp for more than three decades, recording 16 albums and performing for Presidents Reagan and Johnson and Japan's Emperor Hirohito. Classically trained, he studied at the Academy of Music in Vienna, was professor of harp at the Conservatory of Music in Istanbul and played first harp with the Berlin Philharmonic. In 1982 he ended a 13-year run at the Warehouse Restaurant in Marina del Rey, and today spends most of his time on concert tours. "There's a whole world of music that hasn't been explored," says Fulton, generally acknowledged as the dean of pop / jazz harp in Los Angeles. "The harp is very sensuous and can tap incredible emotions. I want people to love the instrument, to know what it can do."
Performing in the Sheraton Premiere Hotel's Crystal Cafe in Universal City, Lisa Faller says of her instrument, "I like to get close to it so I can feel its vibrations. The whole harp resonates against you when you play." Faller's devotion to the harp began when she was 18. Now 26, she has played professionally for the past four years. "If I'm not playing, I'm practicing. That's just about all I do," she says. For Faller and other harpists, Los Angeles is the world center of pop / jazz harp. "Europeans are closed to the idea of a harp
in restaurants or a hotel. They see it as a big, clumsy instrument. But a harpist can play anything a pianist can. And," she adds with an arch of the eyebrow, "we're usually much better looking."
Lined against a wall in Brooke Beaumont's Marina del Rey apartment are three harps. One is for practice, another for performing. The third is smaller and older than the others and missing a few strings. "It's the first harp I ever owned," says Beaumont, 29, who began playing as a teen-ager in Indianapolis. "It doesn't sound great, but I'll never give it up." She usually keeps a harp wherever she's currently performing, such as the Century Plaza Hotel, right. But often she's called on to play for private parties--including one last year for England's Prince Philip--and has to transport her own instrument. To do this, she's perfected the art of transporting her 6-foot-1, 90-pound concert harp from her apartment by dolly, down an elevator to a parking garage and into the back of her station wagon. "Hard to do? Not at all," she says. "It's an effortless labor of love."
Stella Castellucci made her debut as a studio-orchestra harpist in Hollywood in 1952 playing music for a film titled "Limelight." The conductor was also the film's star and director--Charlie Chaplin. "I can still remember how nervous I was before the red light went on in the studio," she says, recalling a slightly built Chaplin, who "got his way but did it without being arrogant." Today, besides working on film scores and record albums, Castellucci, 55, performs at Trumps in West Hollywood, right, and the Westwood Marquis. She's played with Peggy Lee ("finest of the jazz singers . . . a faithful friend, always concerned with everyone's welfare"), the late Louis Armstrong ("the most adorable man"), Barbra Streisand ("a perfectionist") and Diana Ross ("high-strung, with a sense of urgency to get it done"). Castellucci sighs. "And I still get nervous when the red light goes on."