A Harpist’s Legacy – Ann Hobson Pilot and the Sound of Change

Harpist’s Legacy – Ann Hobson Pilot and the Sound of Change profiles the inspirational life and musical career of a gifted African American woman’s triumph over barriers of race and gender to become an artist and teacher, whom many, including John Williams, Yo-Yo Ma and James Levine, revere as one of the world’s great harpists.

This compelling documentary, produced by Susan Dangel, profiles Pilot’s trailblazing career, not only as principal harp with the Boston Symphony Orchestra for nearly 30 years, but also as a distinguished international soloist, teacher, mentor and moving force behind music educational programs for underserved minorities.

Born in West Philadelphia to a mother, herself a classically trained pianist, whose own career was limited by the racial biases of the time, Pilot early found her way to the harp. Her talent quickly became apparent and she began her professional career backing popular artists such as Johnny Mathis and Peggy Lee. She soon, however, left behind popular music in favor of the challenge of a classical career.

After graduating from the Cleveland Institute of Music, where she studied under legendary teacher Alice Chalifoux, Pilot became substitute harp with the Pittsburgh Symphony and principal harp of the National Symphony in Washington, D.C. She became principal harp of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1980, having joined the BSO in 1969 as assistant principal and principal with the Boston Pops. She retired from the BSO at the end of the 2009 Tanglewood season.

The documentary follows her personal and professional journey as the first black woman principal player in a major symphony orchestra. From Pilot’s challenges of performing in the segregated south before and during the Civil Rights Movement, the documentary culminates in her performance of a harp concerto composed in her honor by John Williams and given its debut in the BSO season opening concerts in 2009 at both Symphony Hall in Boston and at Carnegie Hall.

A Harpist’s Legacy also uses the singular career of Ann Hobson Pilot to explore how the world of classical music has become more diverse and more welcoming for musicians of color. The moving documentary is a powerful story of one musician’s accomplishment, dedication and inspiration through a distinguished career filled with challenges and triumph.

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