Harpists Alice Chalifoux Rideout and Jeanne Chalifoux continued a tradition established by the legendary Carlos Salzedo
Like a physical trait, musical talent is often passed on, and one need not look far to find family members who have passed through Curtis’s halls. An early example of one such lineage can be traced from Alice Chalifoux Rideout (Harp ’34) to her niece Jeanne Chalifoux (Harp ’52), both of whom studied at Curtis under world renowned harpist Carlos Salzedo. Salzedo, a founding faculty member at Curtis, was not only an accomplished musician, but widely regarded as having raised the harp to a virtuosic level through his innovative compositions and technique. Both Chalifoux women embraced, and later espoused, the Salzedo methodologies they learned at Curtis, expanding upon his approaches to pedal and finger markings, posture, hand gestures, finger technique, phrasing, and tone.
Alice, who attended Curtis from 1928 to 1934, was one of Salzedo’s earliest and most gifted students. Born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1908, she was initially taught the harp by her mother before her acceptance, at age 19, to study under Salzedo. After six years at Curtis that saw her perform with orchestras in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, Chalifoux joined the Cleveland Orchestra as its principal harpist (and only female member for many years). She held this position for the next 43 years, performing under such conductors as George Szell, Pierre Boulez, and Lorin Maazel. Chalifoux came to be particularly regarded for her orchestral technique, the building blocks of which she learned while Salzedo’s student at Curtis.
Jeanne, following in her aunt’s footsteps, showed an early interest and promise on the harp. At a young age she was sent her to live and study with Alice until she herself was accepted to Curtis in 1946. As a student of Salzedo, Jeanne benefited not only from his teaching, but from the opportunity to take time away from her academic studies to tour the country and play with such groups as the Angelaires and the Salzedo Concert Ensemble. After her graduation in 1952, Jeanne married and became a teacher while she raised her young family. Though she still periodically performed with various orchestras and with her aunt, she focused her career on teaching, and universities such as the Catholic University of America, American University, and the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University counted her among their faculty.
Although Alice and Jeanne studied at Curtis years apart, both were fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from Salzedo. In addition to their studies at Curtis, both attended his annual summer harp colony in Camden, Maine. Founded in 1929, the harp colony (open to any harp student upon acceptance) allowed Salzedo and his instructors the freedom to teach in a less structured, though no less rigorous, environment. After their respective graduations both women returned annually to the colony as teachers, becoming close personal friends of their mentor and former teacher. Salzedo died in 1961, posthumously appointing Alice as his successor to head the colony. With Jeanne serving as co-director, Alice remained in charge until the colony’s closure in 2001.
Through the strength of their familial and professional relationship, Alice and Jeanne Chalifoux effortlessly bridged their generational gap, excelled on their chosen instrument, and introduced a new generation of harpists to the methods of their revered teacher. Although Alice passed away in 2008, followed by Jeanne earlier this year, their dedication to their chosen art continues to influence and inspire the next generation of great harpists.
Kristina Wilson, archivist
For more information on Curtis history, visit the Curtis Archives.