Remsen, Dorothy

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Dorothy Remsen (died 2010) was one of the most renowned studio harpists and contributed greatly to the development and organization of the American Harp Society through her service as Executive Secretary.

Dorothy Remsen grew up in New London, Connecticut. Both of her parents were amateur musicians and so from a young age, she took piano lessons from her grandmother and percussion lessons on the xylophone. By the time she was eleven, she was playing on a children's radio program at WTIC. One day, after arriving to the studio, the harpist was uncovering her harp. Right then it was decided that Dorothy would learn to play the harp and she started taking lessons from Mildred Godfrey Hall. She studied at the Eastman School of Music as the first graduate student of Eileen Malone. She met her husband during her freshman year. Les was a trumpet player and landed a spot in the Los Angeles Philharmonic. They moved to California and both played with the group for four years. While in Los Angeles, Dorothy got a studio call with Disney upon the recommendation of May Cambern, the retiring Disney harpist. From there, she became one of the best studio and freelance harpists of her time and could sight read anything. When asked about mistakes, she replied, "That's easy, just don't make any." Dorothy served as the American Harp Society (AHS) National Secretary and then as the Executive Secretary for thirty-three years. For the first four years of her service with the AHS, Dorothy served as the National Secretary, a volunteer position. But by then, the society had grown so large that it was no longer capable of being handled by a volunteer. So Dorothy became the Office Manager, or Executive Secretary. If anyone had a question, they went to Dorothy first. Many said that Dorothy herself was the American Harp Society. In the beginning years of her role as secretary, Dorothy worked with Catherine Gotthoffer and Ann Stockton to establish the Los Angeles Chapter. She said she would relinquish the job of Executive Secretary only when her services were no longer satisfactory.

The American Harp Society is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1962. With over 3000 members and 90 chapters in the United States and Canada, it is the largest organization of harpists in the world. The current president of the society is Lucy Clark Scandrett.

The idea for a society of harpists first came from Pierre Jamet of France in 1959 while at the First International Harp Contest in Israel. Marcel Grandjany was intrigued and decided to look into the idea and eventually chaired a committee of leading harpists. Three years later, in 1962, he had the Founding Committee meet in his apartment and the American Harp Society was born. The main goal of the American Harp Society is "to promote and foster the appreciation of the harp as a musical instrument, to encourage the composition of music for the harp and to improve the quality of performance of harpists." Every two years, the society holds a conference with lectures, workshops, masterclasses and performances. In the off-years between conferences, they hold a summer institute for student harpists. This allows the students to work with some of the world’s most renowned harpists and teachers and compete in the competitions put on by the society for monetary prizes. In addition, the American Harp Society publishes the American Harp Journal on a bi-annual basis. The journal features articles about various harpists, bibliographies, educational content and all things relating to the harp. The International Harp Archives and Brigham Young University house all the recorded materials of previous conferences on CD, VHS, and DVD.

From the guide to the Dorothy Remsen papers on the American Harp Society, 1961-2003, (L. Tom Perry Special Collections)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith American Harp Society corporateBody
correspondedWith Moldenhauer, Hans, collector. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences


Birth 1921-06-22

Death 2010-10-04




Ark ID: w60h6kwz

SNAC ID: 7483798