Alice Chalifoux, Master Performer and Teacher, 1908–2008
1987 SPECIAL CITATION FOR DISTINGUISHED SERVICE TO THE ARTS
Only a few very special musicians
have an impact on the world of music that goes beyond the joy they give
with their playing or the students to whom they pass on their hard-won
insights and sense of excellence. The harpist Alice Chalifoux was one
of these. In a career that spanned more than 60 years, she quite
literally changed the way the harp was perceived—by orchestra-goers, students of the instrument and composers.
her hands, an instrument that had been traditionally treated as a meek
background voice was transformed into a dynamic force. For 66 years,
students flocked to her studios at the Cleveland Institute of Music and
nearby Oberlin College and Baldwin-Wallace conservatories—and in the summers, to her legendary harp camp in Camden, Maine—to acquire the new techniques of playing of which she was a leading proponent.
in Birmingham, Alabama, Chalifoux was the youngest, and most
precocious, of the four children of Oliver Chalifoux, a violinist who
had trained at the Paris Conservatory, and of Alice Halle Chalifoux,
who played piano, violin and harp. It was the last of these that
captured the heart of the couple's youngest child. At 11, young Alice
persuaded her mother to give her lessons on the harp. She continued her
studies at a convent school and private high school for girls.
that her gifted daughter needed a more advanced teacher, Mrs. Chalifoux
approached the renowned French composer and harpist Carlos Salzedo. On
hearing Alice play, he accepted her as a student at Philadelphia's
Curtis Institute, where the naturally lively and vivacious girl quickly
embraced her teacher's technique of pulling the strings to effect a
vibrant, singing quality.
the summer of 1930, Chalifoux was invited to join Salzedo at his summer
harp school in Maine. (When he died in 1961, Salzedo would bequeath to
his most brilliant student both his house and the school, of which she
would serve as director until the end of her own career.) And the
following year, Nikolai Sokoloff, the first music director of the
13-year-old Cleveland Orchestra, hired Chalifoux as principal harpist.
Though eyebrows were raised at the presence of a woman in the ensemble,
she retained her position unchallenged under the batons of four
successors: Artur Rodzinski, Eric Leinsdorf, George Szell and Lorin
Maazel. She retired in 1974.
her husband, industrial designer John Gordon Rideout, died in 1951,
Chalifoux was forced to add to her busy schedule of teaching and
performing the challenge of raising their five-year-old daughter,
Alyce, alone. The same qualities she brought to her artistic endeavors
would see her through those difficult years. Known for her warm
combination of wit, caring and astuteness, she was seen by her students
not only as a gifted teacher, but also as a prime force in their lives.
professional honors include recognition as an artist-teacher by the
American String Teacher Association in 1991, the same year that she
received an honorary doctorate of fine arts degree from Bowdoin
College. In 1993 she was awarded an honorary doctorate of musical arts
by the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM).
1997, she moved to Leesburg, Virginia, to be near her daughter, Alyce
Gordon Lelch, and her son-in-law. In 1998, the Alice Chalifoux
Scholarship Fund was established to benefit future generations of harp
students at CIM. But Alice Chalifoux never exactly retired. The
inveterate teacher, eager to share what she had learned, continued to
invite harpists to study with her in the beautiful setting of the Blue