Search: Advanced Search

Samuel Milligan author's photo

The name of Samuel Milligan is one of the first that the beginning harp student is likely to encounter. When the harp making firm Lyon & Healy introduced their new Troubadour lever harp in 1961, they commissioned Milligan to furnish a new method, Fun From the First, and another collection of pieces, Medieval to Modern. These have become standard repertory for harp students, and many pieces can be found as required material for harp contests and festivals. The introduction of the Troubadour harp and the publication of Milligan's music have been responsible, in large part, for the beginnings of the renaissance in harp playing that we see today. Where there was once little music for lever harp, there is now an abundance. Where there was only one maker of lever harps, there are now many.

Born in 1932 near Joplin, Missouri, he grew up in the Texas Panhandle. Even though sprung from such unlikely beginnings, Milligan's life was always defined by music. Both parents were enthusiastic singers, and he began piano lessons at age nine. However, his musical life began in earnest when he acquired a Clark Irish harp, which naturally fit the plans of his Irish father.

Harp scholarships allowed him to attend Del Mar Junior College in Corpus Christi, Texas, where he encountered his first real harp teacher, LaVerne Hodges Peterson, who installed a solid technique. He later transferred to North Texas State College (now the University of North Texas) where he received a Bachelor of Music degree with a major in harp performance. He began a master's degree in musicology, working with Dr. Helen Hewitt, who further fueled his fascination with early music, an interest first developed when he was in high school. However, the next year found him employed as a harp technician by Lyon & Healy in their New York City showroom. This enabled him to explore many avenues of harp playing, such as being a substitute on Broadway and at Radio City Music Hall, as well as much single-date playing, and a national tour with a chamber orchestra for Columbia Artists Management.

In the meantime, he began studies with Laura Newell, who had been Toscanini's first choice as harpist for his NBC Symphony. Milligan was impressed by her superb technique and musicianship. Among other things, she stressed economy of motion and careful finger placement to avoid any sibilants.

In 1967, at the request of Lucien Thomson, president of the American Harp Society, Milligan became the founding editor of the American Harp Journal, serving until 1971, afterwards contributing articles from time to time. He later served on the Boards of the American Harp Society and the Historical Harp Society, and was appointed by the HHS as a liaison between the two groups.

Since 2000, he has indulged his love for early Spanish music, an interest that had been encouraged years before by Nicanor Zabaleta, the Spanish harp virtuoso. For many years he organized various conjuntos for the performance of this music, the repertory covering the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods, with emphasis on the music of the Spanish colonial New World. This involves much music for strictly diatonic harps, which Milligan defends by making a comparison to visual art, saying: "In the same way that a black and white drawing by Leonardo da Vinci is no less great art than any of his paintings in color, so a diatonic piece of music can be as artistically significant as something chromatic. In fact, economy of means can add to its artistic value."

Milligan has been the recipient of two recent awards. One, in 2008 from the American Harp Society, honors his outstanding service to the AHS and to the harp. Another, presented by the Somerset Harp Festival in 2014, is in honor of his lifetime achievement.

He currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, surrounded by harps of all sizes and descriptions.

Other titles by Samuel Milligan

For lever or pedal harp

Fun From the First (a method in two volumes)

Medieval to Modern (repertory in three volumes)

Der Jolly Huntsman und der Kuckoo (for piccolo, harp and shotgun [slapstick])

Vox Coelestis (five pieces for harp and organ)

For pedal harp

Vox Angelica (four pieces for harp and organ)

Black and White Rag by George Botsford

Kol Nidrei by Max Bruch (for cello, harp and organ)


Campanas de Belen / Bells of Bethlehem (for SATB choir and organ with optional harp, handbells and glockenspiel)


Titles Published by Wings Press: