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Margaret Harris is a beautiful young woman with a unique musical talent. The first black, female musical conductor of a Broadway show, she is both musical director and conductor of the long running hit Hair, presiding over the all-male orchestra with ability and dignity.
Music has been her life for almost all of her 28 years. She began her musical career at age 2 1/2 and could read music before she could read words, gravitating toward the piano. By age 3, Margaret had made her concert debut in Chicago, her home town. At 10, she was a soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
A scholarship student at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia followed, and from there she went on to the prep division at New York's Julliard, where in five years she took two degrees, including a masters. At age 21, she was teaching music at the Harlem School of the Arts under the supervision of Dorothy Maynor.
When she was musical director and conductor of the Black New World Ballet in Wiesbaden, Germany, in 1967, Margaret made her actual debut as a conductor. She has held her present position for almost two years. Records show only three women in the United States have ever conducted recognized orchestras.
Her show commitment permits her to fill concert dates like the one upcoming on June 3 in Los Angeles. Margaret will perform as guest piano soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, playing a piano concerto she has written.
Despite her tight and physically demanding schedule, she has had a serious weight problem. Under the supervision of a doctor she has lost 40 pounds on a high protein, low carbohydrate diet and manages to maintain her weight level by following it closely.
She said, "At the present time, I am doing eight shows a week, plus practicing, rehearsing, learning new scores for concerts and writing music. A hectic schedule tends to make me tense. I have learned to make my mental outlook control my body. Rather than take tranquilizers, I go to a health club, take a walk, or even go to see a movie.
"Trying to keep everybody happy in a big show can cause endless tensions. I try to keep my cool, and when I find it slipping I stop, and think how I would feel if someone yelled at me.
"With practice, I've learned that about 99% of the time I can control situations with my mind."
Margaret uses mostly hypo-allergenic make-up products, and since she wears contact lenses, is especially careful that her eye make-up doesn't itch, run or smear.
About women's liberation, she said, quietly, "It's nice, but they'd better make sure they're prepared to take over the jobs they're fighting for. I won't negate it. However, I feel when women are qualified, they should get the job, but if they're not, don't give it to them simply because they are women.
"It's almost like being black. I don't want any special consideration because I'm black or because I'm a woman. I want to be judges solely on my merits."
Copyright The New York Daily News.