Leading up to the 13th World Harp Congress this July in Hong Kong, we’re talking with performers for the ever-popular WHC Focus on Youth showcase concerts. “The goal of the Focus on Youth Concerts is to establish a platform for gifted young harpists at each Congress, and to encourage and recognize them by providing a performance opportunity followed by advice from a panel of professional harpists,” says the WHC. Check in each week as we present insights from the 2017 Focus on Youth participants.
Give us some background: when did you start playing, what’s your current age, and who do you study with?
I started harp when I was 8 after three years of playing the piano and one week of trying to play the clarinet. I’m now 16 and a sophomore in high school, and I currently study with Linda Wood Rollo.
Tell us about your WHC program. How did you choose your repertoire and what do you like about the music?
For Focus on Youth, I’m performing the first three movements of Grandjany’s Children’s Hour Suite and Spohr’s Fantasie in c Minor. Both of these pieces were actually choices on the repertoire list for the 2016 Young Artist’s Harp Competition, which I participated in last summer, and I didn’t have any other works performance-ready at the time, so I just decided to submit by YAHC tape to the World Harp Congress and see where things went from there.
The process of learning and memorizing both the Children’s Hour and the Fantasie were rather difficult for me (I have really small hands!), but I’ve learned to love these two pieces because they showcase the different sides of harp playing and performance very well—while the Children’s Hour is lively and energetic, the Fantasie features some more soft and lyrical passages.
Have you ever attended a World Harp Congress?
Hong Kong’s World Harp Congress will be my first World Harp Congress, and I’m currently excitedly counting down the days until the event!
What’s the first thing you’re going to do when you get to Hong Kong?
Sightseeing is definitely on my list. The last time I traveled to Hong Kong was probably around six or seven years ago, and it’d be interesting to see how much the area has changed! I’ve heard from my parents that Hong Kong has some really nice food, so I’ll be looking out for interesting snacks to try as well.
Which harpist do you most admire?
Judy Loman is a harpist I admire for her lifelong dedication to harp performance and instruction. I had the opportunity to study with her last summer while I was attending the Young Artist’s Harp Seminar, and hearing her play so wonderfully for us camp attendees in her solo concert was truly a huge inspiration for me. From Ms. Loman, I learned that passion for something doesn’t have to be restrained by the boundaries of time and that music is a gift that has the power to influence one throughout their lifetime.
Which harpist are you most looking forward to meeting in person at the WHC?
Honestly, I’ve been so excited about being able to perform at the World Harp Congress that I actually haven’t given much thought as to who I’d be able to meet in Hong Kong! I wouldn’t say there’s anyone in particular I’m especially looking forward to speaking with because there are just too many harpists I look up to, but I do know that I’ll probably be too starstruck to say anything intelligible if I do find myself talking to Emmanuel Ceysson!
What’s the most memorable musical performance you’ve ever attended?
The most memorable musical performance I’ve ever attended would have to be the time my mother and I visited harpist Noël Wan’s house to hear her play a few short pieces for us. At the time, I was thinking of picking up a second instrument—and following a week of the honks and screeches that rocked our household after they let me try out the clarinet, my parents and I decided to pick something else more appeasing to the ears. And the harp fit that requirement perfectly! Hearing Noël play and witnessing the magic of the harp for the first time was an extremely life-changing experience for me, because that’s the day I begged my parents for harp lessons!
What’s your most memorable performing experience?
Performing the second and third movements of the Boieldieu Harp Concerto with my youth orchestra, the San Jose Youth Symphony, in my freshman year was extremely fun! As it was my first performance of a concerto with an orchestra for an audience, I was extremely nervous before walking out onstage—my hands were shaking so much while I was waiting in the wings that I thought I wouldn’t be able to calm myself down to play a single note! In the end, everything worked out the moment I sat down at the harp and started the piece. I’d never thought that I would have fun during a performance (I’m usually much too anxious to think of anything other than the present moment), but I somehow found myself with this huge grin on my face halfway into the third movement. I usually never smile during performances, but that time was certainly an exception!
What advice would you give a young student wanting to start harp?
Approach learning with an open mind! Hand positions, especially for harmonics and cross-unders for scales, are difficult to wrap your head around (especially if your hands are small like mine!), but having a strong foundation in technique will help immensely in learning more difficult pieces. Plucking harp strings is also most likely going to hurt a bit in the beginning, especially if you’ve never played a string instrument before, so remember to take breaks so that you don’t hurt yourself!
What’s the best piece of advice someone has ever given you?
Relax, relax, relax! I’ve often been criticized for approaching performances with the mindset of a perfectionist and for focusing too much on mistakes and technical details. It’s amazing to see what happens when you allow yourself to let go and lose yourself in the music. I’ve learned to realize that performing is all about sharing your passion with an audience, not about showcasing perfection and impeccability, and keeping that in mind while you’re playing is just as important as everything else.
When you’re not playing the harp, what do you like to do?
Aside from playing the harp, I write for my school’s newspaper, The Winged Post, so I’m often sweating over journalism work when I’m not sitting at the harp! In my free time, I love to sing and rock out to pop music. I also play League of Legends and Hearthstone, although I’m not very good at either game!
What’s on your iPod or phone playlist?
I actually don’t make playlists of my own! However, I’m a huge fan of The Voice, so I often listen to their contestants’ covers of pop songs I like. I do sometimes listen to harp CDs—at the moment, it’s Vasilisa Lushchevskaya’s Liebestraum in the car while my father and I are driving to school—and those are relaxing as well!
Finish this sentence: In 10 years I see myself…
Not knowing what I’m doing in life. As of now, I don’t actually have a clear plan of attack for what I’d like to study in college. I’ve tried a variety of different extracurriculars throughout my life—ballet, swimming, singing, instrumental work, journalism (and the list goes on!)—and honestly, I like all of them! I don’t necessarily plan on majoring in music, but that might change in a few years.
Anything else you want Harp Column readers to know about you?
I really wasn’t expecting to be accepted into this year’s Focus on Youth program, so it was definitely a surprise to see that congratulatory email sitting in my inbox. At this point, I can only hope to be able to enjoy my experience performing there—and more importantly, to learn as much as I can from the people I hope to meet and become friends with in Hong Kong!