There are moments in life, usually of the big turning-point sort, where you are able to look back and realize that everything that has happened in your life has prepared you for this. As I sat with Florence Sitruk in the small harp studio of the Jacobs School of Music building at Indiana University in Bloomington, it was clear that the gravity of the moment was still sinking in. This small, somewhat spartan room on the ground floor doesn’t have a stunning view or lavish furnishings (aside from the two concert grand harps). What the room does have is history—for years, room 003 was the studio of Susann McDonald, the legendary harp teacher at IU who retired last year after more than 30 years at the school. “There is music in these walls,” says Sitruk, fondly. Now it is Sitruk’s name that has replaced her mentor’s on the door of room 003. Seeing her name on the door—a door she had passed through countless times as a student there 20 years ago—was the moment she knew it was real. She had landed perhaps the most prestigious teaching position in the United States.
Harp Column: You have been teaching for years, and now you find yourself in Bloomington at one of the premier harp programs in the world. Tell us a little bit about what it is like for you to come back to Bloomington as a teacher.
Florence Sitruk: There is this knowledge that something is very beautiful and magical, but it doesn’t mean you understand. I didn’t understand until I came to this door, and my name was on the door. It was a shock. I must say, there are two layers to it. One layer is returning to Bloomington. It does help me a lot that I was here as a student, that I understand the aspirations of the young ones, that I can think of it from the student’s side. The other layer, which I think is also unbelievably important, is understanding the unmatchable legacy of Susann McDonald. I think if we take everyone together who ever had a chance to study with her, we still could not match up to what she means and the light she is. My hope is to bring [this program]into the future in her honor, but of course, I’m coming with my backpack, so to speak. I come from a different origin, and I was raised in a different country. We say that music is an international and global [language], and I think we are [international]as artists, musicians, and people. But the way someone from Iceland plays Mozart sounds completely different from someone who comes from Australia. [These different regional characteristics are] very beautiful. It was important to me at the Geneva University of Music that my class consist of students from many different nations. We would discuss what it means to have a different background. Maybe somebody from Russia likes a little bit less to play music of the 20th Century, but would beautifully play Romantic music whereas, with the French, it was the opposite—[they might prefer more]Baroque music. We spoke about that and tried to put into words what it means where you come from. I hope that this backpack I bring with me helps the students here at Indiana. I do know that the eyes are on the IU harp department, that’s for sure.
HC: You mentioned that where someone comes from is important in how it influences their music. How do you think your upbringing has shaped you as a musician?