Arranger Profile—Sunita Staneslow

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What is your musical background?
I grew up in St. Paul, Minn., and started taking piano lessons when I was in first grade, harp lessons in third grade, and flute in fifth grade. My home was filled with music. Although my parents were never professional musicians, I would fall asleep to hearing my mother practice Scott Joplin on the piano or Scarlatti on the harpsichord. My father had a great record collection of all genres of music. I studied classical music and in high school was in the youth orchestra and attended Tanglewood. I majored in international relations at Tufts University and studied privately with Lucile Lawrence. During my junior year abroad, I studied with Lily Laskine in Paris. Between undergraduate and graduate school, I went to Israel and studied with Judith Liber, Principal Harpist with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. I would go to the Jerusalem Folk Club and feel so frustrated that I couldn’t jam along with the other musicians. Here I was, subbing for the Jerusalem Symphony and I couldn’t just pick up my harp and play with musicians who had taught themselves the guitar. I learned some beautiful Jewish melodies and Klezmer tunes from an Israeli flutist and worked on creating arrangements to Celtic melodies with a singer. I started down the path of creating arrangements to music I loved and this gradually changed my career path. After two years in Israel, I went to New York City for my master’s degree in performance at the Manhattan School of Music. In the ’90s I formed a trio of cello, percussion, and harp, called Vida. We commissioned new works influenced by folk music of the Mediterranean and added improvisation and our own arrangements to our repertoire. It was a gradual shift from studying classical music to arranging, improvising, publishing, and performing traditional music. After years of playing on a pedal harp, I fell in love with the folk harp.

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