Everyone loves a good juxtaposition—the football star who takes up ballet, the flutist who dabbles in amateur boxing, the priest who moonlights in a heavy metal band. There is something compelling about one person taking on two endeavors that, on their face, appear to be polar opposites. 

To call being a harpist a balancing act is an understatement.

One of the most interesting figures we’ve ever interviewed in Harp Column was Kathleen Wilson (see “Channeling Her Energy” in the January/February 2002 issue). At the time, Wilson was principal harpist of the Charleston Symphony and a competitive long-distance open-water swimmer who had just successfully crossed across the English Channel. It’s not unusual to see a harpist who is as comfortable behind their instrument as they are flying a plane, filing a legal brief, or checking an opposing hockey player into the boards. (Yes, I can name harpists who fit all three of those profiles). 

While pursuing opposite interests is not unique to us, I do think possessing contrasting skills is baked into being a harpist. Maybe it’s the nature of our instrument—big, bulky, and unwieldy while at the same time able to produce some of those most delicate and ethereal sounds in music. We have to act as roadie and technician for our instrument one minute and artist and performer the next. We have to load our harp and gear in and out of the gig while also producing nuanced phrases from the instrument and enlightened interpretations of the music. To call being a harpist a balancing act is an understatement.

It is precisely that equilibrium between practicality and artistry that we try to bring you in the articles in each issue of Harp Column. The pages of this issue couldn’t be a better example. An in-depth playbook for how to approach the Debussy Trio alongside a comprehensive holiday gift guide for harpists? Sure, why not? (If Santa is reading this, I really want the harp cookie cutter on page 36.) A review of books that delve into the psychology of performance with a review of music that is low stress for our post-holiday exhale? Makes sense to me. A thought-provoking opinion piece on what makes someone a professional musician paired with a silly story about what happens when you drive the most unprofessional of vehicles home from a gig? Sounds like a match made in heaven. 

Perhaps the most interesting example of disparate interests co-existing in this issue is in our interview with Turkish harpist Şirin Pancaroğlu. She is a classically trained pedal harpist who studied with some of the finest musicians in Europe and the United States. But much of our conversation with her centered around the çeng—the Turkish harp with ancient roots and few similarities (at first glance) to the modern pedal harp. Pancaroğlu’s path to the çeng is a counterintuitive one you can read about for yourself in “Showing the Harp’s Many Faces” on page 26. But what I found most interesting was what she said she discovered when she began to explore this seemingly outdated, crude version of her instrument. 

“If you play a historical instrument, you’ll get different feedback,” she says. “If you’re connected with the instrument’s past, you can see the future better—what you want your instrument to sound like…I could never imagine a life where I would play my pedal harp the way I used to play it before I played the çeng.”

No one plays their instrument in a vacuum. We are all shaped by a multitude of experiences, musical and otherwise. I hope you’ll take a look at each article in this issue, even if it doesn’t appear, at first, to offer anything relevant to your harp life. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go finish my list for Santa. How else will he know I’d like that fabulous harp patent poster on page 36?