Harpist Charles Overton is throwing out the traditional playbook as he crafts his career in the 21st century music business.

A lot of harpists I know don’t like labels. In fact I was once reprimanded by a well-known jazz harpist who didn’t like the term “jazz harpist” for fear it would paint her into a box. The truth is, most harpists—most musicians for that matter—can’t wear more than one label. We do paint ourselves into boxes that are hard to escape from. But that clearly hasn’t been a problem for Charles Overton.

Equally comfortable on stage with a major symphony orchestra, playing chamber music at Marlboro, or jamming with his eponymous jazz trio, the Charles Overton Group, he is in the process of designing a career that spans every musical genre. If you’ve known him for a while—like I have—none of this comes as any surprise. What is surprising is how confident and self-assured Overton is with building a customized career in a rapidly changing musical world.

I caught up with him in Boston to find out more about how he’s doing it, and I think you’re going to find his answers as fascinating as I did.

Harp Column: When did you know you wanted to be a professional harpist.

Charles Overton: Pretty early on into playing harp. I started playing harp at the end of the fourth grade because [harp teacher]Lynnelle Ediger was the music teacher at my elementary school. She just pulled me aside after school one day and was like, “Go home and tell your mom that you need to play the harp.” I don’t know why, if it was the way I sang in choir or what it was. But I took to it. I had a trial lesson. I was playing the violin at the time and had been for six or seven years, but I sounded awful. Like every kid I just didn’t want to practice. I like to think I didn’t want to because it’s right in the ear and it’s so high and shrill. If you don’t sound good, it’s painful.

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