Madonna. Prince. Cher. Beyoncé.
The pop music world has a handful of stars that need only a single name to be universally recognized.
The harp world has one. Sunita.
Sunita (Staneslow, if you really need to know her last name) has the one-of-a-kind personality and career befitting of a single-name performer. This Minnesota-raisedharpist with a Bengali first name and a Lithuanian surname makes her home in Israel. Sunita is equally at home busking in the town square or performing a concert with a chamber music partner. She is in demand at harp conferences all over the world for her teaching and performing and spends several days each week working with patients at a local children’s hospital. For the last 15 years Sunita has been Harp Column’s eyes and ears at the prestigious International Harp Competition in Israel. How does someone build such a successful and versatile career? We asked Sunita when we talked to her via Skype from her kitchen in her home, just outside Tel Aviv.
Harp Column: We want to fill in our readers on your background and your training, because what fascinates me about you is that if there’s a script for a classically trained harpist, you kind of rewrote it, and you’ve really charted your own path.
Sunita Staneslow: I grew up in the suburbs of St. Paul. My parents were professionals. My mom was a teacher, my dad was a professor at the university—he taught Hindi. People always ask me, where did you get that name? Sunita is an Indian name. I was in second grade and I can remember having dinner over at a neighbor’s house down the street. She played the flute with the Minnesota Orchestra, and I remember thinking, “I want to play the flute.” They took out the flute and said that my fingers were too small and arms too short and I would have to wait. So then the flutist said, “Why don’t you play harp like my daughter Leah.” So then I told my mom, “I want to play the harp like Leah.” My mom said, “Yeah right, you’ll get over it.” But I said, “No, I really want to play the harp.” So finally she agreed to get me a few lessons, thinking I’d get over it, but I didn’t. It started to feel fun and special because flute’s just melody for the most part and harp has melody and chords and this beautiful sound. It was good because I have good classical and technical background that has served me well.