One month in the life of…


Sometime during my 6 hour afternoon background gig (before the dress rehearsal and concert I still had waiting for me later in the day) I was playing one of my standards – Moon River. A wave of confusion swept over as I was rudely brought back to reality realizing I was trying to grab a string with my 5th finger! Before this I was in my head busy plotting and planning, rehearsal scheduling, list making, remembering to remind myself to send that one e-mail I keep forgetting about and have to keep reminding myself and I think it’s been more than 3 days now, wait what day is it? Do I have that rehearsal tomorrow or Monday? What’s that other piece I need to get the markings for? etc. I assume a lot of harpists have experienced this before.

I get asked a lot by other musicians, and many more non-musicians something along the lines of, “So, what do you do exactly? I bet you play the harp for a lot of weddings. So when are you going to be the harpist with the Symphony like full time? It’s just really confusing, I have no idea what a harpist does, please Emily tell me none of it makes any sense!” So – I’ve decided to spare you all and shine a little light of what a month of harping around Chicago looks like.

Before I get to the details a few things you should know about me – I moved to Chicago almost 5 years ago for grad school and after this won a position in the Civic Orchestra of Chicago where I served as Principal Harp for the past 2 years. I’ve been in the “real world” just about 1 year and I’m still alive to tell you about it.

I have 8 harp students  – ages 7 to adult. One of my students is working on the Mozart Harp & Flute Concerto and it is such a blast sharing with her all the knowledge and experiences I’ve had with this piece. I also have the most adorable new 7 year old student who is still a little terrified of me and cried our second lesson! I’m really working on not making all my students cry… Playing the harp is ridiculous and makes me want to cry frequently.

I coach the Chicago Harp Ensemble about every other month. Lynn, Cathy and I all take turns coaching so the kids get a lot of exceptional instruction. We had our Spring Concert a few weeks ago and I (and the other instructors) played along for the majority of the concert. I also performed with one of my college student’s on her Junior Recital. We performed my dear friend Alfredo Rolando Ortiz’s Habanera Gris for 2 harps and we added 2 saxophones and 3 percussionists – it was killer!

Played 6 gigs – a cocktail hour that required moving my harp down State Street during the NFL Draft taking place on the same block (no I didn’t meet any NFL players like I was planning to), a wedding, baby and bridal shower, afternoon tea time at one of my favorite hotels downtown Chicago. And don’t worry, I have my own afternoon tea on one of my breaks in my favorite ball room overlooking Lake Michigan.

3 orchestral concerts – 2nd harp for Debussy’s La Mer and Afternoon of a Faun with the one and only Lynn Williams playing 1st! Tchaikovsky’s Romeo & Juliet, Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration (combined harp 1 & 2) a little Kabolevsky Overture and a new piece by a local Chicago composer.

3 chamber recitals – The Saint-Saëns Fantasie for Violin & Harp is on all of these programs in addition to:

Debussy Bilitis arr. For Flute/Harp

A selection of Opera Aria’s for Harp/Violin

Suite of South American Folk Tunes for 2 harps

Debussy Trio (Be sure to check out Carl Swanson’s new edition if you haven’t yet! Changing the fingering for the opening of the 3rd movement has changed my life!)

Eugène Goossens Suite for Flute, Violin & Harp

There you have it! And some how I managed to find the time to go hear some really amazing concerts from the CSO (Chicago Symphony Orchestra) to CSN (Crosby, Stills & Nash) and for some hiking, running, and loads of cartwheels 🙂


About Author

I'm a founding member of the Chicago Harp Quartet and have performed with the Chicago, Sydney and Tasmanian Symphony Orchestras, Opera Australia Orchestra, Orchestra Victoria and the Lyric Opera of Chicago. I’ve performed with Janelle Monáe, Yo-Yo Ma, Renée Fleming, Ricardo Muti, and for the Steve Harvey Show on NBC.

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