As most people know every two years the American Harp Society holds a competition. With 5 divisions that are divided by age, beginning at the Junior division which allows for harpists up to the age of 12, all the way to the Young Professional division which allows for harpists up to the age of 30, this competition showcases the most talented young harpists in the United States. I had the honor of competing in the Young Professionals division in 2013 and it was an experience that was all at once empowering, humbling, inspiring, and motivating. You learn a lot about yourself as a musician in preparing for a competition and even more about yourself as a person when the results come in.
One of the most important results from this competition is the naming of the new American Harp Society Concert Artist. This harpist, the first place recipient of the AHS National Competition, is given the opportunity and financial support to perform chapter recitals for a two year term. $3000.00 is available per year, along with funds from the Escosa Memorial Fund.
It is my great honor to introduce you to our new AHS Concert Artist, Katherine Siochi! A native of Iowa City, Iowa, this is not Katherine’s first rodeo. Although she is only 21 years old she has already been awarded first prize in the junior division of the American String Teacher’s Association, winner of the Anne Adams Awards, winner of the Aspen Music Festival harp competition, and first prize in the Advanced Division of the American Harp Society. I had the opportunity chat a bit with Katherine, and am happy to help everyone get to know this exciting young musician!!
Tell us a little about yourself as a harpist, how did you begin playing?
My parents first realized that I was interested in music when they overheard me trying to play melodies by ear on the piano when I was 3 (apparently I was really shy about it… I would stop playing whenever they would come into the room!!). When I was 5, I started taking piano lessons. I had been playing for a few years, and when I was almost 10 my mom heard from a friend of hers that her daughter was playing the harp, and studying with a really great teacher. We were living near Memphis, TN at the time and there is a pretty big harp scene in the area. I started taking Suzuki harp lessons with Linda Wilson, and I immediately liked the instrument, and caught on fairly quickly since I had a piano background. My experience with the piano was invaluable in helping me with the harp and certainly with how I conceptualized music in general. In high school I was maintaining both instruments equally and knew I wanted to pursue music, but around my junior year I really had to decide what I wanted to focus on in college. I ended up choosing the harp because it’s a more unique instrument, and I wanted to have more orchestral opportunities. It was a hard choice to make, because I love both instruments, but I don’t regret my decision at all!
Do you still play piano?
I’m still a pretty serious pianist, and although I don’t have the time to dedicate towards it that I did in high school, I’ve studied piano privately through my undergrad at Juilliard. It has been very tough to balance but worth it! Hopefully I will find ways to keep using it for the rest of my life, whether performing, teaching, accompanying, etc.
You are continuing on at Julliard in Fall 2015 for your Masters degree, tell us about your decision to attend this iconic school and your experience there.
When I auditioned at Juilliard for my undergrad, I genuinely did not expect to be admitted so I was really ecstatic and grateful to have the chance to study at such an amazing school. One of the main things that drew me to Juilliard was its location in NYC- living in the midst of the Lincoln Center, we have countless opportunities to hear the best musicians every day. And the city in general offers so many diverse and rich ways to experience the arts.
After four years at Juilliard, my eyes have been opened to the stellar level of musicianship and talent that exists among my peers. I definitely think they were a crucial part of my experience, and one of the reasons I decided to return, because it’s impossible to grow complacent when you’re surrounded by such dedication. I’m endlessly inspired and motivated by them. And of course Nancy Allen is an incredible teacher, who has made me aware of a new level of finesse in harp playing. The level of playing in our harp studio is so high, so I feel like we’re always challenged by each other and learning from each other. I absolutely LOVE the people in our studio!! I was apprehensive at first when I considered attending Juilliard because we’ve all heard the ridiculous stories of cut-throat competition, but I am happy to say that that couldn’t be further from the truth. Everyone at Juilliard is extremely warm and supportive of each other, and we celebrate each other’s successes. I can’t think of a better environment to learn and flourish in.
We all know your teacher, Nancy Allen, principal harpist of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. What is your favorite part of studying with Ms. Allen?
I have to say that what I appreciate most about Nancy is how she sees us first as people, then musicians. She cares about each of her students on a personal level, and I think one can only respond well to a teacher who shows that kind of individual attention. Nancy is one of the most generous people I know, and will go out of her way to make sure we are as prepared as possible, even if it’s an inconvenience to her. I really look up to her in every aspect of her life, not just her career as a harpist!
Speaking of careers, have any plans for the future? What can you see yourself doing?
I get this question so much, and to be completely honest, I don’t really know! I’m open to everything. I love performing solo, chamber, and orchestral music, and I certainly want to try to involve myself in all 3 if opportunity allows. I have found myself becoming increasingly more interested in chamber music, because some of the most fulfilling musical experiences I’ve had recently are ones where I’m working with really wonderful people and developed friendships in addition to creating music. I do believe that makes a difference in the quality of music produced. I don’t have my heart so set on one particular goal that I’ll be crushed if it doesn’t happen for me. As long as I am finding ways to play music with other great musicians and share it with the world, I will be happy!!!! I’ll just have to see what direction life takes me and go with it.
Lets move on to your experience at the American Harp Society National Competition. What Repertoire did you perform?
- “Toccata in A Major” – Paradisi
- “Serenade” – Parish-Alvars
- “Scintillation” – Salzedo
What would you say were the most successful practice techniques that you employed in preparation for the competition?
I think different techniques were most helpful for each of the pieces. For the Paradisi Toccata, the metronome was important for speed and consistency of tempo. For the Parish-Alvars Serenade, playing it for a lot of people and finding more opportunities to perform it was crucial, since it was initially a piece that scared me so much in terms of right hand technique, and at first no matter how good it sounded in the practice room, it fell apart when I played it in front of people. So the only way to get over that was to perform it more!! With Salzedo’s Scintillation, the most difficult aspect for me was memorizing the pedal changes in the gliss sections. I’ve had a couple scary performance experiences with memory issues in the glissando passages, so before this competition I focused on practicing the pedals alone and being able to recall the changes in my head away from the harp.
Great advice! How did you feel after your performance for the competition?
The first emotion I felt after leaving the stage was relief! I actually have a little story to tell about the competition performance… I felt pretty relaxed right before walking onto the stage, and I was happy with the Toccata that I played first. Then about two minutes into the Serenade, all of the lights in the hall began to gradually dim, and in my head I was thinking “Hmm, someone decided to change the ambiance of the hall a bit, I guess that’s cool but why is it happening while I’m playing…” and then the lights grew dimmer and dimmer until the hall was totally pitch black!!! I tried to keep playing for a few seconds after but I really couldn’t see the strings at all so I had to stop. It remains a mystery how or why it happened! After the lights in the hall were restored I was told I could start wherever I wanted, so I just began the Serenade again. I was really shaken up inwardly but I tried not to show it! I actually felt that the remainder of my performance had more energy because of the snag in the middle. Overall, I think that I did the best I could have with the situation, so I was very happy with how it went.
Wow! I think I would just curl into a ball and cry!! Now that you have been named the new AHS Concert Artist, what are you most looking forward to?
I’m excited about the fact that this will give me the opportunity to perform for and meet harpists from all across the country! I am thankful to the American Harp Society for the valuable experience I will earn from these engagements, including creating programming, teaching, and growing more comfortable in a variety of performance situations.
Interested in having Katherine Siochi perform for your American Harp Society Chapter? Local chapters are encouraged to invite the Concert Artist to perform, and the AHS will pay transportation costs for the Concert Artist from budgeted funds. To request a Concert Artist performance, Chapters should contact the Chairman of the Concert Artist committee. The current Chairman of the Concert Artist Program is Karen Lindquist, who can be reached at email@example.com.