Q and A with Katryna Tan

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Have you ever participated in a harp flash mob? Or seen a harp musical? These are just a few events scheduled to take place at the Singapore Harp Festival next month. After seeing the lineup for the four–day festival, we just had to know more, so we reached out to Katryna Tan, the visionary behind the programming.

As artistic director of the Singapore Harp Festival, what are some of your main responsibilities leading up to September 5?

It’s going to be an exciting festival for Singapore this year because of the many things the festival will be showcasing. We have a few specific aims this year. We wanted to have programs that are all–encompassing for harpists of all ages, projects that build friendships with neighboring harpists, programs featuring both solo and chamber music, and opportunities for Singapore performers and composers. We also wanted to encourage creativity. My main responsibility was to design programs that will achieve these goals and ensure that everyone enjoys the process leading up to and during the days of the harp festival!

This year, we will be looking forward to seeing more than 50 harps on site, a whole new harp musical, the commissioning of a new harp concerto by Eric Watson (titled Winged Messenger), presentations from winners of solo, chamber, and creative composition competitions, a “flash mob” harp ensemble by all participants, and workshops suitable for all ages. We also have a guest solo harpist from France, Sylvain Blassel, and winners of harp competitions from both Singapore and overseas. So it’s definitely going to be an exciting time, sharing and listening to harpists from around the world!

What event are you most excited about?

It’s quite difficult to pinpoint only one as there are many things in the festival that I am quite excited about, like Eric Watson’s concerto and Sylvain Blassel’s concert. However, perhaps I am most looking forward to the premiere of our new harp musical, Legends of the Harp. This is a brand new production with a whole new story! It will be exciting to see how it is received for the first time.

So what exactly is a harp musical?

Legends of the Harp is the piece we are premiering this year. We have previously presented two other harp musicals: Pluck the Harp Fairy and Pluck and the Magic Banyan Tree. A harp musical is like any other musical, with a storyline, acting, singing, dancing, and MUSIC of course! Harps will be the main instrument featured in the music.

We are pleased to present a storyline based on some of our favorite harp stories. We’ve taken inspirations from the golden harp of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” the Irish god Dagda and his magical harp, King David and his harp, and Harpo Marx, an American comedian who actually plays the harp.

One of the main components of the festival is composition, including a competition for composers. Why did you decide to make composition such a big portion of the festival?

I feel that young harpists should be encouraged to experiment with sound and explore creation on their own instrument, besides playing from written music. This is something often not emphasized in the earlier learning stages. Therefore we wanted to introduce that in this year’s festival, as it creates a platform for the young to try a hand in composition. We also have a few well–known composers (Mr. Eric Watson, Mr. Phang Kok Jun, and Mr. Julian Wong) who are involved in our harp festival and write a lot of wonderful music for the harp. We thought it was a good time to tap into their expertise to give some guidance to the young harpists.

When thinking about the festival as a whole, what is your main goal? What do you hope attendees take away from it?

I hope in this festival we show how the harp can be creative in many ways as an art form. I hope students will be inspired with solo and chamber music playing and that adults and seniors can participate in the performances. I also hope to showcase some of the unique Asian music created by Singapore composers of the harp—audiences can go home inspired by new sounds and more composers will continue to write for the harp. Mostly importantly I hope everyone has an inspirational and fun time together with more friendships forged and wonderful memories made!

For more information, visit singaporeharpfest.com.

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About Author

Stephanie Gustafson Amfahr is a harpist and teacher based in Houston, TX. Currently principal harpist with Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra, she is also a co-founder of the Houston Youth Harp Ensemble, young artist with Da Camera of Houston and on faculty at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Twin Lake, MI. She started writing for Harp Column in September 2017.

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