New York and Nashville harpist Kirsten Agresta Copely has been defying genres for decades. Since winning the bronze medal in the first USA International Harp Competition, she has gone on to perform in film soundtracks, work with many Billboard 100 top artists, and teach harp at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music. Her latest album, Around the Sun, is another pivot. Featuring nine of her own compositions, the album focuses on “beautiful, introspective melodies and ambient soundscapes,” a clear departure from her classical album, Dream World, and her album of pop and rock covers, released in 2019. We sat down with Agresta Copely to find out where her inspiration comes from and what it’s like to collaborate with a spouse on such a huge project.
This is your third solo album, but first as a composer. Tell us about your journey to writing music.
I took some composition lessons in my hometown when I was a child, but only recently chose to focus my efforts on publishing and recording my works in the last year. It’s been a longtime dream to compose an all-original album and fulfill a deep artistic urge to create something unique. It finally bubbled up inside of me and my instinct told me it was time to honor it.
A lot of the compositions I was writing were naturally minimalistic in style and led easily into being more defined by ambient soundscapes. It was a perfect opportunity to collaborate with my husband, Marc, who has lots of experience playing ambient guitar on TV/film soundtracks. We both love the work of Brian Eno and Harold Budd (pioneers of the ambient genre) so he creatively designed the supporting complimentary layers. There isn’t a single keyboard effect on the album; just solo harp recorded in a classical style with sonic treatments.
Your husband is credited as producer, engineer, and mixer. I’d love to know what it was like to work so intensely on a project together.
Marc and I have tried working together before, but this was the project that clicked for us. We found it to be a bonding experience to explore the various dimensions of ambience surrounding my compositions. I think we were both a little surprised at how well we managed to put aside the husband/wife roles and think more as producer/artist. We’d work long hours in the studio, and then look at each other and say, “So, who’s going to cook dinner?” (P.S. Marc cooked.)
Ha! That’s great. Is there a track you are most proud of? Any track that was particularly troubling?
The track that I’m most proud of is “Winter’s Bone,” which is the last song on the album. The darker abstraction resonates with me and is especially evocative as it completes the year’s cycle in a deeply reflective tone. I don’t think any track was particularly troubling, but we did revisit some of the earlier tunes as the styling started to evolve.
Do you have plans to publish the sheet music for any songs on the album? I know harpists have been really enjoying your latest publication, “Onde.”
Three of the songs are already available for purchase on my website, and I do plan to publish 2–3 more from the album. I’m honored that Harp Column chose “Onde” for the practice challenge and have been excited to see all the videos of harpists learning it.
So, what’s next for you? Any exciting projects that you’re turning your focus to now that the album is out?
I’m already thinking about the next album! I enjoyed writing Around The Sun so much that I’m inspired to keep creating and expanding as a composer and artist.