Leading up to the 13th World Harp Congress this July in Hong Kong, we’re talking with performers for the ever-popular WHC Focus on Youth showcase concerts. Check in each week as we present insights from these talented young artists.

Give us some background: when did you start playing, what’s your current age, and who do you study with?

“Of course it is fun to watch other harpists playing, but once you sense it, you will definitely be inspired by the unique sound it creates,” says Japan’s Nanako Hirai

I am now 19 years old, and I started playing Irish harp at the age of 9 and then [grand] harp at the age of 10. I was playing piano before that, but a harp performance on TV inspired me [to play] harp. I played both of them for about a year, then I chose to focus on playing harp. Harp is not a famous instrument compare to piano or violin in Japan, but I love the sound of the harp. I am currently improving my techniques under Professor Ayako Shinozaki in Toho Gakuen College Music Department.

Tell us about your WHC program. How did you choose your repertoire and what do you like about the music?

In the performance, I will play Introduction, Cadenza and Rondo, by Elias Parish-Alvars. I am emotionally involved with this music because I practiced the music for the longest time in my harp career, but it is one of the most complicated pieces I have played. What I like about the music is the gap between how it sounds and how it should be played by a harpist; while the music is elegant and graceful overall, it should be played strongly.

Have you attended a World Harp Congress?

No, this is the first time attending World Harp Congress. I am very excited for this great chance.

What is the first thing you are going to do when you get to Hong Kong?

Since this trip is with my whole family and we do not know when all four of us can reunite for a trip next time, I naturally want to have a first great traditional meal at Hong Kong.

Which harpist do you most admire?

I admire my professors Professor Ayako Shinozaki and her daughter Professor Kazuko Shinozaki the most because they are not only great harpists but also great teachers who are sacrificing their time teaching me and all of their students what they really want us to learn.

Which harpist are you most looking forward to meeting in person at the WHC?

I am most looking forward to meeting Isabelle Moretti at the WHC. Because My dream is to study the harp at Conservatoire national supérieur de musique et de danse de Paris.

What is the most memorable musical performance you have ever attended?

The most memorable musical performance in my harp career is the final stage at International Osaka Music Competition. The time was the first time in my life that I could forget it was actually a competition and could play without any pressure and nervousness.

What is the most memorable performing experience, and why?

The most memorable performing experience was at Nippon harp competition last year when I actually won the whole competition. I cried on the stage (and actually cried off stage) since I made a mistake in my mind [while playing], and everyone else who played after me just looked great. I could not imagine at the time I could compete with the other harpists. However, when it came to the announcement, somehow I won the whole competition. When I looked back the moment, it was funny and lucky, but I also learned that following what composers created is not just all about playing music.

What advice would you give a young student wanting to start harp?

If you want to [begin], why don’t you just start it? It can be said to all young people who stay away from trying something [they] want. For young people who want to start harp, I want them to feel it in touch by actually [playing] a string. Of course it is fun to watch other harpists playing, but once you sense it, you will definitely be inspired by the unique sound it creates, and hopefully it pushes you forward start playing harp.

What is the best piece of advice someone has ever given to you?

I always have two things given from my professors in my mind especially when I am on stage; to enjoy playing harp no matter how many mistakes you make and to always play for the best of what you have. When they are in my mind, they make me calm down and release me from nervousness.

When you are not playing the harp what do you like to do?

My favorite time other than playing harp is to watch Ghibli movies.

What is on your playlist?

I always listen to the soundtrack of Ghibli theme songs.

Finish this sentence: In 10 years I see myself…

…In 10 years I see myself as an attractive harpist not only finding and improving my own style of playing harp, but also good at instructing young harpists.

Anything else you want Harp Column readers to know about you?

I am updating some Ghibli music on harp on Twitter so people can enjoy listening to harp with the song they know. Often times harp is thought to be played with classic music and I want them to know it is not one-hundred percent true.

To learn more about the World Harp Congress visit www.worldharpcongress.org.
To register for the 13th World Harp Congress July 7–13 2017 in Hong Kong, visit www.whc2017.org.

Listen to Nanako Hirai

 

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