Remembering Calista McKasson Kovin (1976–2019)


Calista McKasson Kovin passed away on August 2, 2019, in Tacoma, Wash. She was an exceptionally gifted harpist, teacher, orchestral musician, and pianist. She received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Cleveland Institute of Music in harp performance, finishing her studies in 2002. While at CIM, she won the concerto competition and was awarded the Alice Chalifoux Prize twice, in 2000 and 2002. She was named principal harpist with the Tacoma (WA) Symphony soon after graduating, a post she held until her death. In addition to her classical career, she was passionately involved in the Scottish music tradition as a pianist and recording artist with her band, The McKassons. She released two CDs with The McKassons, Tall Tales and Tripping Maggie, and toured with the group throughout the United States.

Cali, as she was called by her family and friends, was in my first class of students at the Cleveland Institute of Music when I started teaching there in 1997. She was a bright light then, and continued to be one for all those who knew her throughout her all-too-short life. She was enormously, naturally talented as a musician, and her warm, rich sound on the harp was the kind of tone that can only come from within. Her integrity, leadership, sense of humor, compassion, and generosity impacted every community she inhabited, and her bubbly, joy-filled laugh is impossible to forget.

One only needed to look around the packed chapel at her funeral in Tacoma to see how very loved and appreciated she was. She fought to the end, but left behind three gorgeous kids, a truly wonderful husband, a devoted brother, and a loving mother who managed to handle even this overwhelmingly sad experience with grace.

At exactly the moment Cali was laid to rest, I, along with several of her friends, noticed that a previously cloudy day turned to a sunny one and a beautiful, soft breeze blew by. That moment was Cali in a nutshell: light, grace, and joy. Rest in peace, Cali. You will be sorely missed.

Yolanda Kondonassis


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