Katryna Tan sees things. A harp musical. A career where people said there was no work. A sleek, modern harp center where her students could come to study and rehearse.
What makes Katryna different is that she doesn’t just see things, she does things, and she does them well. She quit her job as a successful architect to pursue the harp and hasn’t looked back. In the last 15 years she has built a vibrant career full to the brim with performing, teaching, and collaborating.
Katryna is not a household name outside of her corner of the world in Singapore, but when you hear what she is doing, you want to know more—and she’s always got something new cooking. I met Katryna back when I was an undergrad and she was getting her master’s degree in harp. Her unique combination of artistry, design, and drive make her a force to be reckoned with, though you would never know it by her short stature and disarmingly kind personality.
Katryna and I bridged the 12-hour time difference with a Skype conversation back in May. She was gearing up for the Singapore Harp Festival (held Sept. 4–6) and keeping up her usual break-neck pace of performing and teaching.
Harp Column: Tell us how you started playing the harp and your career path, because it’s not typical of most harpists.
Katryna Tan: That’s a long story! [Laughs] I started music when I was around 4 years old, I think on the piano first and then on the violin, and harp was my third instrument that I picked up around 9 years old. In between I played some Chinese instruments. My parents liked to expose us to art exhibitions and they loved music, so we were very fortunate, my sisters and I. We were having a holiday and we saw a harp and they decided to let us learn. I come from Malaysia originally, and at that time there were no harp teachers there. So I had to travel to Singapore, which at that time by older roads was six hours away by car. So when we started it was more like a hobby, just another instrument, and I liked it very much.