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Q: Being mostly a pop harpist, what is your favorite classical piece?

A: That's a tough one, because I like so many classical pieces. Some of my favorites are Clair de Lune (Debussy) and La Source (Hasselmans). My favorite chamber piece is Ravel's Introduction et Allegro. My favorite concerto is Boildieu. And probably my favorite piece of all (and the one I'd like to hear when I'm leaving this life) is Chopin's Etude Op. 25, the "harp" etude. Very few harpists play it (including me), but Posse did transcribe it for harp.


Q: When did you start playing the harp?

A: Fifty years ago this year! I guess that means I was about one when I started!


Q: What is your favorite/most important harp experience?

A: I've had so many, it's really hard to narrow it down! I love that the harp has taken me not only all over the USA but to different parts of the world (some of my favorite experiences were going to Switzerland and China). I've also had some memorable experiences playing for and meeting celebrities and notables. Among my favorites were Carol Burnett, Henry Mancini, Carl Reiner, and President Jimmy Carter.


Q: What is your favorite SHA memory?

A: I love how the participants are so willing to get up and dance, sing, and play for each other. There is such camaraderie, eagerness to learn, and willingness to participate, that almost everything we do is fun!


Q: When did you know you wanted harp to be your career?

A: It really happened by accident. As much as I loved the harp, I didn't plan to be a harpist because I thought that meant that I had to play in an orchestra, and I don't really enjoy that type of work. I like to improvise and conductors usually frown upon that! I was working as a Vice President at a savings and loan when some opportunities came up to play in a few hotels. That meant I could play the variety of music, by myself, that I wanted to play. Before long, I was offered a full time job as a harpist in the gourmet restaurant of a luxury hotel, and I left my banking career to play harp full time.


Q: Which piece is most often requested when you play in public?

A: Happy Birthday. Seriously.


Q: What is the question you get asked most frequently about harp?
A: There are so many we ALL get asked on a regular basis ("Don't you wish you played the flute" when they see you pushing it around; "How much does that weigh?"; "What made you choose the harp?", etc). I've thought about printing up a FAQ list to hand out when people ask, but I like helping them learn about the harp.


Q: What is the best advice you could give career-aspiring harpists?

A: Diversify. Have more than one harp-related thing that you do, such as teaching, performing, composing, arranging...the list goes on and on. It isn't an easy way to make a living, but it can be done quite successfully. If one area dries up, you should have other sources for income. Keep expanding your repertoire. Play both pedal and lever harp (what are you going to do for at least 6 weeks if you break your leg?). Save your money (don't spend more than you make). Diversify. 



Q: When did you start playing harp?

A: When I was 15 years old...started really late, but I am a quick learner. I did a lot of mental practicing.


Q: What has been your most important/favorite harp experience so far?

A: You mean besides The Summer Harp Academy? Oh, let's see. Lessons with my students and when I performed the Ginastera Concert with the National Symphony in that order.


Q: Who is your favorite composer?

A: I would say Bach and of course Chopin.


Q: What question do you most often get asked when people learn you play the harp?

A: They are usually always speechless. "Oh, this is so amazing." "Do your fingers hurt?" 


Q: What is the #1 piece every harpist should play?

A: The list would be really long for advanced students...Grandjany, Britten, Hindemith, Posse, Renie, Bach...I believe that all harpists, no matter how young or old or how advanced they are, should know one showy piece with glissandos. My favorite: Gustavson's "Great Day." "Fire Dance" by Watkins or "Chanson dans la Nuit" are great examples too.


Q: Why did you want to start the SHA?

A: My students wanted to do something with harp during the summer and there are no classes offered at IU. A couple of times I arranged a short masterclass at my house. It was a lot of fun, but the place was really crowded and the last time I cooked for 24 people...the result: The Summer Harp Academy - great harp learning at the beautiful Lake Junaluska, NC. This would not have happened if Christine Kercheval would not have taken charge of all the administrative duties! 


Q: What is your favorite SHA memory?

A: Oh my gosh, it is one big blur. What would be my favorite? Playing harp ensemble in the lobby of The Lambuth Inn and talking with the crowd. It would start with one harpist just practicing in the lobby joined by the next participant. After half an hour we would have a dozen harps and harpists performing spontaneously. Playing "Intelligence" comes in second. 


Q: What advice would you give to young harpists?

A: Remember that playing harp is not just delivering perfectly memorized pieces. It is about music. Find your own way to express yourself using beautiful sound and implementing unique phrasing. Good luck!


Q: What is the most important technique for harpists?

A: Being relaxed and paying attention to the sound quality and playing cleanly. Every component of technique I find equally important: scales, rolled chords, arpeggios, muffling, replacing, directional placing, balance, attention to dynamics, pedal changes, glissandos, etc. Master all of it and use it in an effortless and supple way to express yourself in your pieces. Technique as a tool to music making...that should be a goal of every harpist.


Q: When did you start playing harp?

A: My kindergarten music teacher brought in a lap harp one day and I was totally hooked, so at the end of the day she told my mom to get me harp lessons. So, I got harp lessons for my 7th birthday and the rest is history.


Q: What has been your most important/favorite harp experience so far?

A: Oh man, that's a tough one. The Summer Harp Academy because it is so nice to be able to have fun with other harpists in a relaxing and supportive atmosphere. The chance to work with Jan Jennings and Ela Szmyt and see how brilliant they are and really get to know them is a unique opportunity. 


Q: What is your favorite piece or favorite composer?

A: My favorite classical is Mahler 2nd symphony. Favorite harp piece: Tie between Britten Suite and Scintillation by Salzedo. 


Q: What question do you most often get asked when people learn you play the harp?

A: Do your parents wish you picked the piccolo?


Q: What is your response to that?

A: The harp is 10 times more awesome.


Q: What is your favorite SHA memory?

A: That's really tough, there is a lot. Playing intelligence on the porch. I don't think I've ever laughed so much. Also, paddle boating with Ela. That actually was the funniest experience of my life.


Q: What advice would you give to young harpists?

A: My advice to young harpists is to expose themselves to as many different kinds of music and instruments as possible. To produce art you also have to consume art. Always make sure you step away and take some time to focus on whats happening around you. 


Q: What is up next on your harp agenda?

A: My degree recital [Performer's Diploma at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University] and preparation for the Korea International Harp Competition.  

The Summer Harp Academy


Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center

Lake Junaluska, NC

Upcoming Events

SHA2024 : TBD


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Christine Kercheval Valenta

Administrative Director




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