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Harp playing demystified with the Interlochen Arts Academy Harp Ensemble

Interlochen Arts Academy Harp Ensemble

Classical IPR recently took a field trip to the Interlochen Center for the Arts Music Center to record the Arts Academy Harp Ensemble, made up of harpists Eliza Fichialos, Katarina Swann, Megan Apostol, Micah Blair and Ella Brown.

They're all students of Joan Holland.

They performed Respighi's "Valse Caressante" and harpist Erin Hansen Janke's arrangement of "Scarborough Fair" - both pieces that put the harps' gracefully resonant sounds on display.

IAA Harp Ensemble

But senior Eliza Fichialos says the life of a harpist isn't always so glamorous.

"When you go to a wedding of a friend and they have a harpist there, all you see is the beautiful music that they're playing," she says.

"But what you don't see is that behind the scenes, we are lugging harps. We have to have special cars that can accommodate our huge instruments."

Harpists are also constantly tuning and re-tuning their instruments, and if humidity levels aren't just right, they'll have broken strings to replace, too.

Interlochen Arts Academy harpist Micah Blair
Interlochen Arts Academy harpist Micah Blair

The rewards of harp playing clearly outweigh its hassles for Fichialos, though.

"It's one of the most relaxing moments of my days, sitting in the practice room and enjoying the beautiful sounds I'm able to make," she says.

Fichialos, who is from Pleasant Grove, Utah, says it was a performance by harp virtuoso Elizabeth Hainan that first inspired her to play the harp.

"I was starstruck. I was about seven years old, and I went home and told my mom, 'I need to play the harp,'" she says.

Now, even her outside interests are harp-related.

Fichialos enjoys studying history, and she's especially interested in colonial harps and a surprising 18th-century harp icon: Marie Antoinette.

"She played the harp, and so it led to this huge surge of harps being made and sold to other lords and ladies and people who were interested in showing off that they were like the queen of France," Fichialos says.

Interlochen Arts Academy Harp Ensemble - "Scarborough Fair" arr. Erin Hansen Janke

Like the French nobility, Fichialos says she loves the harp's reputation of placid beauty, but says there's more to harpists' personalities.

"I think harpists are often perceived to be these angelic, calm, serene people. But once you get to know us, I think we all have a bit more fire in us than you'd expect."

Stefan Wiebe engineered this edition of Studio A.

Kacie Brown is IPR's digital content manager.

Kate Botello is a host and producer at Classical IPR.