Meet YAHS alum Ellie Kirk!
YAHS alumnus Ellie Kirk (2010–11) is leading a busy life in Chicago, where she studies with Marguerite Lynn Williams (2015 YAHS special guest) at the Chicago College of Performing Arts and performs as an Associate Harpist with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. She also maintains a busy teaching schedule. We asked Ellie to share the most valuable skills she learned from her time at the Young Artist’s Harp Seminar.
Ellie (right, with a student) now enjoys her role in the teacher’s seat!
Skill One: Harp Ensemble
“A big part of my YAHS experience was playing in large harp ensembles and learning how to listen and react to other harpists. I learned how to cue, how to hear the interaction of different parts, and how to adjust to the other players. I loved playing in the huge (sometimes over 30 players) ensemble and it was always a highlight of the summer. This year, I had the amazing opportunity to play in a four harp section at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in their production of Die Walküre – it was such a special experience and so great to play in an unusually large section! I used my harp ensemble expertise to stay together with the section, and ensure that my part was fitting in correctly with the principal, the other section harpists, and the rest of the orchestra and singers.”
Skill Two: Tuning
“This may seem like an odd one—but the longer I play the harp, the more I realize just how important tuning is! I remember at the mock auditions that there was a section on the score sheet on tuning, and that in order to get full marks, you had to check the tuning of the instrument and adjust any out of tune notes that you hear as you play the audition. At the time, I didn’t completely understand why tuning was being evaluated, but now, I think this is a huge part of succeeding in an audition setting! Other non-harpist musicians on an audition panel probably don’t totally understand how tuning a harp works, and won’t be as forgiving of tuning problems. At YAHS, with so many harps and potential changes in humidity and temperature, instruments go out of tune all the time, so I developed an ear and the proper skills to tune a harp quickly and effectively.”
Skill Three: Stage Presence
“Performances are always nerve wracking for me, but the more I do it and the more I think back on stage presence classes at YAHS, the more natural it feels. Performing is so much more than just playing the harp – for me it’s comforting to have a plan about how to walk out on stage, how to bow, and how to set up the stage so that I can play my best. I remember even learning to say “peanut butter” in my head when bowing to make sure it was long enough! This year, I started a private harp studio and have begun teaching my own students in Chicago. We had our first recital this winter, and I was able to pass along some of the stage presence tips I learned at YAHS! I made sure my students were comfortable adjusting the bench to the correct height, taking a few seconds before starting to breathe and relax, and bowing fully before leaving the stage. It was really special to be able to pass this along, and solidify these skills for myself through teaching.”