Weekend Listen: A Young Harpist Reflects on her From the Top Experience
13-year-old Harpist Olivia Lee is one of the outstanding young artists featured on this week’s From the Top episode from Boston, Massachusetts. All of the performers on this show participated in a four-day residency where they used their artistry to connect with the community. Here, Olivia reflects on that powerful experience:
A few years ago I attended a live taping of From the Top at Jordan Hall. I had been playing the harp for three years, and I was captivated by the young musicians who performed. They inspired me to apply to the show, and looking back on my time at From the Top, I can’t believe how quickly it went by. I was surprised that the live taping was only part of the experience. Throughout the week, we participated in several fun engagement activities. Before the live performance, the musicians from my show started our community engagement adventure at the Women’s Lunch Place, a soup kitchen providing meals in Boston. After, we went to another soup kitchen nearby, The Haley House.
The next day, I had the chance to play my harp at the Margarita Muñiz Academy, a bilingual school in Jamaica Plain. Earlier that day, all musicians from shows 382 and 383 had gathered to play at the school. Our goal wasn’t necessarily to “perform” for the students. Instead of having a traditional concert, we were hoping to spark the students’ imaginations and interact with them. We divided our time into three sessions for different age levels with each musician presenting for five minutes.
Throughout the day, I heard a variety of different types of presentations. Before she played the piece Gypsy Caprese, a violinist asked the students, “What comes to mind when I say the word ‘gypsy?’” One of the pianists, who performed a waltz, asked the audience, “Does anybody want to try dancing a waltz?” From the Top’s host, Peter Dugan, volunteered and everyone laughed playfully. A singer sang a piece once without emotion and asked the audience, “What do you think this piece is about?” When she revealed that it was about heartbreak, she asked one student to coach her on her body language and emotion. Sitting down and participating in the engagement activity as an audience member, I felt like I was connecting with both the performers and with the students.
When it was time for my demonstration, I got ready to sit down with a classroom full of ninth and tenth graders, the last group of the day. I eagerly made my way towards the front of the room. Although I felt a little nervous, I couldn’t be more excited to show my activity to them. I was going to play the theme and a few variations from The Minstrel’s Adieu to His Native Land by John Thomas. Before I began, I asked three volunteers to come sit closer to my harp and watch my hands and feet. I asked them to report to the class what they saw. Shy at first, the students quickly started opening up and sharing their thoughts. They noticed where my feet stayed during the piece, and one person realized that harmonics are created using a different part of the hand.
More excited than ever, I asked if anyone wanted to try playing my harp. One student waved her hand high, like a conductor trying to get the orchestra’s attention. “Really?” she exclaimed, as she shot up from her chair and walked towards my harp. Once she sat down, she started jamming and even tried a classic harp glissando. I absolutely loved her reaction. It was impactful watching the joy of her playing the harp.
I can’t even explain how much I enjoyed the community engagement activity at the Muñiz Academy. I learned so much about how to take my skills, tools, and experiences, and put them into action as a musician. In the future, I want to demonstrate to audiences that they can use their imaginations while listening to classical music. For instance, I would encourage my listeners to think about a color, character, scene, mood, or anything that pops into mind while hearing a piece. This can help the audience think more deeply about a piece, and it can help me gather different perspectives on the music.
Of all the big takeaways from this experience, the one that stood out to me was our group’s goal: engaging with the students and making them feel like they’re participating too. They can learn from us, and we can learn from them. It goes both ways.
Tune in to this week’s this week’s From the Top episode featuring Olivia along with four other young artists, host Peter Dugan, and guest host Paquito d’Rivera.
Also, be sure to subscribe to From the Top’s podcast so you never miss an episode!