I swear, I’m going to start writing these earlier than the very last day of the month. My only excuse is that for the past couple of weeks I have been moving/adjusting to life in New York City.
And considering that I’ve lived upstate my whole life, that’s kind of a big adjustment.
ANYWAY, my harpist of the month of August is Molly O'Roark! Molly recently graduated with her bachelor’s degree from the Eastman School of Music and, like me, just moved to another school - in her case, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She will be studying with Ann Yeung for a master’s degree in harp performance. Molly got a full ride + a living stipend to go there - living the dream, and getting paid to go to school.
Molly decided that she wanted to play the harp at a very young age. "I came home from kindergarten one day when I was five, and I told my parents that I was going to be a harpist.“ A local musician had come into her school to give a demo, she explained. Besides several percussion instruments like spoons and the washboard, she also brought a small Israeli harp, and this caught Molly’s attention. Her parents did not immediately respond to her request for a harp, but she did not give up. "I kept talking about it, and I started writing stories about playing the harp. In first grade, my teacher called my parents in for a conference and said hey, does your daughter play the harp? Well maybe that’s something you should look into, because I’ve never seen a six year old so focused on doing one thing.” Molly received an autoharp for Christmas that year. She then pointed out to her parents that she needed lessons, which commenced when she was seven.
Molly said she can’t remember ever wanting to do anything else, so when it came time to think about college, it was only natural that she apply to music schools as a harp major. “The harp was such a part of me at that point, as cheesy as that sounds.” She applied to Eastman, she said, not really expecting to get in, but when she got her first look at the beautiful Eastman Theatre - “I was floored. I think everybody is when they walk into Eastman Theatre, and I thought okay, I really, really want to go here!"
Happily, Molly was accepted at Eastman, and proceeded not only to knock everyone’s socks off with her playing, but also to fill her resume with tons of extracurricular leadership activities. Besides being elected class president, she worked for Student Life and the concert office, eventually becoming a head usher. As a junior she was accepted into the Arts Leadership Program, through which she had internships at the Summer at Eastman program as well as with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. She said she enjoys planning things and being a leader.
Seriously, I don’t know how this girl ever slept in college.
As a senior, Molly won the harp concerto competition at Eastman and performed Debussy’s Danse Sacree et Danse Profane in that beautiful theatre that so captivated her as an auditioning student. "Winning this one was awesome,” she said. “It was kind of the ultimate completion of studying at Eastman.” I asked her what steps she took to prepare for the competition. “One thing that we forget is to really listen to ourselves,” she said. She described the intense detail that she gave to practicing the concerto - like spending at least an hour just experimenting with the amount of finger pressure that she was using in those opening chords. The end result was a beautiful performance, although she said, “It was a little terrifying - it’s a big-ass hall!”
Molly’s dream is to someday be a college harp professor. She was inspired, she said, when she realized how much of an impact a teacher has on a young student’s life. “My second teacher passed away really suddenly - she was really young, and just didn’t wake up one morning. It really was a major blow. I was starting to get really serious about playing the harp, and suddenly, I was left without a teacher. I just realized how much we take our teachers for granted.” Molly said one of the things she loves about music is that it is always different. “In teaching, you have to always use your brain, because you can’t take a cookie cutter approach. You have to take something that you do every day, and explain it six hundred different ways."
Thanks for talking to me, Molly! Best of luck in grad school!