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New York, New York
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A New York harpist trying to figure things out - and the mishaps and adventures that inevitably ensue.

Harpist of the Month of May (Yes, I'm Aware that it's June): Mikaela Davis!

Kathryn Sloat

Yeah, I know. I’m still playing catch-up. 

Mikaela Davis is a very multifaceted musician. Besides being a classically trained harpist, she is also a folk harpist/singer/songwriter with a band. Next year, Mikaela will be a senior harp performance major at the Crane School of Music (where I went to college!). 

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Mikaela was lucky enough to go to one of the few public schools to offer harp lessons, which is how she got started. She says one of the things that inspired her to choose the harp was the death of her grandmother. “My Oma had just passed away that year, and I thought, if I play the harp in the living room, she can listen to me.” Mikaela began harp lessons in third grade and was first taught by a music teacher at school before switching to take lessons with Grace Wong, the principal harpist with the Rochester Philharmonic. Now at Crane, she studies with Dr. Jessica Suchy-Pilalis.

Mikaela started writing songs for an enrichment class that she took in middle school. She started on the piano (her early efforts, she says, sounded like Vanessa Carlton) before switching to write for the harp. “My friend’s dad gave me a cd of Joanna Newsom, and I was like oh - why aren’t I doing that?”

The first band that she played in was a duo she started in high school with a friend who played the ukelele. Calling themselves The Girls, they mostly played at informal locations like the Rochester Public Market. After The Girls broke up, she started writing and performing on her own. “I actually didn’t want a band, originally,” she says. “I did solo stuff for a while, and then I was showing my songs to Alex Cote (the band’s drummer), and he said ‘oh, you should add bells on some of your songs!’ He started playing shows with me and he would literally just play glockenspiel. And then he said 'you should add kick drum and snare,’ so it kind of added on really slowly. And then two years ago we added guitar, so then it was full drumset, bells, and guitar." 

Because at school she is always practicing classical music, Mikaela says this has influenced the way she writes the harp parts for her songs. "When I write a song it won’t be just chords, I’ll put some depth in the harp parts. Sometimes when I write a part, I have to practice it a little bit!”

Mikaela and her band released their first album almost a year ago, which you can find on her Bandcamp site as well as on iTunes (my favorite song happens to be “Something Better”). You can also listen to more of her music on her YouTube channel.

Her current band includes herself on harp and vocals, Alex Cote on drumset, and Cian McCarthy on guitar and sitar (both Alex and Cian go to SUNY Purchase), and they have been playing together for about a year. They have at least six new songs (such as “I Wouldn’t,” “Don’t Want Another Love,” and “Feels like Forever”),  as well as a cover of the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” (which is awesome). These are not on the album, so you’ll have to see them live in order to hear them (although there are plans to record an EP soon)!

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(From left to right: Cian, Mikaela, Alex).

Mikaela has one foot in the classical world and one in the world of indie music, and she says she loves to play both styles. She is more than capable in both areas - she recently won the Crane Concerto Competition and performed Pierne’s Concertstuck with the Crane Symphony Orchestra. When she is finished with school, she says, she wants to focus on her band, but will continue to play classical music. 

Her plans for the immediate future are for her senior recital, which will included pieces like Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro (a personal favorite of mine), Salzedo’s Scintillation (which she played in the Crane Honors Recital this past year), and Casella’s Sonata for Harp. She also has a full schedule of gigs for her band this summer, including shows in Rochester and yet-to-be-announced tour dates throughout the northeastern United States. 

In Rochester, NY:

Friday, June 21st - Lovin’ Cup, 9pm

Thursday, July 11th - Hochstein at Highfalls, 12:10

Saturday, July 13th - Corn Hill Arts Festival on Avery Stage, 3pm

Friday, July 26th - Bug Jar, 10pm

Keep checking her Facebook page for more events this summer. Thanks for talking to me, Mikaela!