The first HarpFest makes its way to the UA

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Ericka Rios | The Daily Wildcat The audience came to listen and support harp player Bridget Kibbey.

Move over pianos and guitars, Michelle Gott and her students have brought the first Tucson HarpFest to the University of Arizona campus last weekend, from Oct. 18 through Oct. 20.

Gott, an assistant professor of harp at the UA, was the host of Tucson HarpFest, which took place in Fred Fox School of Music's Holsclaw Hall. The festival featured masterclasses, workshops and recitals from the UA Harp Studio and internationally renowned harpist Bridgett Kibbey.

“I think that the festival will develop in time, but for our first year, we have a wonderful guest artist [Kibbey], who [gave] a recital on Friday night, followed by two master classes on Saturday,” Gott said about the festival. "The UA Harp Studio will [also gave] a recital on Sunday afternoon."

The UA Harp Studio's recital provided each member an opportunity to perform a solo. 

“What’s nice, too, is that apart from the festival, we are also featuring the whole studio performing solos,” Gott said. “We are celebrating the students’ achievements as well and their creativity and individuality.” 

According to Gott, the UA Harp Studio is always preparing for something and the festival allowed them to develop the various things they do on a daily basis. 

“The festival is an outgrowth of things we do on a daily basis: lots of practicing, daily lessons, studio classes, creative thinking and working with other guest artists,” Gott said.

When it came to practice, the UA Harp Studio amped up their regular routine in preparation for the festival. 

“We meet once a week for studio class where we perform for each other and give feedback in an open forum setting and we practice stage presence,” Gott said. 

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Bridget Kibbey starts the recital by playing a piece by Johann Sebastain Bach.

Aside from seeing what is going on with the UA Harp Studio, Gott said the Tucson HarpFest let people see what the Tucson harp community is up to.

“My hope is that this will bring together harpists from all over, not just Tucson, but the Phoenix area, and eventually it will be more of an international event,” Gott said. “It’s a celebration of creativity, of skill and of joy in the instrument.”  

Sarah Carruth, a student at the UA and one of the members of the Harp Studio, was inspired to play the harp after seeing the previous UA harp professor’s ensemble perform at her church’s Christmas concert. 

“As a 7-year-old sitting in this Christmas concert, I looked at my mom and I said, 'Mom I’m going to do that someday,' and my mom was like, 'Oh God, I hope not,'” Carruth said. “Thirteen years later, here we are. I’m still playing the harp and my mom still thinks it’s crazy.”

Playing the harp not only is a fun hobby for Carruth, but it also allows her to do something outside of what she normally does. 

“My main passion and career focus is special education,” Carruth said. “One of my favorite parts is that I can kind of combine and get really creative with the work I’m doing in special education by using the harp because it is such a wonderful, unique sensory tool.”

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Hunter Ackerley, another member of the UA Harp Studio, wanted to continue to play the harp during her time at the UA in order to do something creative because her major is science oriented. 

“I felt like it was just a really great way to have an outlet when you're stressed,” Ackerley said. “That environment is something that I always knew I wanted in my life. Also, on top of that, it’s an amazing group of people.”

Similar to Ackerley, Carruth also said the Harp Studio gives her the opportunity to get out of the Education building once in a while.

“While I love my major, it’s so nice to come to the Harp Studio and have my harp fusion family,” Carruth said.

For Yvonne Cox, a member of the UA Harp Studio, playing the harp ran in her family.

“I was sort of brainwashed into it,” Cox said. “It’s in the family, so I had aunts that played, cousins that played and my sister played.”

Both Gott and her students were excited to hear Kibbey play, as well as getting to work with her in two different settings. Gott said she thinks Kibbey is an incredibly creative person with so much to offer.

“As a teacher, I learn so much from seeing other people teach and by watching my students learn in those settings,” Gott said. “I think that in a couple of short days you come out of it a totally different person in a way because you’ve just experienced so many things you couldn’t have imagined would happen.”

Gott encouraged the audience to come dressed in their Halloween costume for Sunday’s recital. Those who showed up in a costume were entered in a raffle to win a pumpkin.


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