In October of 2017, I got to meet Katherine Siochi, former AHS concert artist, 2016 Gold Medalist of the USA International Harp Competition, & current principal harpist with the Sarasota Orchestra (among other accomplishments)! We met for coffee at The Reserve, where we chatted for this interview. I have quite a bit of material, so it's split it into multiple blog posts. Welcome to the fourth & final segment of this interview.
Today is the final segment & is focused mostly on music, but be sure to read what Katherine had to say about tech & social media, being a harpist in NYC vs. Sarasota, & an interesting story about her beautiful black dress.
Her music preferences.
Ever since I was...3 or 4, I started just playing stuff by ear on our piano, and that was when my parents first sort of realized that maybe I had an aptitude for music. I would play stuff that I had heard them play recordings of, like I'd pick out the melody on the piano. So I've always enjoyed doing that, and then in high school I would do a lot of covers on the piano and harp, where I would play different songs I liked. Mostly it was in the pop/rock vein, because that was a little bit easier to arrange I guess. The chords are pretty simple...it's easy to figure that stuff out by ear. So I had a YouTube channel were I would post those; it hasn't been active in a few years. A lot of people don't know about it, and then when they find out I'm really embarrassed.
But I guess I'm becoming more interested in all genres of music. I definitely for a while would only listen to classical music, and in high school the non-classical music I listened to was...mostly just pop or rock. Or alternative indie rock, to put a very vague kind of a label on it. And sort of the typical high school sort of angsty music that you feel like you can connect to the lyrics. It sounds really cheesy, but I think everyone kind of likes it…
I listened to a lot of that kind of stuff, but I'm starting to appreciate more of all different kinds of music and just being a little bit more open, because I tend to only listen to things maybe once if I don't like them immediately and don't give them another chance. So I've been trying to be a little bit more open-minded recently, just really listening to all genres, even things that I maybe don't understand completely, to try to appreciate a little bit more, because it's interesting having that classical music background, you pick up more closely on certain elements of these different styles that maybe other people who are really into that style don't even notice. You can find really cool, unique things about the music, just coming from that state of mind.
So ya, I'm trying to be more open-minded. I still listen to mostly classical music. I mostly listen to piano music actually, sorry harp, but, chamber music, strings and piano. That's my favorite kind of music to listen to really. There's just so much great repertoire for it, and my favorite composers are pretty much all people who wrote lots of piano music, like Schubert, Brahms, Chopin. Just the Romantic composers. And their chamber music is incredible. So I would say, because I've always really loved their music, that’s something I've been trying to do recently. Well, not recently, for awhile, to transcribe a lot of piano pieces for the harp...
So in China and the last few months as AHS concert artist, I did a couple sets of transcriptions by Debussy and Chopin [that I transcribed]. There really weren't any major changes I had to make. Pretty much I'm playing them faithfully to the score. Just from IMSLP. So that was great, because I had 6 free pieces. I didn’t have to buy the sheet music.
I'm adding on another Chopin Nocturne for my CD recording I'm doing at the end of November, which is part of the prize for USA Competition. So I'm going to Chicago to do that, using one of Lyon & Healy's harps. So I don't know when that's going to be released, but that's the next several months. So pretty much I have until the next competition to do this recording. So, that's coming up...[in] 2019. It's every 3 years...So the recording and the tour in China were all part of the prize. And the harp.
The USAIHC harp.
I got it [the harp] in January. I went to Chicago to pick it out. It's beautiful. I got a gold 23. I could've gotten anything that was through the value of the gold 23, so I tried some 11s, but I just liked that particular harp the best, the sound of that one.
Well, I mean I really wanted the 11s to sound the best, those are so, especially the gold one, those are so pretty. But...none of them quite compared to the one that I got. So now I have twinning harps. One plain 23 and one gold 23 next to each other in my apartment.
The orchestra harp
The orchestra has their own 23, and it's pretty nice. But there'll be a couple instances where I'll probably use my regular 23, because I don't like moving the gold one out that much. If they need two harps, I might use mine. The second harp can use the orchestra’s. Or in a couple weeks when we're doing an opera, and we also are doing the masterworks, which is the classical series, at the same time, probably theirs will be at the opera house and I'll use mine for that...and then I'll still have one at home! So it's really nice to have options.
Adjustment from all the traveling
Ya, when I was AHS concert artist, especially near the end, the last few months when it was close to the end of my time, as concert artist, people were like, “oh now's the last chance to have Katherine!” So they were all crammed in; most of them were crammed into those last few months that spring semester. And so I was gone almost every weekend, because that was the only time I could leave because of school, so...that definitely kept me much busier too, and always having to have concert programs prepared. So I was practicing a lot for that...so, it's very different, but it's nice to have that much time. I just need to figure out how to use it better.
I mean I was just saying earlier how it's hard to be so focused when I have this much flexibility with my time, and when I was preparing for the Sarasota auditions...I kind of decided to do the audition a little bit last-minute, so then I had to scramble and learn the excerpts, so I was super-focused with my time, and really the thing that helped me the most was [going to school to practiced]. I was so much more efficient with my time, because there were way fewer distractions, and if you're going to a place to do something you're more likely to do it. Whereas if you're at home, practicing in your room, it's much easier to lose focus. So if I really wanted to make sure I had a focused practice session, I would reserve a room at school and go and use that time. Especially 'cause we're all sharing room there...[t]hen you feel guilty for having signed it out because someone else probably wanted to use it. So that was super helpful for me, but I think...there are ways you can recreate that, like it obviously depends on what your living situation is, but if you don't keep your harp in your bedroom or in your living room. Or if you have some way of creating your own practice space that you can somehow make it more separate. So when you go there, you're in the practice zone and not just in your room.
But obviously that can be hard. I'm very lucky here, because my apartment happens to have this extra tiny room that's perfect to keep my harp in. It’s ‘cause I didn't get a balcony, instead I got this room called a den, but it worked out perfectly. So that helps, I think just 'cause when I'm going in there I'm going to practice. Because the only thing in there is harps and my sheet music and a bookshelf...so just having a separate space for that definitely helps
In terms of time, I don't always remember to do this, but I was doing this a lot when I was preparing for the audition, I would set a timer for 25 minutes and then during that time have to practice...and then when that time was up then you let yourself take a five minute break, and then during that time you can do whatever. And then do another. So 25, 5, 25, or whatever intervals you like. Could be 30, then 10 or whatever. It's sort of like you're giving yourself permission to just relax for a second. Then it's easier to focus during the time that you have designated where you have to be practicing. And then it's also like, oh once I finish this time, I can check my messages or whatever. And then...it's easier to stay on task, I feel like. So that's one thing that I think is really helpful for me.
And then also just completely not having your phone in the room, or putting it on do not disturb in another room is really important sometimes. Obviously not if you're expecting and important call or something...I definitely haven't figured out the best way to practice. I'm sure I don't practice most efficiently a lot of the time. Half the time my phone will be on the music stand and I'll be practicing and then I'll text someone, and then they'll start texting faster, so I'm just texting them. I do that all the time. It's really bad. If I'm not like in serious crunch time, like I have to learn something really fast, then unfortunately my practice habits tend to sort of revert back to that.
Working under pressure
I definitely use my time much more efficiently under pressure. I might be stressed about it, but I don't waste as much time. Also, before a day of practice writing down the pieces or passage you want to work on and what specific goals you have in mind to try to accomplish during that day or session of practicing can really help. And usually when I go back and look at it, I'm like oh, I didn't do that. And then ok, I need to do that tomorrow. I certainly haven't figured out the secret to perfect practicing....I don't think anyone, well maybe a few people have found it. It's one thing to know and then another thing to do it. It can be very hard to actually put those things into action....but ya, I mean it's not a terrible thing. The only good thing I can say about being distracted is that you take more breaks and you’re less likely to get injured...sometimes when I really get in the zone practicing, then I won't take any breaks for like an hour or two and that's not good either. Because you have to give yourself rest, physically and mentally. But physically it's dangerous if you get injured....ya that's the only consolation for checking your phone every 10 minutes.
I've been very lucky and have never gotten any injuries from playing or anything that's prevented me from being able to play for any period of time, so I can't speak to that from personal experience. Because I've never dealt with that, I don't really have ways that I actively protect it. So I don't really have an answer for that. The only thing I would say that I definitely do is if I'm playing and something hurts, I will just stop immediately. I won't try to work through it. If it hurts, I'll stop for as long as I need to until when I’m playing it doesn't hurt. Because I just don't wanna push it. And even if I have to learn something really quickly and I'm panicked about it, in the long-term getting an injury could put you out for months, and even longer, so it's not worth to try to get in an extra 30 minutes of playing and risking a long-term [injury]. So really that's all do. The instant I feel pain, even if it's like minor. Usually it's my wrists or whatever. Then I'll just stop playing, so that pretty simple. That's not very deep.
Advice for beginning harpists
For me, the most important thing, surround yourself by other great harpists and musicians and even if you don't live somewhere where there's a lot of great harpists, go out of your way to attend harp things. Because when I lived in Iowa, there weren't that many other advanced harpists around there, so I thought I was the best. And then I realized when I applied for the AHS competition, just to go compete when it was held in Chicago, and I didn't get in to compete. And I didn't understand, I was like why, how is this possible? And then I went and I attended the Institute anyway and I heard and listened to all the competitors and it was very obvious. It was like oh wow, I didn't know people could play the harp like this and tried to pay very close attention to what details in their playing made their level of playing higher than mine, and I had all that in perspective now. I realized there’s this whole world out there, like amazing harpists. At first it was kind of a downer, like I'll never be able to play like that, but the at the same time it was very motivating and inspiring and I think that was kind of an important moment for me, just realizing it was important to have role models and good examples to surround yourself with examples of great playing whether it's harp playing or any sort of classical music, just so you don't get complacent. Because it's very easy when you're sort of secluded or there aren't that many other harpists around you or you don't put yourself out into the harp world and attend these sorts of things, to just get really comfortable and not realize that there's musicians out there. So to me that was probably the most important thing that helped me grow. Just to really actively go to these conferences or go to concerts and hear harpists perform live and get lessons with different teachers and stuff.
And there's the fourth & final installment of my interview with Katherine Siochi! Be sure to go check out her Instagram!
Don't forget to peruse the Guest Posts & Interviews blog category!
Who else would you like to see interviewed on the Fischarper blog? Let me know on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or in the comments below!
*Fischarper interviews may be edited for accuracy (spelling, punctuation, etc.), sentence flow (primarily verbal interviews), & space.
Barbara Fischer runs Fischarper, LLC and loves her job as a harpist and private music educator. She enjoys blogging about various aspects of the music field on fischarper.com/blog. For more music resources, check out the Fischarper store. You can connect with Barbara all over the interwebs on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube. And you can sign up to receive Fischarper updates by joining the email list.
Did you see this week’s YouTube video? Don’t forget to subscribe!
Affiliate Links (read more here)
Welcome to the blog! I'm Barbara, and I work as a freelance harpist and private music educator. You can read my bio here. On the blog, you can find posts about various aspects of this career path, especially teaching and crafty stuff. Thank you for stopping by! I'd love to hear from you in the comments or on social media. And don't forget to subscribe to the email list for updates!
(sidebar may contain affiliate links)
Get a downloadable & printable circle of fifths PDF when you subscribe above!
Does bass clef wig you out? Try my free ecourse, "Breezing Through Bass Clef."
Click on the images below to view some of my favorite posts!