While we were at the Ksenia Erdely International Competition, we met Carolyn Lund. Carolyn not only reached the semifinals of a very demanding competition, but did so while teaching fifty harp students a day. Yes, a day, in six group classes, with additional tuition in the evenings as well. That's a pretty amazing achievement, and what Carolyn does is also a pretty amazing job. Hear some of the results now, on camac-harps.com!
Carolyn is the artistic director of the Urban Youth Harp Ensemble, which is a harp education programme for disadvantaged youth in Atlanta, Georgia USA. It was established twelve years ago by Elisabeth Remy Johnson, principal harpist of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and Roselyn Lewis, a longtime Atlanta public schools music teacher known for exposing students to opera and African drums. Carolyn was appointed artistic director when Elisabeth retired from the project, while Roselyn remains at the helm preparing the grant applications that have always been the programme's entire source of funding.
"I see fifty students every day, divided into six classes, plus after-school tuition", Carolyn explains. "They can opt for harp class instead of band or chorus class, and while it is not possible to give fifty individual lessons, the idea is that the daily classes help them to advance quickly. We have fifteen harps, because none of the students are in a position to have their own harps at home, so all practice is done at school.
The students learn to play the harp, but also to read music and develop their general musicianship. Of course, most of them will not go on to be professional harpists, although in fact the programme's first student, Mason Morton, is currently now doing his performance doctorate with Ann Hobson Pilot in Boston - and he has achieved this through scholarships all the way, no loans at all. But whether students want to pursue the harp long-term or not, we have an honours group made up of the best students, and they go out and do professional gigs.
Mason Morton (at the harp) comes back to visit the current class
All in all, I think the principal value of the project is that it makes the students realise they are special. There are very few harpists in the world, there are very few African-American harpists in the world, and there are even fewer male African-American harpists in the world. The four students who have gone on to major in harp at college have all been guys. Everyone wants to get into the touring group, where they do glamorous gigs and meet celebrities. On one occasion the group was performing at an event in the presence of the former mayor of Atlanta. They were playing what happened to be his favourite song, and he came over and gave each student a fifty-dollar tip."
The Urban Youth Harp Ensemble is based at the School of the Arts at Carver High School, but the project is free and open to students from across the region (this is why Carolyn also teaches after school: she teaches the students then who come from elsewhere). Aside from the rooms the school provides, the programme is entirely funded by grants and donations, among them the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fulton County Arts Council and the City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs. If you are interested in finding out more about the programme, you can download its detailed quarterly newsletters here.
And of course, to listen to them, you can also watch a complete video of the group's spring 2011 concert here!
Currently, Roselyn is running an "adopt a harpist" funding project. A donation of $1000 provides everything a harpist on the programme needs for one year: performance clothes, harp strings, and summer camp tuition and transport. They have another 73 days to reach their target of $5000, and every little helps! You can find details of how to donate on power2give, here.
As the daughter of a Navy captain, Carolyn Lund travelled widely as a child and was able to study with several notable US harp teachers, including Nicole Brady, Shrudeli Ownbey, Heidi Tims Hernandez, and Vonda Darr. She also spent 3 years in Japan as a pupil of Sakae Haizuka, before completing her bachelor and master degrees in harp performance from the University of Arizona under the tutelage of Carrol McLaughlin. As well as reaching the semi-finals of the recent Ksenia Erdely competition in St Petersburg, Carolyn is a laureate of several American national competitions, including the Anne Adams Awards (2008) and the American Harp Society National Competition (2011). While at the University of Arizona, Carolyn was granted a Teaching Assistant position in one of the largest harp departments in the world. She also enjoyed being a member of HarpFusion, and performed in Holland, Belgium, Austria, Liechtenstein, and Brazil as part of the ensemble.
A prolific composer and arranger, Carolyn writes many of the pieces the Urban Youth Harp Ensemble performs. She has been newly appointed regional director for the South East in the American Harp Society organization, and is president of the AHS Georgia chapter.