For the past two weeks Bloomington, Indiana, specifically Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, was the center of the harp world, as the eighth USA International Harp Competition unfolded. A triennial event, this year USAIHC attracted 39 competitors from around the globe, all of them young women between the ages of sixteen and thirty-two.
My partner and I are not harp cognoscenti, but we have always enjoyed getting acquainted and interacting with international students. Thus we volunteered to host a harpist, which is how nineteen-year-old Agné Keblyté (photo) from Lithuania ended up staying with us. What a delight she was! Indeed, the homestay experience was universally fun and rewarding for hosts and guests alike.
For us, the competition wasn’t the true centerpiece of the two weeks. Rather, it was the people themselves: the music school officials, from deans and faculty stars to student harp movers, who worked tirelessly to pull off this major international event; the harpists, performing through successive stages of elimination (Agné got to Stage 2); the host families, making sure their harpists not only got to the competition venues relaxed and on time but also had a chance to see something of the real Bloomington; and the guest performers, both young and experienced, who entertained our community brilliantly.
Competition on this level draws only the best, so the notion of “winners” and “losers” does not apply. All of the harpists were accomplished and performed beautifully. I gained an appreciation of the harp as a solo instrument, whereas previously I had seen it only as an instrument somewhere back in the mass of the symphony orchestra. In particular, a guest recital by the 2004 gold medal laureate, Emmanuel Ceysson, brought this home. Ceysson, still under age thirty, took up his current position as principal harp of the Paris Opera Orchestra not long after winning the USAIHC prize. And what a marvel he was to watch—and hear—in recital!
Another highlight was a “stars of tomorrow” recital given by five harpists, all national junior champions under the age of sixteen. Later, seeing them frolicking with the harp competitors at a pool party reminded us that these incredibly talented young people are, underneath the formal wear and beyond those elegant instruments, just kids—kids who like splashing one another in the swimming pool, chowing down on hotdogs and chips, and laughing and joking with one another in half a dozen languages.
In the end it always comes down to people.