Annie Sager—YAHS 2012

Annie is a 17-year-old junior at Francis Parker High School in San Diego; she studies with former YAHS Guest Artist Julie Smith.

What was your background in harp before attending YAHS?

I have been playing the harp for five years. I chose the harp because I wanted to play a musical instrument that was unique. My neighbor used to play the harp at all the neighborhood events, especially the Christmas parties, and one year I told my mom, “I would like to do that.” I took lessons from her (Marilyn Staffieri) for about a year. Then in seventh grade, my family moved to Switzerland. We rented a beautiful harp there, and I took lessons from Nathalie Chatelain. When we moved back to San Diego where I began taking lessons from Julie Smith. I bought my own harp from the harp conference in Vancouver. Before going to YAHS, I had never played in an orchestra or ensemble group, and had only done a few recitals and holiday/school performances.

Where did you hear about YAHS and what prompted you to apply in 2012?

Julie Smith told me about YAHS and suggested that it would be a great camp to help me improve. She said I would meet a lot of very talented harpists and gain experiences in ways I otherwise would not be able to (both were true).

Did you have reservations about attending YAHS?

Yes, I did have reservations. I enjoy playing the harp and want to continue to play for the rest of my life, but it is not a primary passion or career that I would peruse, so when I heard about a seminar that was completely dedicated to the harp, I was a bit apprehensive. I knew I was not nearly as talented and experienced as most of the other harpists, which was nerve racking for me. I was worried that I would not have enough motivation to practice every day or wouldn’t be able to play the pieces that the rest of the group was playing. I am also quite a family girl and was nervous about being so far away from home for so long. I had never been to a two-week sleep-away camp before (especially not one on the other side of the country).

What was your first day like at YAHS?

The day I arrived, we drove through the beautiful, peaceful, green campus to the dorm where I would be staying. It was so different than San Diego; there were lush green grass lawns, red brick buildings, and trees everywhere. It was humid and hot, but absolutely gorgeous. When we parked, I could see that there were many other harpists who were close to my age (some returning students, others brand new like me), which reassured me. Some people were unloading their own harps from their cars, while others were simply wheeling carry-on suitcases to their rooms in anticipation of discovering which harp would be theirs for the next two weeks. I remember distinctly walking to my room, butterflies in my stomach, and a girl who I had passed a few times and looked to be about my age said with a smile, “Hi, I’m Anya. What’s your name? Are you new this year?” She was so welcoming and friendly, and her kindness helped to reassure me. Of course, I was still nervous, and when my mom left, I really did miss her. But almost immediately, Hannah (my roommate) and a few other girls (from across the hall) welcomed me into their group of friends and made me feel more comfortable.

Describe your experience at YAHS:

I can confidently say that because of YAHS, I have become a better harpist. I learned so many things about technique, theory, ensemble groups, and orchestral playing. I was inspired to practice more (and taught effective practicing techniques) and truly dedicate myself to playing the harp. The other harpists there, no matter their level, were welcoming and friendly and included me, despite my obviously less experienced background. I enjoyed playing the harp everyday and listening to others who were very talented (students, teachers, and guest artist, Judy Loman, alike), but I also had fun participating in the other activities such as tubing, hiking, eating ice cream at the goat place. Overall, I did miss my parents and my home. It was hard to be away for that long, and I was very excited to see my parents when they came to pick me up, but I also made a lot of friends and memories that I still think about today.

Was there anything that surprised you about your experience at the seminar?

As I suspected, I was one of the weaker harpists at YAHS. It was often difficult for me to play everything in the exact way it was written during ensemble class. During the class, the teachers would come sit by me and help me follow along with the conductor or make suggestions in ways to make the pieces easier to play. They did not speak to me in a condescending way, but rather in a helpful tone. I could tell that they really wanted me to succeed and learn the piece because they knew it would make me happy. The flexibility, guidance, and understanding from teachers (especially Tess and Caroline) was a welcome and much appreciated surprise.

What was the most difficult part of YAHS to overcome?

For me, the most difficult obstacle that I had to overcome was being away from home (and learning to live in drastic temperature changes – humid and hot outside, air-conditioning cold inside). I missed my parents most days and never really got used to be so far away from them, regardless of the fun times I had and the many friends I made. I could not have done it without the kindness and welcoming spirits of the girls in my hall and my roommate. The first few days were the hardest, but as I became more comfortable with the routine and practicing, being away from home became a little easier. My parents also sent me lots of packages (my favorite, a warm blanket), and we spoke on the phone almost every day. Another difficulty was playing in the ensemble group. Since I had never played with other harpists before, I was not used to it and did not know exactly what to do. Nonetheless, as I mentioned previously, both students and teachers were ready to help me.

Did you gain any new harp techniques or life skills at YAHS?

I did gain new harp techniques. I learned so much about harp theory, which now really interests me and is something I have continued to study back home with Julie. Even though I was only in the very basic theory class and had never really studied it much before, Tyler made it very easy to understand and we covered a lot of material in such a short amount of time. I also learned better ways to manage my practicing time such as: playing certain parts of a piece with right hand, left hand, slowly, and then quicker. This is something I took back with me and is a technique I continue to use while practicing at home. It makes the limited time I have very productive and I feel that I am able to make more progress on a piece when I practice in this way. From my experience at YAHS, I also learned about myself. As a junior in high school, I am thinking about where I would like to go to college and what I would like to major in. Before attending the seminar, I had my mind set on going to a school in the south and maybe minor-ing in harp. Now, I have opened my mind to looking at colleges on the west coast as well as in the south and am thinking of pursuing other harp opportunities such as: joining a smaller orchestra while in college or simply continuing to play by myself and in small ensembles rather than minor in it. This was something that I could never have learned about myself without attending YAHS, and I am so grateful to have realized that early in the college search.

What are you currently doing with your harp and how has YAHS impacted your harp playing at home?

I am now a member of my school orchestra and have been asked to play in the Advanced Chamber Orchestra at my high school. I continue to take lessons from Julie Smith (who is thinking of beginning a studio ensemble group that I would very much like to be a part of). I played at my first wedding a few weeks ago and want to do many more functions like that in the future. YAHS showed me the possibilities that exist for harpists and how to go about obtaining these opportunities.

What are your future plans with the harp?

I hope to play the harp (at least by myself) for the rest of my life. I would love to be a member of either my university orchestra or another local orchestra. The harp is probably not something I would major or minor in, but it will continue to be a love of mine.

What other interests do you have besides harp?

I am a cheerleader (both on my high school team and previously on a competitive team). I hope to cheer in college. I started a nonprofit corporation in which we bring home-cooked, healthy meals to families in need once a month. This was to combine my passion for cooking with my strong desire to help others. I love foreign languages and am currently studying French and Spanish in school and Italian online. I love to travel in both the United States and abroad. One thing I loved about YAHS was being in Rabun Gap and experiencing a part of the country that I had never really been in before. The landscape was beautiful (I went for a jog almost every morning and enjoyed running through the winding paths of campus or around the track where the pond was often covered with a morning fog and the leaves still held the early morning dew), and the people are all so friendly. The food is delicious in town (my parents and my aunt and uncle took me off campus at the end of the two weeks and it was great to get a taste of the local atmosphere).

Any other thoughts you want to share?

I would recommend YAHS to someone who really loves the harp or is interested in improving. A YAHS student has to be willing to put in a lot of hard work and dedication and should not expect two weeks of complete relaxation. The days are not overbooked, so there is time to practice, relax, or enjoy the time with friends, but there is also never a lack of something to do. At the end of the second week, most people are sad to be leaving the good friends they have made, but are also ready to go home. If the student is someone who really is not comfortable being away from home or is not ready to put in the required effort during these two weeks (and the time leading up to the seminar), YAHS would not be the right fit for him/her. However, as said before, if the student wants to gain experience in harp related areas and be challenged while learning and maturing as a harp student and a person, then YAHS would be a great option.