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YAHS alumnus Madeline Olson recently captured First Prize at the 29th Nippon Harp Competition in Soka, Japan. Currently a Masters student at the Juilliard School, where she studies with YAHS 2018 Guest Artist Nancy Allen, Maddie describes her experience, as well as her thoughts on competing and advice for hopeful competitors.

Q: What was the structure of the competition?

“There are three different divisions, and the professional division that I did happens every other year. There are three rounds—the first is a couple solo pieces, second round is a recital, and the third round is a concerto and another solo piece. I had a decent amount of choice in the second round—there were two required pieces and I could fill the rest of the time. Everything else was required.”

Maddie’s program:

(astrerisks denote required pieces)
Round One: *Faure, Impromptu; *Schmidt, Etude No 6
Round Two: *Tokuyama, Oriental Garden; *Hindemith, Sonate für Harfe; Maayani, Maqamat; Agocs, Every Lover is a Warrior
Round Three: *Pierné, Concertstück for harp and orchestra; *Marescotti, Mouvement

Q: What was the competition demographic?

“For the first round, there were 16 competitors. The judges cut the number in half for the second round, and then we had three people in the last round. It was largely Japanese—I was actually very surprised! There were competitors from a few other countries—Thailand, Hong Kong, and the US, and I think the rest were Japanese. The jury was mainly harpists, but they had a composer, a cellist and a guitarist on the panel. Every round was open to the public, which was really helpful, because each round felt like a performance.”

Q: How did you enjoy your time there?

“I love Japan! And the organization of the competition was flawless—everyone was really organized and helpful, and anytime I needed anything someone was there to help.”

Q. Do you have any advice for your harpists who are looking to do competitions?

“I think the biggest thing for me was getting lots of experience playing for people beforehand, and thinking of it as a performance, not a competition. It’s so easy to get into an unhealthy headspace, and it’s cliche at this point, but you really are your top competition. It’s not about how far you get, or how high you place, but rather having integrity in how you play and genuinely communicating to the audience that unique message you’ve worked so hard to develop. Competitions are such a contrived atmosphere, which is why I really appreciate [Nippon] making it into a performance experience, where I could bring music to an audience.”

Q. How did your YAHS experience help you in preparing?

“YAHS was so helpful for me. Before I went there, I played so quietly—like, no one could hear me play! But all of the performance experience and mock auditions and classes that had you getting up there and playing was a huge confidence builder for me, and it really changed the way I played.”

Congratulations, Maddie!

Do you have updates about your accomplishments, harp-related or otherwise? Email us so we can feature you in an alumni spotlight!