Editor’s Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.
The strings are the thing for professional harpist Lauren Hayes.
Originally from Whitewater, Hayes has distinguished herself in the areas of contemporary music, chamber music, orchestral ensemble performance and harp instruction. Last summer, she was selected through international audition as one of two harp fellows to attend and perform at the Tanglewood Music Center in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. This honor gave her the chance to perform with renowned musicians including Yo-Yo Ma and John Williams, and musicians from the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Hayes’ solo debut came in 2012 at Carnegie Hall in New York City, after which she was awarded third prize in the 2013 American Harp Society National Competition. These days, she is a teacher for the Chicago Harp Ensemble, teaches harp and piano at the American Music Institute, and previously served as teaching artist for the Urban Youth Harp Ensemble in Atlanta.
Living in Chicago with her Morkie puppy, Mia, Hayes also performs as an extra musician with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, as harpist with the Chicago Composer’s Orchestra and the Chamber Cartel based out of Atlanta, and with many orchestras in the Midwest and Southeast.
The daughter of music educators Glenn and Christine Hayes, Lauren Hayes enjoys discovering new craft coffees, taking Mia for walks in Lincoln Park, practicing yoga and traveling when she isn’t performing.
To learn more about Lauren Hayes, visit LaurenHayesHarp.com.
1. Why the harp? When I was young, my parents took me to see Tchaikovsky’s ballet “The Nutcracker” each year at the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago. The Nutcracker has a prominent harp cadenza in the “Waltz of the Flowers,” and I instantly fell in love with the sound. I began asking to play when I was 3 years old. My parents finally gave in to my begging to study an instrument, and I began piano lessons at age 5. After I began piano, they talked to a local harp teacher (JoAnn Hobbs of Williams Bay) who told them I would need three years of piano before she would start teaching me harp. After three years of studying piano, I began harp at age 8. Since I began, I was certain I would have a career in music. I continued my piano studies through high school, as well as starting to play bassoon in fifth grade. I continued to study bassoon as well as harp through college and completed the equivalency of a bassoon performance degree in addition to my harp degree at the University of Arizona. I initially considered going into music education but ultimately fell in love with performing orchestral and chamber works on the harp and exploring the versatility of the instrument.
2. When you perform, are you responsible for transporting your instrument? Does it ever make you wish you’d have taken up the flute or something smaller? Yes, I am responsible for transporting the harp to all of my gigs. In some unionized venues, the stage crew handles all moving of the harp once it is in the door, but usually it’s all me. It weighs about 85 pounds. It’s not actually that heavy to move, but it’s very awkward and cumbersome. Luckily, we have very efficient harp dollies that make transporting it much easier. I have never wished I had taken up something smaller. Moving the harp comes with the territory, and I don’t think twice about it.
3. What item always goes into your grocery cart whether you need it or not? A bottle of rosé, usually from Trader Joe’s. At the end of a long day, a glass of rosé always cheers me up and lets me relax into the evening.
4. What other instruments do you play? I began on piano when I was 5, harp at 8, bassoon at 10, and briefly played bass guitar in jazz band in middle school. I played the mellophone (as well as becoming drum major) in the Fort Atkinson High School Marching Band. I also dabble with the ukulele from time to time.
5. How often do you need to change the strings in a harp? Usually the amount of string breakage on a harp directly correlates to the amount of weather/season changes, the humidity level and how much the harp is being moved. During seasonal transitions, I have strings breaking nearly every other day. During winter, I might go three weeks without one breaking. I change them myself. I order strings from Lyon & Healy, and they come prepackaged, correlating to the exact note and octave.
6. Name one place to which you’d like to travel and why? The next place on my bucket list is Croatia. The beaches, cliffs and mountains are absolutely beautiful. I love to hike and would love to go cliff jumping. (Croatia) also has one of the best-preserved Roman amphitheaters in the world. The capital city, Zagreb, is known for its coffee and has a historic coffee culture. (I love exploring new coffees wherever I travel).
7. What has been your favorite place to visit thus far? It’s a tie between Budapest and Prague. They were both fascinating cities with so much history remaining but being utilized in a modern way, such as the ruin bars. Cities at night have always captivated me, and both of these cities were breathtaking along the rivers at night.
8. How many different harps do you own, and what types? I currently own three harps. My primary harp (the one you would see in an orchestra) is a Lyon & Healy Concert Grand, Style 85. I have a Lyon & Healy Ogden lever harp, which I use for teaching. Finally, I have a Lyon & Healy Silhouette, which is a fully-electric lever harp. This harp can be strapped around my body or put on a stand and is great for pop gigs or gigs in louder spaces.
9. People would be surprised to find out that I: Love country music. Besides classical and contemporary classical music, I primarily listen to country music in my free time. I find it relaxing. I love the stories the music tells and that I can actually understand the words. Country concerts are so much fun, and the country music community is such a supportive niche of the arts scene.
10. If you weren’t a professional musician, what would you be doing for a living? I would probably be in arts administration work or a job in the economics field, such as a financial analyst or CFO. I have always loved working with numbers, and one of my favorite classes I took in my undergraduate time was economics. I have strong organizational skills and enjoy planning events, doing PR and administrative work. I actually held an internship for two years doing PR, social media and marketing for the London Festival of Baroque Music while getting my masters degree.
11. Do you have any pre-gig rituals? Before big performances, I always eat a banana and drink coconut water for potassium (which is a natural stress-reducer). I also always listen to the song “Fly” by Nicki Minaj before performing. It’s such a positive and motivating song, and it puts me in an “I can conquer anything” mindset.
12. What type of music did your parents listen to when you were a child? Did it influence your musical tastes? At home, we listened to a wide variety of music. Of course we would listen to great classical and contemporary symphonic and chamber works but also a lot of jazz and world music. I also grew up listening to oldies and Motown. It instilled in me from a very young age how to appreciate great music, keep an open mind when listening to any type of music, and to identify aspects of music I enjoyed. We would always discuss what was on the radio, and I learned how to analyze what I was listening to in terms of style, instrumentation or meter. Because of the amount of variety I was introduced to at a young age, I am constantly open to discovering new artists and genres of music.
13. Do you have any superstitions? I always make a wish at 11:11. I think it started in high school, but whenever I would catch the clock at 11:11, I thought it was a lucky sign, so I would make a wish. I still find myself catching that time on my watch and throwing a wish out to the universe.
14. Health food or junk food? Health food. I love cooking, and I cook for myself every day. I’m pescatarian (a person who does not eat meat but does eat fish), so I have to find creative ways to get in all of my nutrients. I do a lot of plant-based cooking, and my absolute favorite cookbook is “Deliciously Ella Every Day” by Ella Woodward. I find cooking healthfully to be relaxing, meditative and a source of creativity. But I still love a good fried cheese curd here and there.
15. Name a popular actor, singer or artist that simply doesn’t appeal to you. The Kardashians, although they really do not fit in any of those categories.
16. What is the price range for harps? Do they need to be insured? Harps range anywhere from $500-$100,000. It all depends on the size of the harp, the quality of the harp and the decoration on the harp. For example, a small lap harp with only 15 strings will not be very expensive, whereas a concert grand harp completely covered in gold, carvings and inlayed wood will run close to $100,000. The unique thing about harps is that all Lyon & Healy harps are made with the same materials, by the same people and with the same quality. The only thing that differs is the decoration. So a $20,000 harp will sound more or less the same as a $90,000 harp. Most harps are insured by a professional harp insurance company.
17. Do you play only orchestral music on your harp, or do you sometimes experiment with other genres? Orchestral music actually makes up only a small percentage of what I play. I play a lot of contemporary music, including music with electronics and extended techniques on the instrument such as hitting it with different objects, knocking on the soundboard, etc. I frequently play jazz and pop covers for many gigs. Recently, since acquiring my electric harp, I’ve been playing more electronic music, using a looping and effects pedal. Hopefully someday, I’ll work into doing some EDM on the electric harp as well.
18. Guitar players often find it easier to perform after they’ve built calluses on their fingertips. Is that the case with harpists? Calluses are a necessity on the harp. Honestly, without any calluses, a harpist wouldn’t be able to play for much more than 20 minutes without being in a great deal of pain. One of the things most commonly associated with the harp are glissandos (a continuous slide upward or downward between two notes), and they take a large callus to do successfully without being in excruciating pain. However, I often do have to file down my calluses before performances so I don’t get too sharp/harsh of a tone. I still want my fingers to sound like flesh, not plastic.
19. Calling people “harpies” or saying they “harp” on others isn’t at all complimentary. Any idea why such detrimental terms are associated with such a beautiful instrument? I have wondered the same thing before but heard that, in the 1500s, the term was to “harp on the same string” as in someone playing the same note over and over which is quite tedious. Thus, the phrase developed into just “harping” on something. I could also imagine this term could have developed because some harp repertoire is a bit repetitive.
20. For musicians, performing at Carnegie Hall in New York City is a huge deal. You’ve done it twice. How does it feel to know you’ve accomplished enough to appear on such a storied stage? I am very honored and grateful to have had the chance to perform in such a historic venue twice. The first time was extremely exciting, as I earned the chance to perform in the Weil Recital Hall in a solo recital through a competition at the University of Arizona. The second time was a meaningful experience as I had the chance to share the stage with my dad, who conducted the UW-Whitewater Symphonic Wind Ensemble in a performance there. I hope it will not be my last time playing there.