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Siren call of the harp
April 12, 2015, 12:06 pm

Brilliantly talented British harpist Cecily Beer performed a concert titled ‘Land of Song’ at the Amricani Cultural Centre on 5 April. The well-attended concert, held under the sponsorship of the British Embassy in Kuwait and the Jumeirah Messilah Beach Beach Hotel & Spa Resort, in collaboration with Dar al Athar al Islamiyyah, was a resounding success. 

This was the first time that Ms. Beer, who leads a professional career as a harpist and singer, and has entertained all over the world, including in Europe, Australasia, the French Polynesia and the USA, was performing in Kuwait. She has conducted performances that were broadcast on radio and television, and has performed at private engagements for Rolling Stones member, Ronnie Wood, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams and most recently for Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

Following the exhilarating concert and a standing ovation, a visibly thrilled Ms. Beer sat down with The Times Kuwait for an exclusive interview.

What attracted you to the harp?

I started learning the instrument when I was only 7 years old, and didn’t know picking it would mean a career one day. I just thought it was a nice instrument to start learning. We had a professional harpist living just down the road from us and my parents jumped at the opportunity to give me lessons. My career only started a couple of years ago, after I graduated from the Trinity College of Music and Royal Holloway, University of London. Slowly, I have been making my way through the London scene, mainly working in hotels and weddings, occasionally doing as much recital work as I can. It’s quite competitive in London, so it has been slow for me.

What do you love about the harp?

I love that it is quite rare and people usually haven’t seen one before, so they get excited about seeing a harp, and I love that. Everywhere I go, people always come up to me and ask me questions about the instrument and I like the fact that people are interested in it.  

What was it like playing for Prince Charles’ 60th Birthday concert?

I was 18 when I performed at the Royal Opera House for Prince Charles’ 60th birthday celebration. I was part of the harp choir and we played a three-part arrangement of Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. It turned out fine, it could have been better but it was difficult to tune all those harps to the same key. It was definitely an experience playing with the Philharmonia Orchestra. The concert was broadcast on radio and I got to shake Prince Charles’ hand. It was incredible.

Who are your biggest musical influences?

All the people I have known, my amazing harp teacher when I was 15, Danielle Perrett, is an internationally renowned harpist - she inspired me to go for what I was capable of. I didn’t know what I was capable of until after music lessons with her. She instantly said you can go to Music College if you work hard, and you can make a career of playing the harp if you really want to. Danielle is definitely my biggest inspiration as well as other musicians I have worked with, and you get to work with a lot of famous musicians in my line. My family is also an inspiration.

Which collaborations are you proud of?

As well as harp, I do a bit of choir singing, and collaborated with a lot of different groups. I was involved with a group called the Acoustic Triangle and we performed Jazz classical crossover music.  Harp wise, I have done bits and pieces and worked with several composers. I remember a collaboration where I played with an electric harp that connected to a computer; a computer-operator then manipulated the chords I played and made it sound completely different.

How are you enjoying your experience in Kuwait?

I am very well looked after at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, and I had lunch on the beach today and it was great.

What experiences in your life drive you to be a good harp player? 

Seeing other harpists perform is an emotional trigger; when you hear a piece that is so amazing, seeing someone playing the harp is extraordinary, the kind of feelings it makes you feel. I want to jump up and learn the piece immediately. I had a lot of these moments when I was studying at Trinity College in London. You hear all the harpists playing and you discover extraordinary music that you wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. That encourages me to learn new pieces or you are asked to play a particular program and thinking what you can do. Discovering huge amounts of music you could play and then deciding on the choice of music that you want to put in.

Who are your favourite composers? 

One of them is featuring a lot in my program today - John Thomas, he is a 19th century harpist who has created a lot of welsh folk tunes for the harp. I love folk music and my program revolved around Welsh folk music. He has some beautiful arrangements. I hope the Kuwait audience liked this music; it is very accessible music, very beautiful and very easy to enjoy. Wales is small but has a fantastic musical heritage and it is wonderful to have been able to showcase this in Kuwait.

What characterizes your musical philosophy?

In everything I play I try to find the beauty in it, and there are a lot of strange musical pieces out there, even the oddest pieces I find the beauty in it.  It can be difficult to find the beauty in some of the musical pieces you are asked to play, but it is there. And more or less, I find the beauty in everything I play.

What are some of the best moments in your career?

Well, my Sunday concert in Amricani Cultural Centre is now jumping straight to the top of the list. And well, a year ago I played for the Queen and the Duke of Edinburg, which was marvellous. I absolutely wanted to play for the Queen who I am sure has all kinds of musicians playing for her every single week. Another favourite moment, I played on a cruise ship a few years ago that went around Australasia and the French Polynesia. We saw some amazing places and played all manner of music. I enjoy playing in cathedrals because the resonance and acoustics is wonderful, and the music is haunting and atmospheric.

What advice would you give for someone who wants to learn the harp?

Absolutely go for it, and find a harp teacher. There are a lot of harpists, though people think there are not many. We are flourishing so the more the better.

What more would you like to accomplish in the future?

I don’t like planning; I like appreciating what comes when it happens. I don’t want to be disappointed if I don’t get what I want. For example, an opportunity like being in Kuwait was wonderful; I wouldn’t have expected this last year. All I can hope for is to continue to get as much work as I am currently getting, and maybe a little more recognition.  Yes, I thought of recording an album but you need time and money to do it, I hope I can one day. Composing for the harp is particularly difficult as it is a very tricky instrument. I play a lot of other colleagues’ compositions, and I admire people who can compose this music.

Christina Pinto
Staff Writer

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