The still quiet of the University of Oklahoma in summertime gave way to sounds of the harp this week.
And it's not just one harp, but six of them, all played by students ranging from sophomores in high school to college seniors for the annual Oklahoma Harp Workshop. In addition to other harp and social activities, the group is rehearsing Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week with a concert scheduled for Saturday.
"It can be an isolated instrument. They do play in orchestra, but we do feel isolated," Gaye LeBlanc Germain, University of Oklahoma professor and harpist, said. "So it’s nice for them to be team players, to play in an ensemble. Some of them play in it regularly, some don’t.”
The workshop is for peddle harps, which are the larger, more complicated and, as a result, more expensive ones. So each student is already dedicated to learning, practicing and improving their skills.
Some, like Oklahoma City University senior Michelle Krenowicz, have been attending the workshop for several years. This is her sixth.
“I learn a lot from the teachers and from the girls coming here," Krenowicz said. "I meet new people every year, and I see the same faces every few years.”
For a week, students from across the state and the region live together on OU's campus, where they share the social bond of being a harpist. Lia Rudeen, a sophomore from Silver Creek High School in Longmont, Colorado, is in her third year of harp workshop, and it's one of the few places she interacts with musicians who can relate.
"I was the only one in my school," Rudeen said. "It’s really cool. You get feedback from other harpists, and you get the exposure of being in the harp community."
Much of the work done is preparing for Saturday's big show, but there are other activities that illustrate the bigger picture of playing the harp. Topical lectures are offered every day from experts — like how to stay motivated, how to make the music work to artistic taste, and taking care of the instrument — which means students get a glimpse of what lies ahead.
"It’s all very practical advice coming from professionals who have done a whole wide variety of potential career paths," Shelly Du, second harpist with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic and a former student of Germain's, said.
During Saturday's performance, the students will play both as a group and as soloists. Understanding the dynamics of both are important, since harps are used in many different ways during performances.
“They have to listen to each other [in an ensemble.] It’s a little more stressful," Germain said. "It's helpful for the team, but it's stressful because you have other people relying on your part. People work hard to make it sound the best.”
This is in stark contrast to being a soloist, when there is only one spotlight.
"But one thing we do is we do dress rehearsals where they get to do that and play masterclasses in front of their peers," Rachel Starr Ellins, instructor at Colorado State University and longtime friend of Germain, said. "The kids are really supportive, and when they go out to play their piece, they feel they are being encouraged and supported by their peers. Everyone wants everyone to do well, and that helps everyone build confidence going forward."
There's a competitive edge, though. A solo student competition offers rewards to the winner, both in high school and college divisions.
The winners net $500 each.
"We see all different levels, even the professional and professors," Krenowicz said. "We learn so much from each level and it makes us want to get better."
Saturday's Student Recital takes place at 2 p.m. at Pitman Hall, which is inside Catlett Music Center at 500 W Boyd St. on the OU Norman campus. Admission is free.