Young Harpist Plucks All The Right Strings


LUMBERTON, N.J. (Burlington County Times) — Ruth Boyajian is just 13, but her age melts away when she takes the stage and wows the audience as her fingers glide over the strings of her harp.

The teen has performed solo and as part of ensembles at the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall and the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. She has also played with some of the world’s most renowned harpists.

Last year, she was a finalist in one of the Delaware Valley’s most prestigious children’s music events, the Philadelphia Orchestra Albert M. Greenfield Student Competition.

“It’s really fun and exciting to be onstage, but I do get nervous,” the talented teen said.

This July, Boyajian will travel to Vancouver, British Columbia, to participate in the World Harp Congress. She was one of 26 selected worldwide to participate in the nonprofit’s Focus on Youth Advisory. Only eight of the harpists will come from the United States for the two-week program.

Even with her experience and accolades, Boyajian knew it would be difficult to be accepted into the prestigious program. Just to be considered, she had to record five solos (about 25 minutes of music total), write a biography and get recommendations.

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Hers included one from Elizabeth Hainen, the solo harpist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, who directed Boyajian and 18 other local and international harpists during an ensemble performance at the Curtis Institute.

“It sounded like a piece of heaven,” said her mother, Debbie.

Her teacher, Kimberly Rowe, the editor of Harp Column and an acclaimed musician herself, also supported Boyajian’s bid.

“It’s been such a great opportunity to play for such amazing harpists and to learn from them and get their advice,” Boyajian said.

The young musician said she recorded some favorites from her growing repertoire, including the contemporary jazz piece, Sweet Blues. Her catalog ranges from classical to pop.

“Two friends were applying, so I decided, why not,” Boyajian said. “I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I wasn’t really working on anything really big at the time.”

She learned she was accepted into the World Harp Congress on January 1, the last day the organization said applicants would learn their fate. After she continuously checked her e-mail, word came that she was accepted during a large family reunion on New Year’s Day.

“It was really overwhelming,” she said.

The home-schooled student said she hopes the daily lessons, master classes and concert series at the World Harp Concert help her enhance her already-impressive skills.

She began playing the harp six years ago when she was just 7. By that time, she was already playing the piano and could read music.

“Everyone in my family plays two instruments, so I guess it’s kind of a tradition,” said Boyajian, who is the fifth of seven children — and the family’s only harpist.

“I like it better than the piano because it’s just so different,” she said. “You pluck the strings and you work the pedals with your feet. You’re making the whole entire sound and can really make it sound the way you want.”

Among other competitions, she won first place in the Philadelphia American Harp Society competition February 2008 in the 14- and-under pedal harp division, as the youngest competitor as well as being invited to the final stages of competition in the international Young Artists Competition in Georgia in July 2008, again as the youngest participant. She was a finalist in the 2010 Philadelphia Orchestra Greenfield Concerto competition. She was also invited again to the finals of the 2010 Young Artists Harp Competition where she placed sixth in the New Artist division. In February, she was a bronze medalist in the Young Artists Concerto Competition with the Bravura Philharmonic Orchestra.

It takes a lot of time and dedication to master the harp, working the strings with the thumb and forefinger. Boyajian, a member of the Young Artist Harp Ensemble at Temple University’s Boyer College of Music and Dance, takes lessons weekly and practices at least an hour a day. Last winter, she was invited to participate in Boyer College’s preparatory Youth Chamber Orchestra.

And yes, calluses on her fingers are a hazard of her music.

She plays a beautiful bird’s eye maple Lyon & Healy harp that she picked out a few years ago from its Chicago factory.

“It was amazing. There were about 100 harps and I played a little on each,” she said. With her top choices selected, she was taken to an auditorium reserved for her to try the instruments in the concert hall, listening to each one’s tone, projection and volume.

The 85-pound harp towers over her and weighs just about as much as she does. It’s topheavy and hard to move even with a special dolly, but Boyajian, with the help of her parents, now has a system.

That’s a good thing, considering she plays many concerts and other gigs, including a very posh New York City wedding, fundraisers, area restaurants, senior centers and nursing homes.

She and her family are hoping some of her paid events will help defray the cost of getting to Vancouver this summer.

Last year, Boyajian helped organize two benefit concerts that raised more than $4,000 for various charities.

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