Dating back thousands of years, the harp has been gracing stages around the world for centuries. Commonly associated with angels plucking each string, this heavenly instrument may soon be more closely associated to Olympia. Locally born and raised harp soloist, Ben Albertson is bringing the sounds of the harp internationally from the Puget Sound all the way to The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.
“I was 7 when I first saw a harp played at an orchestra concert at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts,” describes Albertson. “Basically, I saw it and I told my parents I was interested in playing the harp. How seriously could they really take me at such a young age? Most kids don’t tell their parents they want to play such a unique instrument. I bugged them for about a year before they really started listening. A solo harpist came and played locally from New York and we attended the performance. After watching my reaction, my parents were finally convinced that I wanted to begin playing the harp.”
The 2018 Olympia High School graduate soon began lessons will local harpists. “Finding a harp teacher in our area took some time,” he says. “They aren’t as easily accessible as other instrument lessons. I started my classical training with Kippy Lou Scott in Olympia. She had actually had a long career in Las Vegas as a harpist and played many shows in Olympia. I studied with her for about 5 years before going into more advanced lessons. I moved up to a teacher in Seattle named Heidi Lehwalder. She is an incredible harpist. I spent several years learning and growing with her.”
After graduation, Albertson headed east to The Royal Conservatory of Music to continue his growth as a harpist, but his roots are still deeply planted in Thurston County. “Generally, my profile in Olympia continues even when I live in Toronto,” Albertson says. “I have a lot of friends and family that still live in the neighborhood. I’m coming back and doing things in Olympia including this upcoming performance, Corrective Lenses, as a soloist with the Olympia Symphony.”
Albertson’s roots are deep with the Olympia Symphony and with the recent news that this will be conductor Huw Edwards’s final season, the opportunity to play with OSO again is an event Albertson isn’t willing to miss. During his senior year of high school Albertson was awarded the Olympia Symphony’s prestigious Wittgow Family Scholarship. This allowed him to serve as an apprentice in the Symphony for the 2017-2018 season, and receive funds to support his collegiate musical studies. “I’m very happy that the Olympia Symphony is having me back. It’s a bit of a full circle experience. I appreciate how Olympia is very supportive of the artists that come out of it.”
Albertson’s future is bright as he prepares to build a career as a harpist. “For me, I’m happy as long as I’m playing the harp.” explains Albertson. “Whatever it takes to be a harpist I will continue to do. An optimal career for me would be to be in an orchestra, teaching young harpists, and to have solo engagements. I know I will need a variety of things to keep me happy in this career. I will start auditioning for professional positions very soon. It’s a long and difficult process but I’m up for the challenge.”
Albertson is making his dreams a reality through hard work and perseverance. He has wise words for aspiring young musicians in our area. “If you are inspired by it, you should try it,” he shares. “When kids are curious about my harp I always say, ‘Oh, you want to give it a try?’ I like to give them the chance to look at it and experience it. Kids in this community are lucky they can experience this in the Olympia School District. If you can’t afford a harp there are options to give it a try through the schools here. It can be a little tricky but it’s totally worth the challenge. That’s something that can be said about any instrument really. I think a lot about things in the future and what I can do to help introduce more kids to the harp. I want to share my love of it and give more kids the chance to give it a try.”
Hear Ben Albertson perform Debussy’s Dances Sacred and Profane with the Olympia Symphony on October 13, 2019 at 3:00 p.m., at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts. The program, “Corrective Lenses,” also includes Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10. This concert kicks off the Olympia Symphony’s 2019-2020 Season, titled “Vision: Through the Lens of Music,” celebrating Maestro Huw Edwards’s 17th and final season in Olympia. Tickets are available at the Olympia Sympthony Orchestra Website.