School of Music forms harp ensemble

(L-R) Kari Kuhns, Angelyn Edwards and Trisney Bocala practice at an ensemble rehearsal. Friday, October 1, 2021. (Photo courtesy of: Ellen Foster)

Adjunct Music Professor Ellen Foster recently started a harp ensemble that consists of four Southern Adventist University students and one young adult who lives in the Chattanooga area. The ensemble will perform for the first time on December 11 at the Collegedale Church of Seventh-day Adventists for the School of Music Christmas Concert. The ensemble will also play in the foyer of the church at 3:30 p.m. before the main event. 

Foster said she has been playing the harp for about 35 years. She holds a degree in harp and music education and received her Master of Music from the University of British Columbia. Foster also said she has done some postgraduate work at Yale and has worked with Nancy Allen, the principal harpist of the New York Philharmonic. 

Foster has been an adjunct professor at Southern since 2016. However, prior to taking that position, she began teaching at Southern about 10 years ago after the dean of the School of Music asked her if she would like to give lessons to a student. 

“He called me, but I’m not even sure how he got my name,” Foster said. “He said, ‘We have a student here, and she’s very good. We’re looking for a harp teacher for her. Would you be able to teach her?’ And that’s how that started.”

Foster said the idea to start a harp ensemble was something she decided to pursue on her own. She ran the idea by the dean of the music department, Peter Cooper, and he approved it. But it wasn’t until this semester that Foster thought it was a good time to organize a harp ensemble because there were more than two harpists available. 

“It’s challenging because it’s not an official class, but I’m just doing this because I love the harp. And, I want to give the students some experience,” Foster said. 

Foster said playing in an ensemble is really special for harpists because the harp is a lonely instrument.

“We don’t grow up in a band,” Foster said. “Harp students have a really, really big challenge to become part of an ensemble.”

She added that ensembles give people a chance to learn how to play with others. 

“There are a lot more things that happen in an ensemble than there are in a private lesson,” Foster said.

Foster currently teaches private harp lessons to three Southern students every other week, driving 200 miles from Atlanta, Georgia, to Collegedale. 

After teaching, she said she spends time with all the harp students, and they practice together.  She said  everyone has to work around each other’s schedules because there are no official harp classes. 

“It’s a little challenging because everyone’s got other classes,” Foster said. “But the orchestra and wind ensemble and choruses are really supportive and are wonderful human beings.”

Foster said another reason why she wanted to start the ensemble was because one of her students, senior public relations major Trisney Bocala, is graduating this December. 

“Trisney is a fabulous harpist, and [she’s] graduating and getting married and all these things,” Foster said. “[I thought] we’ve got to at least have her here for a semester.” 

Bocala said she is grateful for her experience working with Foster. 

“I’m so glad we recruited a small group to form a harp ensemble at Southern this semester,” Bocala said. “I haven’t been a part of one in over five years, and I’ve missed the unique sound.” 

Foster said she hasn’t retired yet because she loves teaching and loves people.

“I always tell my students that … I want [them] to be the best harpists that [they] can be,” Foster said. 

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