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A string thing Katie Berquist, 16, plays the harp -- and piano, cello and guitar

Katie Berquist has been playing the harp for seven years. That's just a little less than half of her lifetime. She's 16 years old, a junior at Williamsville North. The fact that she plays harp, piano, cello, guitar and is learning viola makes her not only busy, but quite rare.

Since it's not common to hear of harpists this age, you might wonder how she started playing. "We purchased a harp after my older brother was captivated by the sound of the harp at a performance and wanted to take lessons. Soon, I fell in love with the sound as well and began to study the harp," she said.

Purchasing a harp? Yes, they are expensive. A pedal harp costs around $20,000. A troubadour harp costs around $4,000, and a lap harp costs around $500. Those would be in order from largest to smallest, and Katie happens to have all three. Unfortunately, Williamsville North doesn't supply one for her, so she has to leave her harp at school.

Since colder temperatures make the harp go out of tune, she has to spend 15 minutes tuning each time before she plays. The harp goes out of tune easily anyway, and it takes so long to tune because you have to individually tune each string.

On top of being in her school orchestra, she is also in First Priority, a Bible club at her school; the Cheektowaga Symphony Orchestra; Southtowns Youth Orchestra; and made it into the All-County Orchestra.

"I'm always getting calls from orchestras and ensembles who want me to play with them," she said. "This goes along with the scarcity of harpists. Getting involved with all these different groups means that I have to sacrifice a lot of my time, but I love doing it and would never give it up."

To maintain all of these instruments takes practice. Katie ideally practices for an hour everyday, but it's hard with all the homework that comes with junior year. The most she has ever practiced is three hours. With all this practice comes, unfortunately, the occasional blister. They're all worthwhile because she loves practicing all her instruments, including harp solos by Marcel Grandjany and Marcel Tournier.

Katie takes lessons weekly, or whenever she has time, from Suzanne Thomas, the principal harpist for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. She has been taking lessons with her since second grade. These two-hour lessons probably don't aid the blister situation any.

As expensive as those harps may be, it will surely be compensated for in the end. Katie plans on looking into Fredonia State College and plans on looking into scholarships soon.

"I think that one of the reasons I love the harp so much is because it is such a unique instrument. Although sometimes I wish I had picked an ordinary instrument, I'm really glad that I chose harp because it's not an instrument that everyone plays."

Shannon Gawel is a junior at Frontier High School.

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