Written by Rishon Hanners
Photos by Michael Bradley
Huntsville harpist Kathryn Hoppe-McQueen has been playing for over 20 years, starting when she was in the 3rd grade. She grew up in a very close family where music was their center. Her mom was a choir director and music teacher, and her dad played clarinet. It was only natural for her to pick up a musical instrument but why she chose the harp is still a mystery. She has now designed her life and career around the harp and chorus, playing, performing, and teaching music in and around the Rocket City for the last 15 years. She currently teaches 6th grade choir with Huntsville City Schools and is a member of the music ministry at First Baptist Church, Huntsville where she directs 1st and 2nd grade choir. She also stays busy as the principal harpist with the Shoals Symphony Orchestra in Florence. Kathryn and her husband have four young sons and are following in the tradition of being a very musical family.
Describe the moment you knew you wanted to make the commitment to being a harpist and what that felt like. What is it like to reflect on that moment now?
I realized when I began to head to college that I wanted to continue my commitment to the harp. When I began taking lessons in Nashville, Tenn., with my teacher, Carol McClure, the harp became one of the biggest investments in our family’s lives. We purchased a used pedal harp when I was in 6th grade, rented another pedal harp through high school, and then purchased brand new pedal harp from the factory in Chicago when I was in 12th grade. Not only had my family made significant investments monetarily both in the harps themselves, the strings, the lessons, the travelling, but we had made significant time investments as well. There were weekly orchestra practices, weekly lessons, countless practice hours, competition preparation, weddings, recitals, and all sorts of events we were involved with because of the harp. Transitioning from high school to college, the bulk of that commitment transferred from my parents to myself and I felt the need to honor their prior commitment and all the hard work I had put into it. I have always sought to maintain a linear progression in both my skills and experiences as a harpist but compromised by staying in-state for college and doing my best to balance a commitment to the harp and also a desire to maintain a strong involvement in my church, family, and Huntsville community.
Huntsville has been your home and supported your growth as an artist, performer, and teacher. What has that support looked like over the years from your city and community and how has that helped shape you?
Huntsville is a significant part of my story. I have known since I was little that staying local in Huntsville was always one of my top priorities in life. My first musical experiences were all in Huntsville, I was involved in music at my church, First Baptist Huntsville, singing in the children’s and youth choirs, teaching children’s choir even as a middle and high school student, playing in the church orchestra, and playing solos in church services and for church events. The Huntsville Youth Orchestra was a big part of my orchestral education giving me opportunities to learn important orchestra repertoire. I have been involved with groups like Huntsville Opera Theatre, Ars Nova, and the Huntsville Community Chorus which have given me many important opportunities to play, learn, and grow as a harpist. Growing up in Huntsville which has such a rich arts community in its church, community, and professional organizations. has given me opportunities, skills, and experiences that have been invaluable to my growth as a harpist, musician, and teacher.
What is playing music, singing, and creating like for you when you are not performing one of your many roles?
Music is definitely a part of my profession and many times the professional deadlines can be exhausting and overwhelming, but music is also a part of my overall life outside of professional endeavors. My children have grown up with this preparation and watching my children dance along as I practice, recognize different pieces I have been working on, or pretend to play alongside me has connected them in to all that I do. I love sharing music with them and teaching them. Another thing that has been fun to begin watching is my oldest son’s involvement in music begin to grow. He is ten and has started performing in choirs and choruses, and I have begun attending concerts as an audience member to watch him in Randolph performances, Huntsville Community Chorus performances, and Ars Nova performances. I am also a volunteer musician and music teacher at my church and connect very strongly with the spiritual and worship aspects of music and being a musician.
What’s on the horizon?
Moving forward, I am always looking to grow and continue and want to learn new things. My sister is a vocalist, and I have been really interested in exploring a collaboration of harp and voice and maybe other instruments, performing pop, Broadway, classical, opera, and sacred music but in accessible ways and venues bringing the world of the harp to new places. I am very intrigued by the concepts of busking and getting involved in the local non-classical music scene. Adapting my harp to be able to have electro-acoustic capabilities would open up a whole new avenue and allow me to develop skills in arranging and improvising I haven’t yet mastered.
Do you have any upcoming performances or any special dates you’d like to share?
One organization I have been involved with for over twenty years now, is the Shoals Symphony in Florence Alabama. I have absolutely loved getting to be a part of this dynamic group, and some of the most exciting projects I have gotten to do have been with them. We have an exciting season coming up with concerts featuring Michael Bolton, Cirque de la Symphonie, and the Star Wars Movie a New Hope. The Shoals Symphony definitely warrants a trip to Florence, and I love that drive every Monday night for practice