AA: Thank you for your time Margaret. When did you first pick up the harp, how difficult was it to master?
MD: Hi, thanks for having me! I started playing the harp when I was 7; my parents are both classical musicians and my brother is a jazz trumpet player, so picking up an instrument was sort of like joining the family business. The harp is a very complex instrument. Most of the time if you start at a young age, you start on a lever harp which is smaller and doesn’t have foot pedals like a full sized concert harp. So, the first few years were mostly focused on learning the hand position and technique. Then when I was around 10, I think, I switched to a pedal harp. Pedal harps have 7 pedals which all have 3 positions (flat, natural, and sharp), and we move the pedals as we’re playing to add accidentals. It was a major addition to incorporate my feet, it definitely took me a while to feel totally comfortable using so much of my body to play, but it really helped to spend the first few years working on the fingers alone.
AA: What have been some of your greatest experiences on stage?
MD: It was definitely a really meaningful experience to play in Carnegie Hall for the first time. It’s always a huge honor to play on stages where some of my greatest musical inspirations have performed. I think the moments that stick with me the most are from performing my original music. Sometimes when I’m feeling really comfortable and prepared on stage, I can fall into a trance-like state where I feel like I’m floating and the only thing I can feel in my body and my brain is the music. Those moments are my favorite.
AA: Tell us about being a musician in NYC.
MD: Being a musician in New York City is a very humbling and life-changing experience. I feel very grateful to the city for bringing me a range of opportunities that are now beautiful memories. I’m sure any major urban area has it’s challenges, but New York City is definitely a rather complicated place to be a harpist, simply because of the logistics of requiring a car for transport, rolling my instrument through small doorways and stairwells in older venues, and not being able to take the subway to gigs. It’s been totally worth it though, I’ve had such a blast performing around the city and the other huge draw is that NYC is full of incredible artists, so I’ve loved collaborating with other singer/songwriters, classical, and jazz musicians.
AA: When will your new release become available?
MD: My newest music video release just came out on August 22nd! It’s my arrangement of the wonderful jazz standard, “Too Marvelous for Words” by Richard Whiting and Johnny Mercer featuring me playing harp and singing, and an awesome trumpet player named Jonathan Shadle. We filmed it in this beautiful ballroom at Yale University; I had played a bunch of gigs there and was always obsessed with these giant chandeliers they have. It was really fun to plan a video around such an aesthetically pleasing space, especially with a visually decadent instrument like the harp.
AA: What were the inspirations behind the new music?
MD: This most recent release is a jazz song, like I said. I started singing jazz in high school and kept working on it on my own while I was studying harp in music school. I’ve always been deeply influenced by the great jazz vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, but as a singing instrumentalist, I also take great inspiration from singing pianists like Diana Krall and Norah Jones. I also write original music with my band, Astoria Window, which features harp, ukulele, vocals, and electronics. Our mission as a band is to take our more technical, classical training, and implement some of those musical intricacies into a more contemporary, pop-oriented space. We’re very influenced by electronic music, funk, and chillstep. It’s really cool to bring the harp out of it’s more typical classical settings into the singer/songwriter realm.
AA: Where can we catch your next show?
MD: This month, my band and I made a major move from New York, where we’ve been for the past few years, down to Houston, Texas. It’s a big change but the idea behind it is to spend more time focusing on our digital projects. We’re working on releasing our first EP and I’m also recording a jazz album as a singing harpist. We’ll be lining up shows very soon in Houston and Austin. Our big news of late is that we’ve been commissioned by the Seattle Collaborative Orchestra to write an original piece for Astoria Window and orchestra. We’re really excited and honored as musicians with classical backgrounds to have this opportunity. We will be premiering it with SCO in Seattle on April 3rd, 2020, and I honestly can’t wait!
AA: Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
MD: Probably just a big thank you to everyone who has been listening and taking an interest in my music this year! It’s been daunting to move to a new city, and also to leave New York, but it makes me very happy to have had a successful and enjoyable time freelancing in one of the artistic meccas of the US. The prospect of releasing more music online has me stoked to get recording in our new city. I love being a musician who is involved in multiple genre areas, and I definitely recommend genre exploration to any fellow musicians out there. It’s really shaped me as a player and a songwriter, and I’m having a great time! -aa