Kristin King doesn’t casually show up with her instrument. Her 88 pound harp is one of the more unwieldy plucked musical devices that you’ll see around town.
It’s taller than her five-foot three-inch frame! King wheels her stringed partner, named Harold, to gigs when she jams with the wide-ranging and creative sextet Uncommon Collective.
And she makes room for its heavenly sounds at weddings and other events organized by the music agency that she runs with violinist Ricardo Ochoa, New Arts Ensembles.
“I jokingly consider this my weight bearing activity for the day so I don’t have to go to the gym,” she says.
Not that her instrument’s heft is the most difficult thing about being a harpist. She started harp lessons at age seven and delved into its rigors at Loyola University in Chicago, giving no thought to the professional consequences.
“My passion for music trumped everything else,” she says of her decision to switch from medicine to music in college. “It was a small, tight-knit music program that really pushed you to excel and be challenged.”
Challenge? Harp? I never would have thought!
“My plan was never to actually make a living as a harpist,” she says.
So she didn’t chase the steady, big city life of symphonies.
“So few positions become available and usually, when someone has it, it’s forever,” she says. “It didn’t excite me to be a slave to wherever I was able to get a position.”
Instead, she came to Savannah and found a boutique wedding city, a corporate event and private party Eden with lots of talented musicians waiting to be hired.
The city was ripe for New Arts Ensembles. The business fills a gap between Savannah’s music and the patronage it needs to thrive. But I just wonder who connected harps to weddings like Led to Zeppelin.
“The harp conjures up images of heaven and it’s peaceful and romantic,” she says. “Even Mary Had a Little Lamb sounds good on a harp.”
So she might be all “Claire de Lune” for a while. But then she’ll throw in some “Stairway to Heaven.”
“It’s kind of one of those things that I play at gigs when I wonder if anyone’s listening,” she says. “The next thing I know, people are so excited.”
And that’s one thing that anyone who knows King will tell you about her. She’s adventurous. And she likes a good brainteaser or a healthy ordeal.
Like when a client asked her and other musicians to perform the song “Wild Is the Wind” for 90 minutes without repeating a style. They fit the 1957 movie tune into jazz, western, classical and other “musical clothes” – and had a blast.
Or like when she goes kite boarding. She surfs the waves and the wind off the shores of Sri Lanka, Vietnam and our own Tybee Island – and has a blast.
That and Harold will blast your back!
“As a harpist and as someone who does a lot sports that cause back pains, I get massages a lot,” she says. “And a lot of times I hear the music in the background and think, ‘I could do something that’s even more peaceful and more relaxing,’” she says.
So she released a harp album, with her own original spa-friendly compositions, Resonating, in 2002. New age, R&B, swing. King is ready to pluck it all.
“Since being in Savannah and working with musicians like Ricardo Ochoa and Jackson Evans and a number of other great jazz musicians, it’s really stretched me to evolve in that manner and work on my improvisational skills,” she says. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
(Photo credit: Donna Von Bruening)