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IU Wells Scholar Mackenzie Hammel On Inspiration, Harping

Mackenzie Hammel came to Bloomington from Cincinnati to study at the Jacob's School of Music. She's also one of this year's multi-talented Wells Scholars.

Wells Scholar Mackenize Hammel


Mackenzie Hammel came to Bloomington from Cincinnati to study at the Jacob’s School of Music. She’s also one of this year’s multi-talented Wells Scholars. Here accolades include principal harpist for the Ohio All-State Orchestra and Cincinnati Symphony Youth Orchestra, and an appearance at the 10th World Harp Congress in Amsterdam.

You’d think all of that alone would keep her busy, but, no. She was secretary of the National Honor Society, member of the National Spanish Honor Society, and a member of Mu Alpha Theta, a national math honor society.

She was also co-captain of her high school’s varsity tennis team, to boot.

Hammel came by to talk with Artwork’s Megan Meyer about her plans for college, her inspirations, and how she started playing harp in the first place.

MH: My parents told me to play the piano or something more practical than the harp. But when I was younger, I used to go to Cincinnati Symphony concerts all the time. I just like how the harp looked and sounded, so when they told me I had to learn something, that was what I chose.

MM: Was it kind of big for a small girl?

MH: Well, actually they have a lot of different sizes of harps. So I started on a non-traditional harp. It’s called a lever harp and it’s not near the size of a pedal harp.

MM: You’ve been in a lot of different orchestras and symphonies — and one in Amsterdam.

MH: Not a symphony there. But I went to the World Harp Congress. That’s one of the largest events for harpists in the world. I was able to perform as one of the Focus on Youth concert performers. They choose harpists under the age of 21 years old from countries all over the world.

(MM: Last March, Hammel was on NPR’s “From the Top”, playing Salzaledo’s Suite of Eight Dances.)

MM: You don’t just sit at the harp and play all the time, you are actually well accomplished in a number of other areas, like math. You’re a national math scholar?

MH: I’m in Mu Alpha Theta, it’s a math club at my school and it’s a national one so this year I went to the national competition with my school’s team. Our team got 12th place overall. So I really enjoy math as well and I’m planning on studying math as well as finance in college.

MM: Do you see any comparisons or similarities between your study of music and your study of math?

MH: I mean, in music there’s a lot of precision with meter and everything. And you have to think about the rhythm and everything so it’s kind of numerical in some ways.  And the counting. I have to count a lot in music when I’m doing something — some really strange meter. So I think that the math aspect and being able to divide every thing precisely helps, too.

MM: And I noticed you’re also on the National Spanish Honor Society?

MH: Well, I’m in my school’s Spanish club.

MM: Do you see any relationships with your music there, as well?

MH: They’re both kind of like languages themselves. Music can convey emotions and stories just like languages can.

MM: Do plan on continuing Spanish into college?

MH: Yeah. I’m also hoping to minor in Spanish and study abroad at some point.

MM: Where would you like to study abroad?

MH: Either Barcelona or Sevilla

MM: What plans or expectations do you have for this first year?

MH: I hope to get involved a lot in the music world and also in the business school. In terms of music, I probably want to work for the IU Auditorium or the MAC. And I’m really looking forward to all of my music experiences — playing in the ensemble and master classes. I just want to take advantage of the college experience and get involved in a lot of stuff.

MM: What do you think about dorm life?

MH: I like it actually, so far. It’s not that bad, really. I like meeting new people. And I have a nice room.

MM: Now you said earlier that you were planning on studying finance and harp performance as well as minoring in Spanish. Why so much? Why not just study harp?

MH: It’s just so hard to pick something right now — for me, at least. And then with music, there are so few jobs in symphonies for a harpist, so I want to have a backup.

MM: Would you want to stay in the arts, even if you pursue business?

MH:  Yeah. I plan to hopefully keep playing no matter what my job is.

MM: So do you think that there’s more to the harp than just a place in classical music? Do you like to play other genres of music?

MH: Yeah. I really enjoy that. The tango is fun because it’s not very…it’s not the typical kind of piece that you would imagine. It’s fun to think of the tango dance itself and just try to convey the emotion that the dancers would convey. And I really enjoy playing modern pieces. Those are actually, probably some of my favorite pieces.

MM: Do you have any harp performers who are really influential to you, as a player?

MH: My harp teacher from Cincinnati was definitely influential. She was the first person who got me into the harp.  She was the one I listenedto at the symphony. She’s one of the greatest ones that I know of.

And Ms. [Susann] McDonald here, and Ella Szmyt — both professors in the harp program at IU — are definitely outstanding performers, so I look up to all of them.

Megan Meyer

Megan Meyer is an online and radio producer for WFIU's Arts Bureau and local food program Earth Eats. Megan grew up in South Dakota and later lived in France for 3 years. She was an intern for NPR's Science Desk in the spring of 2009, and joined WFIU in June 2009.

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