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Adventist Harpist on Next Performance Today Show


Mallory McHenry, Oakwood graduate and musician, talks about Fred Child, Debussy, and the love offering of church music.

Question: You recently spent several days recording with Performance Today, American Public Media’s program that is broadcast on more than 300 public radio stations around the U.S. You are the first harpist to be chosen as a young artist with the program. How did you come to be chosen? Did you have to apply?

Answer: My residency with Minnesota Public Radio and Performance Today took place during the first half of the week I spent in Minnesota. During the second half, a good friend of mine and flutist, Karen Baumgartner, commissioned a brand-new piece for harp and flute by composer Joshua Weinberg called “Four Elements.”

I attend The University of Texas at Austin and Performance Today reached out to my department, the Butler School of Music, looking for young artists specifically from my school. Our faculty put forth my name and Performance Today asked to work with me.

What was it like recording for the program? 

It was nerve-racking, but so exciting all at the same time! It was my first time recording in a studio as a solo artist and the experience was amazing!

So you have recorded with a group before?

I have recorded in studio with the Oakwood University Aeolians! It was different because that was a group effort and I was singing as opposed to playing my instrument. However, it allowed me to develop patience and a good listening ear and that definitely benefitted me while being in the studio alone.

When will the program featuring you air? How can we listen to it?

My segments will air beginning April 19, 2019. They will be available on Performance Today’s website under their Young Artists tab.

Did you also do an interview with Performance Today’s host Fred Child? What was that like?

I did! It was surreal! I grew up listening to Fred Child interview musicians on the radio on the way to music lessons. It was full-circle being interviewed by him in the studio. It was very casual conversation which made me feel comfortable to share as much as I could about my instrument!

You graduated from Oakwood in 2016 with a bachelor of music degree. Do you know of any Adventist musicians who have previously been young artists with Performance Today?

I did! I am an Oakwood University alum. As far as I know, I was the first harpist to graduate from the institution! I am not entirely sure if any other Adventist musicians have aired on the show, it would be awesome if so!

You only graduated three years ago, yet you already have earned your master’s in music from the University of Texas at Austin, and are now working on your doctorate from the same university. Why Austin?

I absolutely love Austin. It is a music-loving city and it is very easy to be inspired here. I originally came here to study with my harp professor, Delaine Leonard. She is a Suzuki teacher-trainer for the Americas and I wanted to learn as much as I could from her about teaching young students to play harp! She has been wonderful and I still learn from her as I continue doctoral studies.

In addition to working on your doctorate, I believe that you have a very busy performance and teaching schedule. What are some of your biggest commitments? How do you find time for everything?

I do have a very busy schedule outside of school. I work two part-time jobs and I play for both the Austin Civic Orchestra and the Valley Symphony Orchestra during their performance seasons. I also have a private studio where I teach both harp and piano. I love being organized! It just takes dedication to making it all work and fit properly, gigs included! I am blessed to be able to play so much.

Do you still consider yourself an Adventist? Do you try to take your Saturdays off? Isn’t that quite hard to do in the music world?

I do consider myself Adventist! I do my very best to take my Saturdays off. I definitely do not accept payment on the Sabbath, but I will play for church as a love offering. It is one of my favorite things to do. I love to make arrangements of hymns for harp and play them for communion service or divine worship. 

Being secure in your relationship with Christ is vital to your survival as a musician. Trusting Him through the process yields so much more than abiding by our own understanding.

Do you know very many professional musicians who are Adventists? 

Absolutely! I have many Adventist colleagues who are professional musicians. Many of them sing with the Metropolitan Opera, for BBC Proms, have won Grammys, and play with professional orchestras.

When did you begin playing the harp? Why did you choose the harp as your instrument? Did you always know you wanted to be a musician?

I began playing the harp when I was 11 years old. I was already a pianist and picking up harp was fairly easy.

What did you enjoy about the music program at Oakwood? Did you consider studying somewhere else, like a music school?

Being a part of the music program at Oakwood was like being a part of a big extended family! It was so nice to learn and grow with people I considered brothers and sisters. The spiritual aspect of music was also taught by our professors and we experienced the love of Christ in every subject we learned. Growing up in an Adventist home, I was encouraged to attend an Adventist University. Oakwood was the right fit.

What career goals do you have for yourself?

I would love to hold a professorship at a university, teaching harp. I also have a goal of landing a position with a major city orchestra. Ultimately, I want to leave an impact everywhere I end up working or performing.

What is your favorite piece to play?

My favorite piece would be the Debussy Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp. It’s a chamber piece that is so much fun to play! The work is so colorful and tells a story that leaves you wanting more.

What are you focusing on in your doctoral work?

I am dedicating my dissertation research to transcribing works by female composers of color. I am taking their works written for different instruments and adapting them to the harp.

What is the hardest thing about being a harpist? What is the best thing?

The hardest thing is moving the harp! A concert grand harp weighs about 85 to 90 pounds and we transport them in the back of our vehicles. The best thing is how soothing the instrument can be, even while practicing!

What would you say to a kid who wants to learn to play the harp?

It is okay to be different! Very few people in the world play the harp and it would be amazing if you were one of them! Do not let anyone tell you that it is too different or too hard. You can do anything you put your mind to.


Photo courtesy of Mallory McHenry.

Alita Byrd is interviews editor for Spectrum.


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