OAKLAND -- Constance Koo. a professional harpist and recent graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Music, is back in the Bay Area, where she is busy advancing her music career.
She performs with a variety of ensembles including the Oakland East Bay Symphony, Symphony Silicon Valley and also collaborates with other artists in chamber concerts and recitals. In addition, Constance holds free demos and performances in the Montclair and Piedmont area, as well as at schools, churches, and hospitals. Koo was drawn to the harp at an early age. Already an avid piano student, she realized in junior high that it was within her grasp to learn two instruments.
"I wanted to play something that was unique," she said. "And I thought the harp was a rare and beautiful instrument."
At the time, Koo admitted that she hadn't a clue about where her budding relationship with the harp would lead, but recalls getting more serious about performing in college.
Graduating from UC Davis in 2005 with degrees in political science and music performance, Koo described her time there as encouraging and supportive. It was at this point she seized the reigns of her professional track and pursued the harp fully.
Her mentor was Agnes Lee, a highly accomplished harpist in her own right, who saw great potential in Koo and even arranged for her to travel to Toronto to train with the world famous Judy Loman.
"I really pushed forward in Toronto," Koo said. "I was learning from a top performer, a legend."
When she came back to the United States, she attended the Cleveland Institute of Music and graduated in 2009. But she found the scene vastly different. The most glaring difference was that the atmosphere was a lot more demanding, she said.
"All of a sudden I'm here at CIM with excellent musicians who all were at the top of their class," she said. "But you go with what's expected, which is a completely different level. The students were competitive, but not really with each other."
In Cleveland, Koo was under the tutelage of one of the world's premier harpists, Yolanda Kondonassis, who was also a role model.
Last year, she returned to the East Bay. She loaded up her "harpmobile" -- an appropriately colossal minivan -- and drove from Cleveland to Alameda, where she now lives and where she was a student at Alameda High. She made a stop in Texas to perform at the Roundtop International Festival.
At home, she performs with established Bay Area ensembles but also strives to be an advocate for the harp and a champion for music programs in public schools.
"I don't hesitate to talk to music teachers at demos about the harp," she says. "People perceive it as just this angelic instrument, but it's so much more."
As she continues to establish herself as an artist. Koo wants to introduce the harp to children and adults who otherwise might miss it.
"I want to show that the harp is accessible and cool," she said. "Even as budget cuts strain music programs in schools -- which you can imagine is especially bad for an unconventional instrument like the harp -- I can still use my skills to move kids in a way only the harp can."
At a concert at Park Boulevard Presbyterian Church in Oakland, a boy of about 11 came equipped with his video games to play during the performance, but afterwards he approached Koo and said, "Wow, that was really pretty." His mom said he was captivated the whole time.
"A lot of kids say they want to learn the harp or tell me about their opinions on music and how it makes them feel," she said. "I think it's amazing what one can do with music because you impact people or a situation in so many different ways, sometimes in unexpected ways. In every performance you know that your music has the potential to touch someone, and it doesn't have to be on a concert stage."
Koo teaches private lessons in the Bay Area and is available for booking for various events. For details, visit http://constancekoo.com/about.php.