Her mother loved the harp. She had studied it in college and dreamed of having a daughter who would share her fondness for the instrument. Perhaps that explains why five-year-old Natalie Severson was fascinated the instant she began lessons on a small folk harp. It was “fun,” she recalls. Years later, as she grew up in Minneapolis, Minn., she came to better understand what made it so much fun. It was like a friend resting on her shoulder that could bring to life the music in her heart.
When it came time to go to college, Severson wanted to explore different majors as well as pursue her music. So she chose Carnegie Mellon based on its “all-around reputation” and its interdisciplinary program, Bachelor of Humanities and Arts, which is designed for students who want to develop their interest in the fine arts while also pursuing studies in the humanities and social/behavioral sciences.
Given her love for the harp, she immediately jumped at the opportunity to study with Gretchen Van Hoesen, who has been principal harpist of the Pittsburgh Symphony since 1977. It only took one semester with Van Hoesen for Severson to decide that she wanted to study the harp fulltime.
The spring of her senior year provided back-to-back opportunities for her to showcase her art: the spring School of Music concerto competition, just three days before her senior harp recital. The piece she chose for both, Alberto Ginastera’s “Harp Concerto, Op. 25,” had actually been performed first in New York City by her mentor, Van Hoesen. “It’s an exciting piece to play, you don’t know what’s coming next, and it’s very emotional,” she says.
When she played the full concerto on the final day of the competition, it went better than she had dreamed. “It was one of the best performances I’ve ever given,” she says, giving credit to that old friend resting on her shoulder. “I really connected to the rhythm and color of the piece.”
Not only was it one of the best performances she’d ever given, but it also earned her first prize in the undergraduate division of the concerto competition. Along with the second-prize winner, violinist Mimi Jung (A’16), and the graduate winner, Kryzsztof Rucinski (A’13), Severson (A’13) will get the opportunity to play with the Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic during the 2013-2014 concert season. She hopes her mother can attend the performance.
—Janet Jay (DC’07)