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Q&A with Music Industry Alumna: Harpist Angelica Hairston

Angelica at Challenge the Stats event; photo by Robert Torres Photography

Harpist Angelica Hairston, known for her fiery performances and her passion for social change, graduated from Northeastern with a Master of Science in Music Industry Leadership (MS.MIL) in 2016. She is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, and currently serves as the Harp Teacher with the Urban Youth Harp Ensemble, a nonprofit organization that provides free harp instruction to over 80 students in Atlanta’s inner-city. At Northeastern, Angelica was the recipient of the 2015 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Graduate Fellowship, an award given to students who are committed to the principles of social justice espoused by Dr. King. As an MLK Fellow, Angelica focused her research on nonprofit organizations effectively serving communities of color. She also worked closely with CAMD professor Margo Saulnier to harness her vision for creating a more diverse future for the performing arts.

We recently caught up with Angelica to learn more, in her own words, about her recent performance at Atlanta Symphony Hall, work with Urban Youth Harp Ensemble, Inc., and experience at Northeastern. Check out the full Q&A below:

Tell us about your recent performance at Atlanta Symphony Hall. What was the experience before and during it like

During high school, I gained invaluable training through the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s Talent Development Program (TDP). The program aims to develop gifted and motivated African American and Latino musicians in preparation for careers in classical music. The program allowed me to study with Elisabeth Remy Johnson (Atlanta Symphony Orchestra principal harpist), attend prestigious summer music programs, and assisted me in purchasing my harp. I owe so much to the TDP and am thankful for the community of support that I received through the program.

I was honored to be invited to perform at the Talent Development Program’s Musicale and Aspire Awards in November 2016. The concert took place at the historic Atlanta Symphony Hall and featured current TDP students, as well as African American professionals who are making waves in the field of classical music. It was an honor to perform and I’m always thankful to be able to give back to a program that has had such a lasting impression on my life.

How does your MS.MIL degree apply to what you are doing now or hope to do in the future?

As an African American harpist, I have always been acutely aware of the ways in which I don’t fit into my surroundings. With only 4.2% of US orchestral musicians being black or Hispanic and less than 4% of opera audiences African American, it comes as a norm for me to perform with musicians and for audiences that don’t visually resemble me. Growing up in Atlanta, I was often puzzled by how little classical music audiences reflected the diverse communities around me.

I was thankful to take part in Northeastern’s Master of Music Industry Leadership program as a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Graduate Fellow. During my time at Northeastern, I was able to gain top-notch knowledge about today’s music industry and define who I am as a leader and advocate for a more diverse future for the arts. The program equipped me with the skills that I need to articulate my passion for promoting a more diverse classical music landscape. I’m thankful to have gained invaluable knowledge about essential topics such as marketing, intellectual property law, finance, and organizational leadership.

Soon after finishing my degree, I began working as a Teaching Artist with the Urban Youth Harp Ensemble in my hometown of Atlanta. The non-profit organization owns over a dozen harps and offers free harp instruction to over 80 students in Atlanta’s inner-city. I’ve been thankful for the opportunity to pour into the lives of deserving and eager students who may not otherwise have the exposure, access, or opportunity to experience classical music first-hand.

What was a highlight or two of your time at Northeastern?

The MS.MIL program allowed me to gain hands-on experience from distinguished faculty members in the Music Industry Leadership Department. My directed study professor, Margo Saulnier, instilled in me life skills that have truly changed the course of my career. Her wisdom and continued support has positioned me for success in a competitive music industry.

With the guidance of Professor Saulnier, I presented Challenge the Stats – a performance highlighting top artists of color in the city of Boston, shedding light on the vast underrepresentation of minorities in the fine arts. The concert showcased high caliber conservatory-trained African American composers, musicians, filmmakers, dancers, and spoken word artists from Northeastern University, Boston University, Boston Conservatory, Berklee College of Music, and New England Conservatory of Music. This multi-disciplinary and multi-media performance featured debuts of new music, dance, and a world premiere film presentation. It sparked a conversation about racial diversity and social justice among the nearly sold out crowd – over 200 patrons of all ages and races – many hearing classical music for the first time.

Unlike many academic environments, the capstone track of NEU’s Music Industry Leadership program gave me the unique ability to research and spotlight relevant issues in ways that were directly beneficial to my career.

What are you working on now?

I’m excited to have been invited as a featured panelist at the Sphinx Organization’s SphinxConnect, an event designed to “engage in the global conversation of diversity in the arts.” The mission of the Sphinx Organization is to “transform lives through the power of diversity in the arts.” At SphinxConnect, I’ll be speaking on a panel about music-based projects that have lasting impacts on society.

During my directed study at Northeastern, I focused my research on nonprofits serving communities of color and I heavily studied the Sphinx Organization’s success model.  I am truly inspired by the numerous stories and lives that have been impacted by the work of the organization. As a professional, it’s exciting to speak at a conference for an organization that I studied during my time at Northeastern.

What’s next for you and how can we stay connected with you?

As I continue my journey, I’m thankful to be able to push the needle forward on diversity in the arts and continue to put into practice the knowledge that I gained during my time in the Music Industry Leadership Program at Northeastern.

Follow my journey on social media: @angelharpist on Facebook and Twitter, Angelica Hairston on YouTube, or on my website www.angelicahairston.com/challengethestats