Orchestrated obsession

Harpist makes first chair in state Solo and Ensemble


In the choir room, junior Paulina Delgadillo practices the harp for Solo and Ensemble on March 18. Paulina received first chair in the All State Orchestra and received ones, the highest rating, in both her solo and ensemble competitions.

Millenia Watkins, Reporter

Practicing a piece in the band hall, junior Paulina Delgadillo prepared for the upcoming Solo and Ensemble competition on March 18 where she reminisced on the start of her harp career.

“The harp is very elegant and graceful,” Paulina said. “Whenever I see someone playing, it looked so pretty and they made it sound so beautiful. I thought, ‘I just want to be that.’”

Paulina began playing the harp at 10 years old when the orchestra program introduced it to her in the sixth grade, but her infatuation with the instrument began two years earlier.

“The first time I remember seeing someone play the harp was at a renaissance fair when I was eight,” Paulina said. “There just happened to be a harpist performing. I wanted to play mostly because I saw other people.”

Paulina’s family played a role in motivating her to continue with her passion despite living over 800 miles away.

“A lot of my family lives in Mexico,” Paulina said. “They’re always saying ‘Send us recordings. Send us recordings. We love what she plays. Send us more.’ All of my family is very supportive.”

This was Paulina’s third year attending the Solo and Ensemble state competition. Going through this process each year may have seemed repetitive, Paulina claimed each time was exciting.

“Each year, it’s a different experience,” Paulina said. “I think it’s a pretty big deal.”

Paulina began preparing for her competition months in advance, even participating in a master class with a national harp competition winner as an instructor.

“She was helping me with my tone, and making sure I was playing everything correctly,” Paulina said. “In the years before, it was just my teacher and I, or taking my music to a camp where I played with a group of people.”

The harpist had low expectations for her performance going into state due to her previous experiences during the competition.

“The harpists that placed lower than me have always beaten me in the past, and I was kind of expecting them to beat me [again],” Paulina said.

Playing the harp is physically demanding, and can result in blisters on the harpist that hinders their performance.

“There have been times when I would have three Band-aids on one hand because of blisters,” Paulina said. “During state, I had a blood blister on my thumb. Majority of the time I just keep going; the pain isn’t that bad anymore, but the blood blisters are always the worst.”

Paulina turned her circumstances into something she believed contributed to her success in securing first chair in the ensemble.

“For state, it was a mess,” Paulina said. “All the harps were called to be at competition at three, and none of us ending up playing until 9:00 p.m. We ending up sitting there and talking and relaxing for hours.”

The group of 60 harpists had become close throughout years of competition against one another.

“All of the harpists of Frisco ISD are a very tight community,” Paulina said. “None of the harpist are competitive with one another. We are all like ‘Let’s all make state,’ instead of ‘I’m going to beat you all.’”

Paulina was in shock after hearing the news from her Orchestra Director Liz Balkema.

“She told me I got first chair,” Paulina said. “I started texting my mom and my best friend, (junior) Kimberly (Putnam), and it was all really exciting.”

Paulina’s relationship with Ms. Balkema was vital for her achievements in her harp career. Her teacher acted as a mentor to her.

“Ms. Balkema is very supportive of the harp program,” Paulina said. “She’s very positive, and always tells me to breathe and relax. Even though I’m the only one that’s going to perform at state [this year], she’s always there.”

Playing the harp has become a lifelong commitment that she hopes to continue in the future, putting not only time and energy into her passion, but thousands of dollars.

“My harp was $14,000, and it was a lower end harp,” Paulina said. “My mom said that
I could either keep my harp or get a car. I decided to keep the harp.”

The junior’s dedication to her instrument was not only surprising to her peers, Paulina claiming that her friends and classmates were often impressed with her work, but also to herself.

“I wasn’t expecting to love it so much to the point where I wanted to do it as a career,” Paulina said. “As I started to enjoy it more and more, I thought, ‘How about I just do this as a job?’ I love it so much. So why not?’”