Copyright 2019 Yolanda Kondonassis. Photography by Laura Watilo Blake, Mark Battrell, Robert Muller, Michael Cavotta.

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June 14, 2019

By definition, the act of “judging” means to conclude, decide, or form an opinion. It’s not an absolute science, but I believe that every musician who is given the task of judging should consider it a sacred duty and never forget that competitors have practiced tirelessly, planned and dreamed, bought plane tickets, booked hotel rooms, and sacrificed in a variety of ways. Each time a competitor walks onstage it is a big deal, and the moment should be met by judges with full attention, compassion, and a true desire to evaluate objectively. However, on top of that objectivity, there must also be a sincere intention to receive the essence of what is being shared. That essence can affect different people in different ways, so it is the nature of artistic competitions that the same conclusion may not always be reached by every member on a panel of judges.

I have been privileged to be a judge at quite a number of major events, including the USA International Harp Competition, the American Harp...

October 11, 2017

For my entire career, I’ve been all about new music – playing it, commissioning it, promoting it, defending it. It’s an artistic cause that matters, and I’ll continue to support it in as many ways as I can. It’s funny, though, how life can alter your angle of perspective. As the parent of a teenager, I’ve had more than one conversation that goes something like this:

Me (referring to a song that comes on the radio): Oh, I love this song!

My daughter: Geez, it’s so old.

Me: What? It came out last summer. 

My daughter (while fiddling with the dial, looking for another station): Like I said, it’s really old.

We live in a time when things happen fast and everything is immediate. This makes me sound ancient, but I’m quite certain that this compression of time affects absolutely everything, and most acutely, it diminishes our appreciation for all that has come before us. There just doesn’t seem to be enough time anymore to reflect on the contributions or accomplishments of our predecessors before...

August 21, 2017

I’ve been at this harp thing a while – close to 40 years, to be exact – so I won’t lie: it’s nice to walk into a book store, restaurant or store and hear one of my recordings playing in the background. This first happened years ago when I walked into a coffee shop with a friend. It was back in the days when places put whatever CD they were playing on an easel next to the cash register. My friend went up to the cashier and said, “Would you like to meet the artist?” Mortified, I slid outside as quickly as possible. Safely out on the sidewalk, I caught myself for a moment and thought, Wow, that was a little bit cool. Now with all the ways for recorded music to be available, I run into my own recordings often when I’m out and about. I’m glad my music gets around and the digital royalties are heavenly.

There is, however, one location where I bristle if I hear it coming in through the speakers: The Spa. On the rare occasion that I have time for a massage, several of my tracks usually waft in...

May 15, 2017

I just did something that I have done countless times in my life: I wrote a letter – an email, in this case – that I will probably never send. My email is in response to one I received today that is, at best, thoughtless – at worst, rude. Neither thoughtlessness nor rudeness has ever been a crime, but for the majority of my life, I have sensed that most of us in civilized society know that words have power, and once uttered or written, that force is unleashed - for better or worse.

Words still have power today, but everything we once knew about truth seems to be evaporating. New terms like “Fake News” and “Alternative Facts” now swirl around us like thick smoke, causing us to question even our most straightforward perceptions of time, space, and events, as if absolutely everything in the universe is merely an opinion. Spontaneous outrage is in fashion and we are frequently warned not to take anything too literally. A new day has dawned, and I wish it were just a bad dream.

The reason I w...

December 19, 2016

We all know the well-worn phrase, “You can’t go home again.” Perhaps that’s true, but it may be because big and little pieces of home continue to live in us long after we’ve left, so going there isn’t really much of a trip at all.

I recently had the honor of being inducted into The Oklahoma Arts Institute Hall of Fame. It’s always nice to be recognized, but there is particular poignancy in being acknowledged in your hometown – especially when you left young, hoping to make it in the great big world. The whole event made me smile.

I’ve lived in quite a few different places – Oklahoma, Greece, Cleveland, New York City, Northern Michigan, Saint Louis, and San Francisco. I’m also fortunate that my work has allowed me to travel all over the world. I bring my teenage daughter with me on occasion and she has taken to making observations about the ways in which I relate with people while traveling and in general. She is fond of commenting on my “extreme politeness.” It seems that I am a profuse...

November 18, 2016

Thank goodness our children give us a second chance to live through high school once we actually understand all those weighty themes in the books we had to read in freshman English. The Great Gatsby, Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye – it’s too bad all that perspective on human frailty, base instincts and society-imposed despair doesn’t make as much sense when you feel immortal with nothing but possibility in your sights.

Fitzgerald had it right: “Everybody’s youth is a dream, a form of chemical madness.” Truth be told, I had a relatively idyllic high school experience. I went to Interlochen Arts Academy, an arts boarding school in upper Michigan. At least in my day, everyone just gave each other space to figure stuff out. We were all a little different, so it was like one big, glass house where few stones were thrown.  I felt like I had the freedom to be whatever I happened to be at the time – driven, moody, introspective, euphoric, tortured – the whole teen spectrum. My senior pic...

August 25, 2016

The event of receiving our names is one of life’s great lotteries. These identifying labels that accompany us through time are such an important part of who we are and yet, they come to us in a way that is completely out of our control. How much do our names shape who we become? Do they shape us or do we shape them? Ernest Finkelmeyer, Tabitha Gray, Cindy Little, Herbert Strange – what might names imply before we even meet a person? Nothing, ideally, but let’s face it, we all make assumptions and find ourselves shocked when an Ernest Finkelmeyer turns out to be un-bespectacled and charismatic. The truth is, I’m a lot less interested in judgments by others than I am about how our feelings about our own names make us see ourselves.

I hated my name as a child. It felt long, cumbersome and most of all, different. Growing up in Norman, Oklahoma, I was surrounded by folks with names like Kelly, Jamie, Amy and Jake. And to make matters worse, those nice first names were followed by perfectly n...

July 14, 2016

I ride on planes often and I must admit, I really enjoyed it early in my career - the ease, the glamour, the thrill of soaring up into the sky on the way to another adventure. Okay, it was actually the airport Cinnabon rolls that made the experience. But still, I did enjoy air travel – once.

As I was waiting to board my plane this past weekend at the Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport, I stood back and watched folks while I listened to the various groups being called to board:  

“Priority Choice and Platinum First are welcome to board through the PRIORITY AISLE.”

“First class cabin ticket holders may board at this time through the PRIORITY AISLE.”

“Elite Choice, Ruby Pass, and Platinum members may now board through the PRIORITY AISLE.”

Long wait.

“Group One may now board through the MAIN AISLE.”

Longer wait.

“Group Two may now board through the MAIN AISLE.”

“No, no,” I heard the ticket lady say to one errant passenger, “the MAIN AISLE.”

And then it came – the dreaded announcement: “Our overhead bins are f...

June 3, 2016

Everyone’s a critic. It’s never been more true. As I watch the presidential election cycle unfold in the news, criticism is everywhere. And it’s brutal. Often exaggerated and sometimes untrue even in the face of facts to the contrary, we live in a time when all voices are heard, and that’s a good thing, but it makes the art of using criticism as a tool a much more complicated process.

 

As a musician, criticism has always been a part of my life. As a student, it was essential. The journey of learning to play a musical instrument is full of blind spots, pitfalls, and challenges of all kinds. It is also highly subjective, which is one reason the world has such an array of artistic variety. That said, I learned early on to try and process criticism – to separate the pearls of wisdom from the rocks and barbs, so to speak. When I began to develop a system for benefitting from the valid without being destroyed by the random, criticism became an almost welcome event. 

 

Most thinking folks know i...

May 20, 2016

I have learned many things from my dad. A natural teacher, he spent over fifty years as an economics professor, gathering legions of adoring students and stacks of awards and accolades along the way. Needless to say, he knows a thing or two about people, life, and what it all means. When I was a kid, I once asked him exactly what the field of economics was about and I have always remembered his answer. He told me that economics is “the science of choices.” His area, he said, was the study of how every choice has a potential effect and that one must learn from previous choices and try to imagine and estimate future effects as clearly as possible. I remember saying something like, “That goes for life too, doesn’t it?” I could tell he was impressed that I was capable of thinking metaphorically at my tender age. He smiled and I felt smart. I was sipping a cherry coke at the time and the taste still makes me think of weighty choices.

 

Most recently, my dad taught me how one gracefully tolera...

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