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...

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...

April 21, 2016

A Life’s Work. It’s an interesting concept. I’ll admit, there was a long period when my work was my life. But over time, I added life to my work, bit by bit, one piece at a time – a husband I love, a child I adore, parents in need of care, a home.


From earliest memory, I have always been a master of compartments. I build them around the things that matter most to me, just like the sections of a submarine. If one leaks, the damage is contained and won’t flood the whole vessel. I’ve used this system for decades and it’s proven to be a lifesaver – not to mention a sanity-saver. I will wager to say that there are few careers more demanding than a life in the arts, and even fewer still that require more ongoing practice, maintenance, time, and compartment-building to assure quality control, than a life in classical music performance. I’ve always accepted that, but it’s a complicated endeavor. My teacher, Alice Chalifoux, was fond of saying to her students at low moments, “Just remember you’...

March 25, 2016

Everything has its time. So, it seems, does cow gut. Why is this important to me in particular? Because I spend every day plucking, pounding and touching that cow gut. 


Harp strings are made from cow intestines. Gross, I know - but true. Something in the tensile strength, the porous or resonant properties and the elasticity makes them perfect for this purpose. How might an ambitious and musically-inclined cow apply for the dubious honor of becoming a set of harp strings, you may ask? I am told that the qualifications include being young, male, and castrated. Don’t ask me more than that because I don’t know. Actually, I don’t want to know – but that’s neither here nor there.



Until about a year ago, I appreciated my harp strings like any other critical part of my instrument. I bought the best brand I could find, changed them regularly, and trusted them to work under pressure. But all of a sudden, about a year or so ago, I started breaking strings – not occasionally, but all the time. Da...

February 27, 2016

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to be more positive regarding technology: embrace it, stop complaining, and learn how to use it. That was The List. Well, I have embraced it to some degree, I have begun complaining less and indeed, I have increased my skills somewhat. But (spoiler alert, I’m gonna complain a little), I can’t help thinking that our dependence on technology is diminishing our sensory presence in the world around us. Technology has definitely made the world feel smaller, but are we becoming slightly immune to our senses as we live part-time (or even full-time) in the land of virtual life? Is it becoming harder to distinguish in our memories what we have actually lived and what we have merely experienced on a screen? No answers here, just questions.


I was recently sitting in my car with the windows down, enjoying an unbelievably warm and beautiful day in February. My daughter was next to me playing a game on her phone and I was breathing deeply, soaking up the balmy ai...

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

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