On a Thursday in late December, a group of faculty gathered in the cafeteria at Bald Eagle Area High School to celebrate the culmination of the 2017 holiday season with an afternoon of Tostitos and harp music.
The process by which piles of chips, dips and other, more substantial, culinary delights became scattered across a couple tables winding a path along the room’s back wall is open to interpretation, but the best and only explanation for the conspicuous presence of a towering instrument resplendent in strings and peddles was the young woman sitting at its foot.
BEA senior Alice Statham was trying out a few numbers from her audition repertoire, tunes she hopes will impress teachers staffing the prestigious music programs housed at the University of Michigan, Indiana University of Bloomington and Carnegie Mellon University.
“Playing them in front of a bunch of people helped me get rid of nerves,” Statham said afterward.
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Nerves are not something that one would readily associate with the 17-year-old Statham, who lives in Snow Shoe and was recently named Pennsylvania’s All State Harpist. She has spent the better part of her high school career traveling to and from district, regional and state orchestra festivals.
Kellie Long, band director at BEAHS, is usually along for the ride and attributes Statham’s success to her focus and determination.
“She will not accept anything less than her best,” Long said.
Music was both a calling and an inheritance. Statham’s mother taught violin, so it was almost a given that she would have a bow in her hand at an age when most toddlers are still mastering the finer points of walking on two feet.
A brief romance with the piano came and went somewhere around age 5, but Statham isn’t entirely sure how a harp entered the picture.
“I think I just probably saw it on TV or something,” Statham said.
Anne Sullivan, a harp teacher working out of Lycoming College and Lancaster Bible College, has been working with Statham for the past seven years.
Sullivan said that Statham showed innate talent right from the beginning, but reached a turning point early in her high school career.
“She just suddenly cared about her harp playing in a very different, more mature way. It took me a few lessons to trust that it was a real change and not just a phase, but it stuck,” Sullivan said.
College is the next great adventure on Statham’s mind, but after that she could envision a future in teaching that would supplement a career as a solo and ensemble performer.
“I’ve been doing it so long, it’s just become a part of me, I think,” Statham said.