Pulling harp strings

Harpist attends top summer program, enjoys Maine coast

Gernert+practices+on+a+rare+red+Salzedo+harp+at+the+Maine+Coast+Harp+Institute.

Dylan Gernert

Gernert practices on a rare red Salzedo harp at the Maine Coast Harp Institute.

Ingrid Smith, co-online managing editor and co-news editor

The culmination of 10 years of learning, practicing, performing and dreaming—junior Dylan Gernert’s time at one of the premier summer harp programs in the nation—has just come to a close. 

Now that I’ve been in Maine, I’ve been spending my time practicing, having lessons with Yolanda and spending time with my friends.”

— junior Dylan Gernert

The Maine Coast Harp Institute, a 10-day intensive for harp students ages 14-24, takes place in a small coastal town situated on the rocky, green Atlantic coast just around the corner from Acadia National Park. 

The program is inspired by the legendary Summer Harp Colony of Camden, Maine, which was founded in 1929 by Carlos Salzedo, a famous harpist, and closed in 2001. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, Yolanda Kondonassis, world-class harp soloist, teacher and former Summer Harp Colony student, founded the Maine Coast Harp Institute to allow young harpists a chance to escape into their music and find inspiration in the beauty and history of the program’s location. 

“Now that I’ve been in Maine, I’ve been spending my time practicing, having lessons with Yolanda and spending time with my friends,” Gernert said. “The scenery is rural, so I find that it’s a very peaceful environment. I’ve practiced a lot more than I normally would due to the fact that there’s nothing else to do nearby. I practice in an old farmhouse that’s owned by the school, and there are two harps in different rooms, a black harp and a Red Salzedo harp that I practice on: it looks really pretty and I can play really loud on it since it’s a new harp!”

Gernert said that the program’s peaceful and studious atmosphere allowed him to immerse himself in pieces during his frequent practice sessions and in lessons with Kondonassis. Through group classes, clam bakes and hanging out in the salty sea breeze, Gernert had fun making friends with other young harpists from across the country.

it seems like being a harpist means you have to do multiple things at once, like playing with an orchestra, competitions and lessons, but all at the same time.

— junior Dylan Gernert

“I plan to do harp in college, and then probably professionally,” Gernert said. “From what I’ve seen so far, it seems like being a harpist means you have to do multiple things at once, like playing with an orchestra, competitions and lessons, but all at the same time. I think this experience will prepare me for the rest of my life.”

In between classes, achieving practice goals and enjoying East Coast life, Gernert was able to reflect on his journey from hearing the harp for the first time at an assembly as a preschooler to playing harp in the McCallum Chamber Orchestra to studying with the stars at one of the nation’s top harp programs. 

“[For my audition] I had to send in a video of me playing two pieces that I was good at,” Gernert said. “After my dad and I found out I got accepted in, we worked on trying to get money. We got money from family friends in return for different things. Someone wanted me to record a piece for them, and I also had to play at a few senior living centers. I feel like my hard work going into all of this paid off. This is totally a special experience for me.”