Renowned harpist Abigail Kent will seranade audiences Jan. 20 in the first performance of Charleston Academy of Music's Rush Hour Concert Series. | photo by Jack Alterman

Growing up in Charleston and experiencing the Spoleto Festival over the years helped international award-winning harpist Abigail Kent see what was attainable in the performing arts world. 

“To see so many world class productions and performances come to my town — I could see the different possibilities and how the options are endless for creative output,” Kent told the City Paper.

She will take the stage at Second Presbyterian Church downtown Jan. 20 for a free concert at 6 p.m. as part of Charleston Academy of Music’s Rush Hour Concert series. 

“I’ll be playing both classical harp and the traditional Celtic harp, going from one to the other playing different types of music and bridging gaps that people might have between them,” she said.

Kent said her inspiration for the upcoming concert came from the ancient Irish concept that a true harper can channel any strain or style to create a special response in the listener.

“I’ll explore different themes such as dance, mourning and sadness and also transformation — a bunch of different ubiquitous human experiences.”

Kent spent the last 10 years studying in musical conservatories including the Royal Academy of Music in London, the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and the Mannes School of Music in New York City. She will finish up her doctorate in musical arts from The Juilliard School in May. In addition to harp and piano, Kent has played cello, tenor banjo, mandolin, penny whistle and bodhrán (an Irish drum). 

“I’m happy that I had so much time being a student, because I did start the classical harp a little later than my peers [when] I was 15,” she said. “Now I’m ready to put all of my energy into being a performer and being a teacher.”

She’s currently adjunct professor of harp in the College of Charleston’s music department and principal harpist for the Hilton Head Orchestra — yet when she initially encountered the classical pedal harp, she didn’t see a future for herself.  

“At first, I just didn’t feel like the pedal harp was exactly ‘me,’ ” Kent said. “I didn’t think that there was a space for me on this instrument. But I started learning it and I was like, ‘Oh, this is really cool. This is like a great puzzle piece.’ The more that I played and the more that I saw different harp players, I saw that there’s more than just one way of playing this instrument. There was a space for me to be authentic.”

As someone who’s spent most of her life playing instruments for diverse audiences, Kent is adamant that the harp contributes just as powerfully to orchestral compositions as the piano or the violin. 

“The harp is seen as a gendered instrument — that it’s very feminine and only played by women,” Kent said. “This image of it being a woman’s instrument, especially in the professional music world, gives off the idea that the harp is a lesser instrument, that it’s softer. I think that’s nonsense. The harp is not a weak or lesser instrument — you can create great music literally on any instrument.”

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