If you’ve ever heard a song by Common, Raheem DeVaughn, Mary J. Blige, Drake or Ne-Yo and heard the sound of a harp in the background, chances are you’re listening to Brandee Younger. Playing the stringed instrument for 15 years now, Younger is putting a new face and a new sound to the harp normally used in classical music.
“The harp has some effect on people,” she said. “People always seem to be touched by the instrument itself.”
Along with having her own teaching studio in the city, Younger currently is on the harp faculty at Harrt School at the University of Hartford, Adelphi University and the Greenwich House Music School. She also serves as vice president of the Long Island Chapter of the American Harp Association.
Originally from Hempstead, Long Island, Younger’s father wanted her to get involved in an extracurricular activity so he referred her to his secretary who played the harp. She originally played the flute, but was soon turned onto the harp.
Younger became so good on the instrument that her parents knew it was the key to higher education.
She said, “I didn’t plan to pursue it, but I needed a scholarship to go to college. My parents told me to get a scholarship regardless of how to get it and it became more serious.”
Her talent earned her a scholarship to the University of Hartford, where she got a bachelor’s degree in harp performance and music business. Younger went on to graduate school at New York University, where she earned a master’s in harp performance.
Among her musical influences are Alice Coltrane, wife of jazz great John Coltrane, who passed away in 2007. Younger was given the opportunity to play at Coltrane’s memorial service. The performance not only allowed her to pay homage to one of her inspirations, but also helped her professionally.
“[Coltrane] had always been a major musical influence on me,” Younger said. “That was a turning point in my career.”
While Younger is dedicated to playing music traditionally associated with the harp, like Celtic and classical music, she grew up around hip-hop, R&B and jazz, and incorporates them in her musical performance.
“Classical music was something that I had to learn, but as I got older I wanted to incorporate myself into what I was doing. Jazz and hip-hop are elements that form me as a person. I don’t think I’d be fulfilled just playing classical music,” she said.
In her music teaching, Younger advocates the need for youth to be involved in the arts, especially young people of color. A teacher herself for nine years, she said arts are important in development.
“My students become so busy that they don’t have time to get in trouble,” she said. “I find it’s really important to have a well rounded child so that they have options. I see a big difference in parents whose children are involved in music than those who don’t.”
As for the future, Younger is currently working on her first album, which is being produced by Robin Coltrane. She regularly performs concerts and has plans to perform in Harlem in May.