I vaguely remember standing in the hallway of the Music Building and hearing about how remarkable the University of Illinois’ harp studio is. The dots were connected when I found out the instructor, Ann Yeung, is the president of American Harp Society, along with being a teacher and world-renowned musician.
Not to mention the original harp from Disney’s “Fantasia” is located on the third floor of the building.
An outstanding studio gets outstanding students constantly working at perfecting their instrument. From this studio emerged harp duo Ginger & Spice.
Molly O’Roark and Ann McLaughlin began with an assignment in studio class to choose a themed piece to perform. The pair, grad students in the harp studio at the time, decided to play – and sing – “I Dreamed a Dream” from the famous musical “Les Miserables.”
They found such immense enthusiasm working on the assignment that a few months later in the spring of 2014, they formed Ginger & Spice – a collective name the duo said came their personalities and the hint of red color in their hair.
Ginger & Spice’s music is not only the exquisite combination of glissandi and melodies, O’Roark pointed out.
“We take classical into a different form,” O’Roark said. “Lots of people do commissions. We have to change the game.”
The duo plays and sings a variety of tunes from modern and classical music to their own pop takes arranged by O’Roark. The pair plays with percussion, performs comical pieces with out of the box techniques, and also creates its own videos which are uploaded to YouTube.
‘We avoid the ‘polite sitting music.’ We make it more exciting,” O’Roark said.
The group accomplishes this in one way by utilizing “synthesized lights that move to the music,” along with comical aspects to their performances, according to McLaughlin.
Theatrics are a big aspect to Ginger & Sprice’s performances. McLaughlin said the pair is “the only group in the world that uses four hands on one harp” on the “Pink Panther,” meaning one player sits on the bench playing the harp while the other dances around the stage adding additional hands and lying on the ground to push the pedals.
‘The ideas are great for these comical sketches,” said Elliott Cobb, one of O’Roark’s harp students. “They’re really funny people.”
Ginger & Spice are filled with ambitions which see them planning on not only designing new shows, but touring in the near future.
You can catch the duo’s next performance on April 16th at 12:20 p.m. at the Beckman Institute Atrium in Urbana.