Is there any more beautifully ethereal instrument than a harp? Jill Atkinson thinks not. You see Jill has a long history with the harp beginning before she was even born and on April 22, 2020 Jill marks 46 years of playing harp with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. In 1974 when Jill was just 21 years old she accepted a job with QSO and has been with them ever since. Yet this is not the beginning of Jill’s story.
Jill‘s story begins with her great grandfather. She says, “ My great grandfather was a Norwegian fiddler and played the violin for many years, until he started getting into religion and then decided that the violin was an instrument of the devil. He moved to New Zealand , as far away from Norway as possible and got married and had four daughters – one was my grandmother. He bought not one, but two harps because he thought they were the instruments of God. I thought that he must have a lot to atone for.”
Atkinson’s grandmother and sisters grew up playing the harp and kept the instruments tucked away until they passed. She continues, “ My grandmother passed away when I was young, and no one in the family wanted the harp. I didn’t know what a harp was but I said I would have it and Dad went over to New Zealand and brought it back for me. “
The Universe certainly had plans for Atkinson and that harp. Atkinson grew up in the small country town of Bathurst, NSW and as luck would have it just as she inherited the harp, a Welsh harp teacher came out to Bathurst and offered to teach her. How bizarre!
“I learnt with her for a few years and then went to boarding school. My Dad would bring her out to me or me to her one afternoon a week , which was one and a half hours each way. Then eventually we moved to Adelaide and I learnt more from the Orchestra there.”
Jill played piano all throughout school too and was originally accepted into a music degree for her piano skills. Again fate was to play a part.
“I was in university for piano, then a really good harp teacher came out from England in my first year, so I swapped back over to harp and never looked back. She revised all my technique and got me to play in the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra with her and then on my own.”
When Atkinson finished her degree, she started freelancing and was asked to play for the Scottish ballet in Perth, for the nutcracker performance – with world famous English Ballerina, Dame Margot Fonteyn as the soloist.
In 1974 when Jill accepted the job with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, she was the only Harpist in Australia. A highlight of her career was being asked by famous American Soprano Merlyn Horn, to play a solo harp piece during her concert.
Atkinson’s skills have been passed into her daughter as well, her daughter is a music graduate who teaches piano, flute and harp. She currently writes music for American harpists.
As I write this last sentence my son walks in and I tell him about the great story I am writing.
He says, “Yes, harps are really expensive, one of my friends in Texas plays harp. It is so big it takes up almost all of her room.”
Who knew there were so many harpists now in the world spreading joy and beautiful music?
Jill Atkinson is a harpist and talented musician who has notched up an incredible 46 year career with our mighty Queensland Symphony Orchestra and for making our world a more beautiful place with her inspiring music #SheInspires.
Freelance writer, wife and mother of three sons, occasional supply teacher and aspiring romance author, Michelle Beesley can be most often found in a coffee shop chatting with friends or beside a rugby field cheering on her favourite teams.
Michelle is a prolific—albeit reluctant—traveller, keen walker, bookworm and yoga enthusiast who loves anything pink or sparkly (including champagne!).