To describe Caroline Roberts as “musically inclined” is an understatement. Majoring in piano and minoring in harp at the University of Evansville, she sings and plays organ, keyboard, harpsichord, and a bit of guitar. She also gives instrument lessons at her Newburgh, Indiana, studio, Signature Keys Studio, and performs at weddings, luncheons, private parties, and funerals.
She started with piano at age nine and sang in high school and college choirs. Playing the harp joined her repertoire when she was 17.
“I was a late bloomer,” says Roberts, 27, who graduated from Castle High School in 2014 and anticipates earning a bachelor’s degree in music this year. “I never expected to advance so much because I started so late.”
Her passion for the harp comes from her love for Celtic and Irish music. She studied under instructor Mary Dicken while in high school and went on to play piano and harp in UE’s orchestra.
“The UE orchestra opened up an experience I’d never had before. I’d just dipped a toe in the pond, and suddenly I was all in,” Roberts says.
Listeners began asking if she would teach their children harp and piano. During her sophomore year, she began taking harp lessons from Erzsébet Rinne, an adjunct harp instructor at UE.
Roberts owns two harps, both secondhand: a pedestal harp made of spruce and hard maple dating back to the 1930s or ‘40s, and a smaller, 20-year-old maple lever harp that her students practice on. The strings are fashioned from nylon, steel, and sheep gut. The larger version is her favorite because it has a better sound.
“Wood sounds better as it gets older,” she says.
Many of Roberts’ students find touching the strings hurts their fingers when first playing, but seasoned players acclimate. Still, while in the UE orchestra, Roberts found her hands hurt from the sheer amount of playing. She also experienced double vision from intensely staring at the strings for so long. Now, she finds that her hips, neck, and shoulders are sore from the positioning of the harp as it leans against her shoulder while she plays, especially for long hours.
“The harp is an expensive and difficult instrument,” Roberts says.
Still, what draws her to the harp is emotional connectivity.
“Music is for everyone, but not everyone is drawn to it in the same ways,” she says. “I leaned into the ability to tap into emotions and express emotion while I was playing.”