Teen harpist dreams of career in classical music
Investing in family tradition
By Eileen Persike
When MaKenzie Kuckkan sets a goal, it’s as good as done. The 17-year-old Rhinelander High School senior fell in love with the harp six years ago and has already played with prestigious orchestras throughout Wisconsin and is being taught by some of the country’s most renowned harpists.
“She has always been her own best advocate, especially with her harp,” said Liz Sanger-Kuckkan, MaKenzie’s mother. “She has drive, she knows what she wants.”
After listening to a harpist play at church when she was 11 years old, MaKenzie joined forces with her grandmother to make the instrument part of her life. Grandma convinced Sanger-Kuckkan that giving MaKenzie lessons would be investing in a family tradition.
“This is something that could carry her through her whole life,” Sanger-Kuckkan said. “She could play at weddings, at fundraisers. It’s not a skill that will ever leave, and she will be able to play it for her kids and grandkids some day.”
And so it began, with a small pedal harp; a gift from Grandma. Monthly music lessons in Madison, then weekly at the Aber Suzuki Center at UW-Stevens Point led to a summer institute that included a group ensemble class.
“It was really exciting,” MaKenzie said. “I knew like two other harpists – one was my teacher, the other was at the church. So I was like wow, there are a lot of harps here!”
Since then, MaKenzie switched to a different, larger harp borrowed from the Wausau Conservatory to be able to play with an orchestra, which she did as a guest performer with the Wausau West High School orchestra. A full concert grand pedal harp – all six feet and 80 pounds of it – was under the Christmas tree for MaKenzie last year, setting the stage for her next challenge.
She has applied to three colleges, hoping to get into her “dream school,” St. Olaf in Minnesota. Her plan is to double major in music and the classics and then follow up with a masters degree in library media.
“Music is the one thing I really want, but since it is music, I want to have some other form of income, just in case,” MaKenzie said.
“My goal is to be a professional musician and play in a big orchestra. I love listening to classical music – it just invokes this feeling in you and to be on stage and having that surrounding you, it’s just an existential feeling. To do that as a career would be just amazing to me.”
Earlier this year MaKenzie auditioned for and was selected to play with the Wisconsin State Music Association High School Honors Orchestra. The concert was performed at the Overture Center in Madison.
Without having the support of a local orchestra MaKenzie has learned to make her own way in the world of harps, creating opportunities for herself and sharing her love of music with anyone who will listen.
The WSMA concert can be heard and viewed here.