“It was love at first sight, I really gravitated towards it,” Natalie Lurie said of her first harp, which she met when she was 7. It was a small lever harp in the window of a stringed-instrument store in Ohio, where Natalie had accompanied her violin-playing sister.
“Just by chance, they had this one small lever harp, because usually it was just violins and violas or cellos, and I figured out how to play because it’s a lot like the piano. I remember feeling like, I’m not leaving until we take this home. I played for an hour. My mom said, We have to go, the guy’s closing the store. We rented it for the weekend.”
Almost 20 years later, Ms. Lurie is headed to London’s Royal Academy of Music for a master’s in harp performance. She’s also working on a new album. Her first, “No Mercy in the Night,” came out last year to positive reviews. “The orchestration on the album is remarkably luscious,” the Huffington Post wrote. According to Songwriting Magazine, “There’s a real grace and effortlessness to Lurie’s songwriting; nothing is forced about ‘No Mercy in the Night,’ and it will catch your ear with complete ease.”
“The whole concept started with my fascination with the night,” Ms. Lurie said. “For me, the night had two sides to it. Nighttime was when I felt most creative, most inspired. That’s when I would practice and compose. At the same time, the night always felt vulnerable and scary, because it’s when I felt most impulsive. The night could be both beautiful and dangerous.”
Ms. Lurie was going through a good deal of emotional turmoil while she was composing her debut, including an unhealthy relationship which her family and friends had advised against. “Three of the four tracks on the album were inspired by those events,” she said.
She compared the process of taking the harp pro to being an entrepreneur. “At the beginning, you really have to be willing to do everything on your own. You have to be the one behind it: This is my project that I’ve been working on for two years. It’s not like a nine-to-five. You have to always be trying to promote your album, to do shows. It’s been great to dedicate my time to something I’ve created that I’m really passionate about.”
Ms. Lurie derives much of her creativity from the Vineyard, where she lives in West Tisbury. “This one time in January, there was this big nor’easter, five or six feet of snow. I couldn’t really get out, so I was just there in this wooden cabin with my harp, composing. It’s the place where I feel most creative and most productive artistically.”
It’s also where she feels most at home. “We moved so much as children, to Israel and Indiana and New York and Nashville. The Vineyard has felt like the one consistent place.”
Instead of a senior year at high school, Ms. Lurie studied at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. She returned to the U.S. to complete a bachelor’s of music at Indiana University under the renowned harpist Susann McDonald. Her summer break took her as far as the Paris Conservatory and Berlin Philharmonic, and in her final year of college, she won a major harp competition.
Ms. Lurie’s sound is defined by her longstanding interest in expanding the harp beyond its traditional classical genre. She began by arranging pop music on the harp, receiving more than 330,000 views on YouTube for a cover of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” In 2012, her collaboration on Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” with the percussionist Evan Chapman caught the original artist’s attention, so he invited her to meet him at a show in Chicago.
Becoming a professional musician with the harp, she says, “is a double-edged sword.” Show schedulers, producers, and even other musicians are wary of the unfamiliar instrument, with its dozens of strings, sleek neck, and seven pedals. “At the beginning, they don’t know what’s going to come out of it,” Ms. Lurie said. Then again, “it really helps me break through the sea of singer-songwriters, getting out there in the music scene.”
The harp is a hefty instrument that can make one wish they’d chosen something more transportable, like a piccolo. Ms. Lurie’s devotion was evident when I asked if she’d had any size-related mishaps. “One time I was playing a wedding in Israel,” she said. “I was 16, and the car broke down, two miles away. I said, I can’t be late to this wedding. So I wheeled the harp two miles.”