By Karen Billing
Emma Dyson, a 17-year-old harpist from Torrey Pines High School recently became the first music student to receive the University of Southern California’s Mork Family Scholarship, a four-year, full-tuition scholarship with a $5,000 yearly stipend. Less than 20 Mork scholarships are offered per year and after Emma was accepted to the school she was selected to apply for the scholarship.
Mork finalists are required to go through an interview process before they are awarded the scholarship and Emma underwent hers early this year.
“I was nervous at first but it was pretty conversational and they let me lead the interview,” Emma said. “When I opened up my computer and saw I had won the scholarship I was shaking a bit because it meant so much to me. I was so excited, I had to immediately call my mom and dad.
“I’m looking forward to the whole music program at USC and getting introduced to music I haven’t heard of and meeting people who are interested in different things.”
Emma said she is especially excited to learn under USC’s harp professor JoAnn Turovksy as part of the USC Honors program.
“Emma’s unique combination of musical talent, strong intellect and hard work has been recognized by the highly competitive University of Southern California,” said Turovsky. “I look forward to working with her and welcome her to my harp class.”
Emma is the harpist for the Mainly Mozart Youth Orchestra and has performed with the Torrey Pines Advanced Orchestra, the New Youth Orchestra, NYO Advanced Chamber Orchestra, Civic Youth Orchestra, Youth Philharmonic Orchestra and in a range of chamber ensembles. Due to the angelic and relaxing sound of harp music, Emma has also been called upon to play gigs at parties and a day spa.
With the Mainly Mozart group she has been a featured soloist many times—her final solo performance will be Saturday, June 14, at Balboa Theater. The performance is at 6 p.m. and admission is free.
Her face breaks into a smile when she mentions the piece she will play, Claude Debussy’s “Danses Sacreé et Profane,” a favorite of hers.
“Emma is such a joy to work with, I feel honored to have worked with her and helped her in any way,” said Hernan Constantino, the conductor of Mainly Mozart Youth Orchestra. “Emma is a highly skilled instrumentalist whose dedication to her instrument has inspired others around her to be better.”
Emma started out playing the piano when she was 6 years old but she always had her eye on the harp.
“I wanted to play the harp since I was 5 years old and I saw it in a picture book. I’d hear it and ask to play it again,” Emma said.
As a 12-year-old middle school student, she started taking lessons on a small harp with not many strings, memorialized on display in a corner of her family’s living room. Once she started playing more classical music, she graduated to the large, 47-string concert grand that she uses to play today.
“At first I don’t think I really realized to play an instrument you’ve got to practice a lot,” said Emma, who now practices a few hours every day.
Emma takes lessons once a week from teacher Elena Mashkovtseva, a graduate of the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory and member of the harp faculty at San Diego State.
“It is a joy to work with Emma, her rapid progress is inspirational,” said Mashkovtseva. “Her love and passion for the harp and music will serve her well in the future.”
This summer leading up to USC, Emma will be attending the Idyllwild Arts Academy. She has attended the workshop for the last three summers, serving as the principal harpist this past summer.
“She has a quiet and effective way of leading,” said Allison Allport, the workshop’s harp teacher. “When appropriate Emma is not afraid to speak up in a way that benefits the music but never alienates the other players. She is intelligent, kind, enthusiastic, proactive and very motivated.”
Playing the harp has allowed Emma to play the classical music that she loves in an orchestra setting, where she has met many musicians from all over San Diego. When not playing the harp, the National Merit finalist enjoys doing yoga, reading and playing Scrabble with her friends.
“USC presents an opportunity to go to a really good music school and take challenging academic classes and be able to balance them both,” Emma said. “I’m really thankful for all of the teachers I’ve had and I’m looking forward to next year.”