Meet Melissa Harris: Mentally engaged on stage

By Liza Scales

Senior music performance major Melissa Harris is passionate and hard working when it comes to horn playing, and her efforts paid off when she became the brass finalist in this year’s KSU Concerto Competition. Melissa performed “Morceau de Concert for Horn” by Saint-Saëns. “Playing in the formal concert in the Bailey Center as a finalist was incredible!” she says. “It was tremendously exciting and satisfying, but at the same time, exhausting. You have to be so mentally engaged on stage.”

Dedication to her instrument seems to come naturally for Melissa. Just last May, she auditioned and was selected to perform at Carnegie Hall in the National Collegiate Honor Band with two other KSU music students. “You know,” she says, “Carnegie doesn’t look like much from the outside, and it doesn’t look like much back stage. But, when you are onstage, it takes your breath away! I was speechless when I walked onto the stage for rehearsals. All I could think about was the history of the hall—who played here before me and who sat in the same spot.” A few months later, Melissa played with the Cobb Symphony Orchestra for their summer Pops concerts, which she hopes to do again this summer.

Melissa readily admits a personal challenge in performing for an audience-stage fright. She uses her performance experiences to combat the nervousness she feels on the stage. “I’m working on it by playing more recitals than the one that is required for the semester. I’m getting better, too, because I play in front of my peers—the toughest audience there is!”

Melissa began her music education at Gainesville State College, but she wanted a more solid music experience. She decided to come to Kennesaw State University to take advantage of the strong ties that the School of Music has with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. She recommends KSU to students for the same reason and explains, “We are so lucky to have access to so much culture in Atlanta.”

She also speaks highly of the close-knit community of students and professors in the School of Music. “I have some great friends and we really enjoy being together. The professors are totally respectful of the students as people, and their criticisms are professional and constructive.”

Melissa especially looks to Tom Witte, esteemed musician with the ASO and artist-in-residence in horn at KSU, for support and knowledge. “He gives me insight into the professional music world and how it operates. His lessons are intense and fun at the same time, and I can go to him for any concern without being intimidated.”

Michael Alexander, director of the KSU Orchestra and the Cobb Symphony, deems Melissa successful thus far in her music career. “Melissa has made tremendous growth in her time at KSU—not just as a horn player, but as a total musician and professional. She is a leader in the School of Music, and I am proud of the way she has improved since she has been here. I think she has a very bright future.”

Melissa devotes all of her thoughts to music and to playing French horn and admires late romantic, early 20th century composers Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss. “Not only is music all consuming, but when I’m not at school or playing, I am thinking about it or listening to it online.”

She will graduate in December and is planning a spring audition for graduate studies in California. She is considering UCLA and UC San Diego where the professors are the “ones you hear in almost all the Hollywood films. I’ve already met with a horn player who is on a first-name basis with John Williams and who has played in films for over 30 years!”

Melissa aspires to play professionally, teach privately and freelance. She also hopes to someday travel throughout Europe to visit the major opera houses and music venues.

 

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