Ruth Wickersham Papalia Winner Announced

We are pleased to announce the winner of the 2024 Ruth Wickersham Papalia Scholarship Award, Zora Evangeline Dickson.

A student at Boyer College of Music at Temple University, Zora is a Harp Performance major with a passion for using the harp to promote restorative change. We had a chance to catch up with her and learn a bit more about her endeavors as a harpist.

Enjoy our interview with Zora, below!

How/when did you become interested in pursuing the harp as a career?

People often ask why I choose the harp. There wasn’t a specific moment, somehow I have always known I wanted to play the harp. My interest in playing the harp had caught my parents by surprise, as they were not able to remember my ever being exposed to the instrument.  Nevertheless, they wanted to try and support me, but because of how inaccessible it was for them to rent a harp for me, they asked me to learn the violin while I waited. I remember when I was in middle school, my parents took me to a rehearsal and Q&A with the conductor of our local symphony. He asked me what instrument I played, and I confidently told him I was a harpist, despite having no harp. When my parents had finally saved enough money to get me a Dusty Strings 27 string lever harp, everything seemed to fall into place.  My mom could see that the harp was an extension of myself, and to me, nothing felt more natural. My parents were able to buy a pedal harp for me a few years later and from there it was never a question as to whether this would be my career.

How do you envision a future as a professional harpist?

I am really content with any career path that allows me to perform full time. It is amazing to me how much musical diversity exists within a harpist’s career options. Brandee Younger is a great example of a harpist that is incredibly successful in classical, jazz, and popular music. She does everything so exceptionally and I find that to be really inspiring. I try to be intentionally broad in how I plan for my future, because I want to keep my doors open, but I definitely see myself using the harp as a means to engage with positive change. In my career, I hope to continue to engage with social justice issues that are important to me and be able to start or continue the difficult conversations that need to be faced within the music world. There are also so many composers and musicians who are vastly underrepresented and I can use my playing as a platform for their voices. 

How do you think receiving the scholarship will support your goals as a musician? 

This scholarship really helps my family and me financially. My parents have four children in college right now. I am very lucky to have their support, but I work very hard to try and contribute in whatever ways I can including through scholarships. I am especially excited about the opportunity to perform or present at a future AHS event, because it allows me to share music of underrepresented composers and create a space for dialogue with other passionate harpists. 

Can you share a bit about your passion for creating restorative change in the music world? 

I think we often romanticize the idea of being a classical musician, of playing in an orchestra and studying and interpreting the music of Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, etc. What is deeply uncomfortable for many classical musicians is to acknowledge that this has been a harmful, exclusionary space for so many people. More difficult is to acknowledge that it continues to be harmful and exclusionary because of the ideas we hold on to and reinforce. We have missed out on so much beautiful artistry because we have not been open to dismantling and addressing the harmful ideas embedded in the history of classical music. That needs to change, and I want to make sure I am being a force for positive change in this area. I am continually inspired by my teacher, Elizabeth Hainen, and by my incredible studio-mates for their own commitment to make a positive impact in the music community. I feel so lucky to be able to learn in this environment. 

Can you share a bit about your orchestra work? 

I am so fortunate that I have had so many opportunities to play in orchestra. I'm honored to have most recently performed as a substitute harpist with the New World Symphony throughout their 2023-2024 season. I also enjoy playing in my school’s orchestra and with regional orchestras in the tri-state area. Last year, I participated in the Brevard College Orchestral Institute and, this summer, I am looking forward to attending the National Orchestral Institute and Festival. I find playing in orchestra to be an invaluable learning experience and it is deeply fulfilling to be able to collaborate with so many passionate people to create something beautiful. I’ve built great relationships with colleagues and conductors and find many have similar passions for restorative justice in the arts. 

Anything else you'd like to share? 

I am really inspired by how Ruth Wickersham Papalia engaged with her harp community in her work with AHS. It is truly an honor to have received this award in her name. 

Last Modified: Apr 29th, 2024