Greater Victoria harpist Julia Cunningham has released her seventh album, Songs From the Harp, in November. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)

Victoria harpist releases ‘old school’ jazz album, makes singing debut

Musician ‘blown away’ by reactions to her seventh album Songs From the Harp

After 20 years of playing the harp and creating original albums, harpist Julia Cunningham decided it was time to realize her dream of creating a jazz-harp cover album. She also decided it was time to sing.

After months of planning, arranging music and recording, the Greater Victoria harpist released her seventh album Songs From the Harp in November.

Cunningham’s family and friends were surprised to hear her voice on all 14 tracks – covers of her favourite songs. She’d been encouraged to try singing in the past, but was shy about taking the mic until now.

The album was created with local producer Joby Baker. Cunningham said he challenged her to take her music to new places and brought in “amazing” musicians to back her up. The result was what Cunningham calls an “old school swing” album – unique from her previous work which focused mostly on relaxation and healing sounds.

READ ALSO: Get the funky seasonal spirit with The Funk Hunters

Cunningham, often referred to as The Soul Harpist, lights up when she talks about sharing her newest music with listeners. She’s been “blown away” by the reactions from folks of all ages.

Cunningham was born in Saskatoon, Sask. and her passion for music began at a young age. She wanted to be a famous pianist when she grew up – that is until a harpist playing with the Saskatoon Symphony stopped by the hotel where Cunningham’s mother worked.

Regina Timmins wanted to make so extra money while in town and offered to teach local youngsters to play the harp. Cunningham’s mother knew she’d be interested. After just one lesson, she was hooked. Her piano skills lent themselves to the harp and her fingers danced across the strings. Timmins told her early on that with her skill, she could be a professional harpist.

Cunningham said the trajectory of her life shifted after that first lesson and everything fell into place.

After finishing high school, she came to the Island to attend the University of Victoria. Upon getting her degree in harp, she went to France to learn from expert harpists before finding her way to Yale University to complete a master’s degree.

READ ALSO: $1,500 bursary created in memory of late Duncan musician returns for second year

Cunningham feels she’s been on a “magic carpet” ride for her whole career. Because she’s always open to new opportunities and travel, she has found herself playing at Carnegie Hall, opening for the Rolling Stones with Solomon “King of Rock and Soul” Burke, meeting Brian Adams after playing at the Vatican and even doing a concert at Oprah’s home.

“I have lived a life beyond my wildest dreams,” she said with a smile.

While she loves playing for big crowds and meeting exciting people, some of the performances that stand out to her are the intimate ones. One time, she played for a man in intensive care at a hospital in Los Angeles. His wife was happy to see him perk up. Cunningham then played at his funeral about a week later.

“If I can touch someone, that’s everything.”

With her seventh album released, Cunningham said she’s taking a breather before setting her sights on a live tour and her next album – for which she already has a running list of songs to cover.


@devonscarlett
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

devon.bidal@saanichnews.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Julie Cunningham’s hands dance expertly across the strings of her harp. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)

Just Posted

Helping others, especially those struggling with mental health issues, keeps MOD Pizza owner Jim Hayden cooking. (RIck Stiebel/News Staff)
A 1900s writing box found in Greater Victoria contained ink, photos and a letter addressed to Clara McCaubry dated October 14, 1898. (Photo courtesy Suzanne Hervieux)
Mysterious 1900s writing box finds a home among Saanich Archives

Wooden chest owned by early Saanich resident Clara Isabelle McCaubry

(Black Press Media file photo)
Spooky online class cooks up funds for Greater Victoria Imagination Library

United Way Greater Victoria offers how-to for witch cookies, tasty coffin as fundraiser

Murray Rankin has announced he will seek the nomination for the Oak Bay Gordon Head riding in the 2021 provincial election (which could happen in the fall of 2020). The former Minister of Parliament for the Victoria riding from 2012 to 2019.
(MurrayRankin.com)
New Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Murray Rankin says he will use his federal connections

Rankin said being part of NDP majority government gives him a strong voice

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan celebrates projected majority NDP government, but no deadline for $1,000 deposit

Premier-elect says majority government will allow him to tackle issues across all of B.C.

FILE – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Premier John Horgan during a press conference at the BC Transit corporate office following an announcement about new investments to improve transit for citizens in the province while in Victoria on Thursday, July 18, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Trudeau congratulates Horgan on NDP’s election victory in British Columbia

Final count won’t be available for three weeks due to the record number of 525,000 ballots cast by mail

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

NDP Leader John Horgan elbow bumps NDP candidate Coquitlam-Burke Mountain candidate Fin Donnelly following a seniors round table in Coquitlam, B.C., Tuesday, October 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan, NDP head for majority in B.C. election results

Record number of mail-in ballots may shift results

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Most Read