Radical Duet Harp Revolution! The Harp Twins
An Interview by Gabriella Brillante
(originally posted on my WordPress on 9/21/16)
If you’re an anime fan, a Game of Thrones fan, a metal-head, a soundtrack nut, a gamer or all of the above, chances are that this duo’s music has come up in conversation or in a recent YouTube search of “theme song covers”. They are The Harp Twins.
Photos courtesy of presskit.to/harptwins)
Camille and Kennerly Kitt are Chicago natives and twin sisters who are gaining cult status among millions of fans as far as the UK and Paraguay for their harp covers of rock songs from Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear The Reaper”, AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell”, and theme songs from Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and even Super Mario. Several of their YouTube videos have reached over a million views and counting. And their covers have garnered praises from the original artists such as Billy Idol. They’ve even acted in films, independent and big studio, and television.
I recently had the chance to see these ladies in action two weeks ago at Las Cruces Comic Con. Not too soon after that, I was able to ask them some questions about their videos, their spirit animals, and life as YouTube celebrities.
Brillante: First off, thank you both for doing this interview.
Harp Twins: Thanks for inviting us to do this interview!
Brillante: So I’ll start with the nitty gritty. How did you decide to put your arrangements up online and with a specific theme?
Harp Twins: When we first started uploading videos to YouTube, we didn’t expect an audience; we just wanted a place to send potential clients so they could visualize our performance material. We also wanted people who had seen us perform live to have a place to go to see and hear our music again.
Brillante: So did you feel that you would reach a broader audience that way?
Harp Twins: We just wanted to post “samples” of our arrangements for clients to see and we wanted to do it in a creative way. One of the biggest challenges of our journey as professional musicians is that harp isn’t an instrument that people think of as a “rock” instrument. Harp is stereotypically just an instrument used for orchestras, weddings, tea rooms and… well that’s pretty much it! We have had a continual uphill battle getting people to actually listen to our music. The general public is now used to “classical” instruments such as the violin, piano and cello being used in rock music because that started happening decades ago. But harps have been left behind. We frequently have people say that they clicked on one of our videos because they thought it would be humorous, but that they found out that they actually loved it. We think it’s rare for someone to say “Hey, I’m going to look for an Iron Maiden cover on harp today!” Most of our fans never expected to enjoy harp music. YouTube has definitely been a wonderful outlet for us to show the world what we can do with harps. We now have a lot of “real life” performances come as a result of people finding us on YouTube. So many people find us on YouTube who would never have previously been able to hear our music. We’re very grateful for the opportunities that YouTube has provided us.
Brillante: Take me through the creative process of the videos. How long does it take to arrange a song, scout the location, shoot the video and edit it together?
Harp Twins: The amount of time that it takes for us to arrange a song and create a corresponding video varies a lot. If it’s a short theme or a song that is more repetitive, we might be able to finish an arrangement in a few days. Some of our arrangements take a lot longer – especially if it’s a complex rock or metal song. We worked on Dance of Death (Iron Maiden) for a couple of weeks. However, we’re never solely working on arranging; we’re always doing many other things at the same time. So, it’s difficult for us to say exactly how long each arrangement and project takes. Our recording process is very quick. We record all of our music in one-take in our living room. Most of the time, we use the first take! It takes us longer to set up all of our sofa cushions as sound mufflers than it does to record a track. Haha! We try to film when we’re traveling for performances. So, we often have a lot of arrangements on the “back burner” until we are in the right area of the country to film a video for it. Our video creating skills are self-taught. We didn’t take any classes to learn to film, record, video edit, etc., it was just something that we learned out of necessity.
Brillante: For those who are hearing about you for the first time, how did you get involved in doing classical music? And what drew you to the harp?
Harp Twins: The harp has always seemed like a magical instrument to us. We were just inexplicably drawn to the harp. We started playing harp in middle school. It took us a while to convince our mom that we were serious about learning the harp. We showed her that we were serious by earning the money for our first harp through babysitting, walking dogs, and other odd jobs. We were trained classically and received Bachelor of Music degrees in Harp Performance from the Conservatory of Music at Wheaton College. Prior to transferring to the Conservatory, we completed our last two years of high school while simultaneously enrolled in a music studies program at our local college. We were fortunate that our harp teacher (who was also the harp professor at the University Conservatory that we later transferred to) was able to temporarily become faculty at our local college so that we could transfer harp lesson credits. It was definitely a very rigorous program and we were grateful to have an amazing Harp Professor at our University. Our conservatory repertoire was classical music, but we also managed to find time for arranging contemporary music while completing our studies. We really believe that our classical training gave us the “chops” to arrange and perform rock music to the level that we do. Our arrangements are actually quite “classical” in nature with complexity and nuance.
Brillante: I noticed that in some of your videos you switch from the electric harp to the classic standing harp, and sometimes you use both, like your “ Two Girls, One Harp” video, and your cover of “White Wedding”. Does it depend on what song you have arranged?
Harp Twins: Sometimes the harp we play is based purely on harp logistics. For example, some songs have so many chromatic pitches that we need the pedal harps because we can’t play everything and flip that many levers at the same time. Sometimes, it’s just whichever harp we feel is best suited for the piece. And sometimes for music videos it’s only possible to get the electrics to the filming locations that we find. We can play most of our arrangements live on either harp. For our “One” and “White Wedding” videos, we really wanted to think even more outside the box, challenge ourselves even more, and do something that had never been done before. We have fun inventing new ways to play the harp.
Brillante: When you posted your first video, did you have any idea that most of them would reach 1 million views and counting?
Harp Twins: When we first started posting videos, we would have never guessed that we would be where we are today. We thought we would use YouTube as a platform to show clients what we can do with our harps. Now it has become a way for us to reach an audience all over the world! We’re constantly blown away by the amazing love and support we receive from our fans.
Brillante: I watched your “Vikings” video, and was just as surprised as you were when the bear showed up! Have there been similar incidence where unusual things have happened during the video shoot? And what do you do when it does?
Harp Twins: We have had all sorts of unusual and fun things happen while filming videos! We’ve had fans see us filming and come up to say “hi”. We’ve gotten stuck in the middle of a forest in a thunderstorm. We have filmed in 106 degree F weather down to temperatures well below freezing. We’ve filmed everywhere from downtown New Orleans to several miles into a canyon. We have filmed in more abandoned structures and remote locations than we could remember off-hand. When something unexpected happens, we just try to go with the flow. We’re grateful that we’ve always been safe and the result of our hard work has always been a video that we are proud of and our fans enjoy. We have a blast and we’re blessed to be able to do what we love. We like to stay that we boldly go where no harps have gone before!
Brillante: How do you get permission to shoot in certain locations?
Harp Twins: If we film on private property, then we receive permission from the owners. If the owners want credit in the video, then we also include credits. We have had quite a few owners who don’t want us to post the location because they don’t want extra attention or unexpected visitors.
Brillante: How did you get involved in acting? And what was it like being in a movie with Vince Vaughn?
Harp Twins: We’ve always loved acting! When we were kids, we would act in productions of Shakespeare plays and things like that. We’ve done a few acting projects here and there when we can fit them into our harp performance schedule and it’s always a lot of fun. Filming with Vince and the other cast was a great experience. Most recently, Greg Nicotero (Executive Producer and Director for The Walking Dead) asked us to come in for a “walker gag” where he wanted to use both of us for the same walker. That was a blast since we’re such huge fans of the show. Doing the occasional acting project is a fun “break” from harping and we love being creative and artistic in different ways.
Brillante: Would you like to do more acting in the future?
Harp Twins: Yes, we would definitely be open to more acting projects if we feel that the roles are right for us and if the projects fit into our schedule.
Brillante: Billy Idol shared your cover of his song on social media and said “If you live long enough you get to see this version of White Wedding”. How does it feel when artists you cover share and comment on your work?
Harp Twins: We’re always extremely honored when an original artist or composer sees and enjoys our covers! We have “fan girl” moments when an original artist sees and enjoys our cover of their music.
Brillante: You know, George RR Martin lives 4 hours away from Las Cruces.
Harp Twins: We didn’t know that! That is so fun!
Brillante: How do you find songs to arrange for harp? Do you pick from your personal collection? Do you get suggestions from your fans? Or both?
Harp Twins: Some arrangements are songs that were specifically requested for live performances, some are top fan requested songs, and some are songs that we choose. The one requirement is that we have to like the song and it has to “speak” to us.
Brillante: Are there songs you’re currently considering? Or can you say anything right now?
Harp Twins: We’re rather secretive about our upcoming covers, but we can say that we have a metal cover in the works that we’re very excited about. We also have a new soundtrack cover video that we’re working on.
Brillante: Is there an artist you would like to cover in the future? And are there any collaborations you would like to do?
Harp Twins: Our list of songs that we want to cover is growing daily! Haha. We would love to collaborate with any of the artists that we have covered. That would be an amazing honor.
Brillante: Tell me a little bit about your charity work and how people can help.
Harp Twins: We have always been actively involved with charitable organizations and we love “giving back”. Here are our favorite 3:
Little Angels – A loving home of children and young adults with severe medical needs and who require around the clock care. Our cousin, Justin, spent the last few years of his life there and since then, Little Angels has had a special place in our hearts. We have played for and visited with the residents there as well as performed for annual fundraising galas and events benefitting Little Angels. If readers are interested in finding out more or donating, here is a link to their site: http://www.littleangels.org
Rising Stars Buddy Baseball – For many years we volunteered as “buddies” for a program called “Rising Stars Buddy Baseball” that pairs one child/young adult with a child/young adult who has special needs to play baseball for 5 weeks in the summer. We have made some lifelong friendships with the differently-abled athletes we were paired with in buddy baseball and still get together with these friends regularly when we are “home”. If readers are interested in finding our more, here is a link to their site: http://www.wheatonjrs.com/buddy-baseball.html
Compassion International – The program allows sponsors to support a child one-on-one – providing food, clothing, medical care, and the opportunity to go to school. The sponsor and child write to each other through the program, send pictures, and develop a special relationship. When we were 8 years old, we heard about this organization though a favorite musical artist and started to “support” 2 girls our age in Ethiopia (first with the help of our mom, and gradually taking over more of the financial sponsorship as we got a little older) until they graduated from high school. One of the girls is now married with a baby girl of her own and the other is now attending University in her country. We know that we can’t change the world, but we’re so happy to have changed their worlds. Since our first Compassion kids graduated from the program, we have started sponsoring the brother of one of girls (both of their parents died of AIDS during the time we were sponsored her) and we currently sponsor 3 more girls in Ethiopia. If readers are interested in finding our more, sponsoring, or donating, here is a link to their site: http://www.compassion.com
Brillante: Time for some “silly” questions. Favorite colors?
Harp Twins: Gold, blue and black.
Brillante: What are your spirit animals?
Harp Twins: Dragons ;) ;)
Brillante: Favorite foods?
Harp Twins: Pizza, Avocados, and especially chocolate!
Brillante: Favorite books and authors?
Harp Twins: Favorite books: Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Favorite author: Tolkien
Brillante: Favorite drink?
Harp Twins: Diet Mountain Dew
Brillante: Coffee or tea?
Harp Twins: Coffee. But we love tea, too.
Brillante: What do you like to do in your down time?
Harp Twins: Spend time with family and friends, read, write, workout, watch The Walking Dead, explore old cemeteries, spend time outdoors, travel, play and cuddle with our cat, Grayling
Brillante: Favorite movies?
Harp Twins: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Brillante: Chocolate or vanilla?
Harp Twins: Chocolate all the way!
Brillante: Coke or Pepsi?
Harp Twins: Coke Zero
Brillante: Cats or dogs?
Harp Twins: We love both, but we have to say cats since we’re in love with our kitty, Grayling. ;) ;)
Brillante: What advice do you have for people who want to create their own artistic expressions and want to share it with people?
Harp Twins: We would encourage aspiring artists to follow their dreams--even if (and especially if) those dreams/goals are outside the box. We think it is most important to be yourself and no one else. Find your own unique niche that is 100% you. We see so many artists who are just trailing behind someone else and trying to be that person. It’s so much better to be a first-rate YOU rather than a second-rate version of someone else. Don’t give up because things are hard or not going as you planned. We think it’s extremely important to keep the love for your art first and foremost. When we get discouraged we always turn back to why we are doing what we’re doing – we absolutely love the harp and we love the harp, even more, when we’re playing together!
Brillante: Finally, how can people keep up the date with news, concert venues, and new music?
Harp Twins: People can connect with us on our social media sites:
We also have an e-mail newsletter: http:/camilleandkennerly.fanbridge.com
Brillante: One more question. On your Instagram, you mentioned that you got salsa from El Paso. When you were in Las Cruces, did you get to try green chile?
Harp Twins: We didn’t and we’re sad about that! We heard that it is famous in the area. We hope we can try it next time. :) :)
Brillante: Thank you very much for taking the time out of your very busy schedule to speak with me. I thoroughly enjoyed your concerts at Las Cruces Comic Con, and have shared your music with my family. I hope we can keep in contact. Thank you once again!
Harp Twins: Thanks for the sweet comment! We’re happy that you enjoy our music and we hope to see you again at a future concert!
Here’s the “Vikings” video. The bear appears near the end:
Gabriella Brillante is a freelance writer who lives in Las Cruces, New Mexico. To view more of her work, visit www.gabriellabrillante.wordpress.com. For questions, contact her at email@example.com.