Veronica Sachse, 12 of Vienna, is heading to the world championships of traditional Irish music in Mullingar, Ireland. It is the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2023, from Aug. 6 to 14.
Veronica started playing the harp at the tender age of seven, under the tutelage of Shyamali Roy Hauth of Reston. To secure her spot in the 2023 competition, Veronica faced the challenge of achieving either a first- or second-place position within her instrument and age category during the regional Fleadh Cheoil in the United States.
The age categories were under 12, 12–15, 15–18, and over 18, based on a student's age on Jan. 1. Veronica, at 12, would be one of the youngest contenders in her age group.
Veronica secured second-place in the 12–15 category at the Mid-Atlantic Fleadh and qualified to compete in the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in Ireland.
"All the songs I learned, I learned by ear. I don't know how to read sheet music," Veronica said. “If you were to tell me to read a song and play it, I wouldn't be able to do that."
In Ireland, harp players are instructed by ear. It is the most common way, and the results are quick and effective. When playing the harp, the strings are drawn in with the fingers and pushed out with the thumbs.
Hauth and Veronica sit side-by-side during lessons. When Hauth plays music on her harp for Veronica to try on hers, Veronica knows which strings to play.
Veronica explained that when she plays the harp, time perspective is relative. "It depends on what I'm playing. If it's a tune that I am working on and I just can't get it down, or a tune that I don't like, it seems to slow down a lot. But if it's a tune that I know really well, it seems to be really fast."
The young harper plays Irish music as it is traditionally performed on a lever harp. The lever harp can be distinguished from a pedal harp by standing around four and a half to five feet tall at the top of each string. A lever can be raised or lowered, allowing for faster playing.
According to Hauth, the melody, usually played with the right hand, is critical in Irish music. "On the harp, we have the left hand, the accompaniment. You play the melody, and you play ornamentation around it to embellish it and make it more interesting. The accompaniment is completely your own creation."
Veronica said that her friends think it is "cool" that she plays the harp, but they don’t bring it up in their conversations. Veronica plays the harp because she has liked Irish music since she was four, when she started Irish dancing. Eight years later, at age 12, she rates playing the harp on a scale of 1 to 10 as "probably 9.5, very high."
"I enjoy playing the harp because it makes me feel happy," Veronica said.