La Jolla resident Chiara Capobianco is a world-class musician and she knows it. Being Italian, she exudes a fair share of bravado, which can be mistaken for cockiness if it weren’t for her effervescent personality.
In true Italian fashion, she takes in everything with fun and laughter, and her zest for life is contagious. The harp is her weapon of choice in her quest to enchant unsuspecting patrons wherever she plays, but she is also classically trained on the piano and the flute. This musical education has served as the foundation and catalyst of her life. And she is one of the most prolific harpists in San Diego.
Capobianco was born and studied music in Milan, Italy. Her status has been earned by performing all over the world in five-star resorts and cruise liners such as the Cunard Line QE2.
She refers to herself as “Chiara Capobianco: everyone’s favorite harpist,” with a laugh and a toss of her hair.
“I’ve lived all over the world with music—with the harp—thanks to the harp, actually, and I’ve come from Italy to America via Thailand,” Capobianco says.
“I was living in Thailand playing in a five-star resort and I met an Irishman and we soon began dating. Of course, he was impressed when he saw me because—playing the harp—an Italian girl who’s playing the Irish instrument,” Capobianco adds with tongue firmly planted in cheek. “Later he was offered a job in the United States and he asked me to come with him, so I did.”
As is common with harpists, she plays the classical and Irish versions of the instrument. The Irish version is smaller and has typically around 30 strings, while the classical version is much larger and features 47 strings. The classical harp was developed from the Irish version to accommodate the symphonic and orchestral pieces that the classic composers produced.
They ended up in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she performed for the Irish Chamber of Commerce. Eventually they split up and she moved to San Diego after being coaxed by a friend of hers that she knew from her time on the cruise ships.
But before that, she spent six years performing on the cruise ships and two years living in India. “I lived in India for two years playing for the big Indian weddings,” the harpist says. “That was through an agency, I was paid to be there so they could showcase what they had to offer—the different artists in their catalog. So they had me, had this European harp player, performing the Bollywood Indian love songs on the harp, and that was very appealing so I did a lot of weddings through them.”
Capobianco’s relationship with the harp started at an early age, but it was not her first choice.
“I started the harp when I was 9 1/2, and what made me gravitate toward the harp was the flute.”
Her older sister played the flute, and she was inspired by everything she was doing.
Capobianco shadowed her sister in ballet classes, too, which pleased her parents because they were occupied in something worthwhile.
“I learned to read music quite fast and the music teacher—the maestro—suggested to my parents to enroll me in a proper music school—the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory of Music of Milan—in the city, not like the community neighborhood music, so it was like a step up in the game. My parents were like, ‘Sure! OK!’ and they embraced the suggestion.”
Because she already learned to play the flute, she applied as a flutist. But the school encouraged the students to choose additional instruments, so she also chose the piano. Eventually, after some prodding from one of the administrators, she chose the harp as well. “You can choose three instruments to apply for because they limit the amount of students who are accepted to keep the student-to-teacher-ratio down,” Capobianco notes.
“And also for everybody to have enough learning time to keep that standard level of musicianship for which the school is famous for. So, of course, I applied for the flute. I also chose the piano, and the school strongly recommend that I include a third instrument because it’s all about getting into the school. Once you’re in, after the first year, you can switch instruments. So we included the third instrument and then I said, “Oh I love the harp!’ So, the rest is history.”
Now, the harpist calls San Diego her home, where she performs at many events including the La Jolla Wine & Art Festival and the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day Parade & Festival in Balboa Park. She also teaches harp and piano at locations such as La Jolla Music, and Villa Musica in Sorrento Valley. This keeps her busy and makes her quite the happy harpist.
“I play and I teach. I’m a gigging harpist. I play for weddings, for high-end events, parties, you name it. The harp is beautiful because it fits. It fits in any circumstance. I play funerals, memorial services, and I usually play solo. And I also play Sunday brunch here in La Jolla at Piazza 1909, which is on Fay Avenue. It’s run by an Italian couple from Milan, and I perform from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. every Sunday afternoon. It’s brunch hour with relaxing harp music.”
Capobianco is grateful for the journey her harps have taken her on, and relishes the opportunity to have performed around the world. She certainly is grateful to her family for encouraging her to learn the music that has made her journey possible. “Thanks to my sister, and thanks to my parent’s open mind, and thanks to the random choice of harp, I am where I am today. I guess it was destiny.”
St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Irish Festival, Balboa Park, 2500 Sixth Avenue, stpatsparade.org, 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 14 (Chiara Capobianco performs on the North Stage at 2:30 p.m.), free admission.