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Rhinelander teen sets sights on music career as harp performance earns her a scholarship at St. Olaf College

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Katie Thoresen

MaKenzie Kuckkan’s fingers move across dozens of strings as she plays Savior, Like a Shepard Lead Us on her harp.

As she describes it, the music is a more traditional piece for the instrument

At about six feet, the harp stands taller than its player.

The Line and Healy concert grand harp is an impressive instrument, but not quite as impressive as the young woman playing it.

At 17 years old, Kuckkan has played for her church, at a wedding, and in orchestra concerts including the Wisconsin School Music Association State Honors Orchestra Concert last year that aired on PBS Wisconsin.

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“My favorite thing to do is orchestras,” said Kuckkan.

While she’s met others around her age that play the harp, Kuckkan knows it’s not the most common instruments for a high school senior.

“Everyone I talk to about it they think, ‘you play the harp? What? Where? What happened?’,” said Kuckkan.

She fell in love with the harp six years ago after hearing one at her church, Zion Lutheran in Rhinelander.

“There was a lady who played it at one of the services. I was just like, ‘Whoa. That is so cool.’ That was my main introduction,” said Kuckkan.

Her grandmother bought Kuckkan her first harp after that with the hopes it will be an heirloom she’ll pass down to her children.

In WXPR’s White Pine Room, Kuckkan performed a couple of pieces including the one she played during her college auditions.

Kuckkan proved her skills at those auditions. She got accepted into the music program at St. Olaf College in Minnesota and earned a $12,000 scholarship for each year.

Getting to this level was not with it’s struggle and commitment, not just on her part, but her family’s as well. They drove her to lessons and concerts that were sometimes hours away, but always worth it according to her mother Liz.

“She had just such a passion for it when she finally got in the hands of the right teachers, and they knew that she had this gift for it, you couldn’t stop. You had to figure out a way to make it possible so that she could fulfill her dream. It was really about that,” said Liz.

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Kuckkan wants to make playing the harp part of career, though she’s got some realistic expectations on how much money, or lack thereof, is involved in that career choice.

“As I’ve told my mom, I’m going to have like four jobs when I’m grown up,” said Kuckkan with a laugh.

She plans to study the classics along with music so that she can become a librarian and continue to play in orchestras.

It’s a big goal, all to hold onto that feeling she gets every time she sits to play.

“It just sounds so amazing, especially in orchestras and everything. It just allows you this ability to be like, ‘whoa,’” said Kuckkan.

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