COD's Vanessa Sheldon
by Brane Jevric
92260 Magazine September/October 2007
Some people, especially here in the golfing mecca
of Palm Desert, collect sets of golf clubs in hopes of
playing a better game. Dr. Vanessa Sheldon, 22,
College of the Desert's youngest professor, collects
harps (she has five) and plays superbly on what is considered
one of the most difficult musical instruments.
Of course, no golfer plays like Tiger Woods, but
Sheldon is in some ways similar to the master of golf.
They both started playing at age 2, and they are both
prodiged in their respective fields.
"My mom said that I crawled up to her harp at our
home, and played with the strings for the first time
when I was just 2," recalls Sheldon.
From such an early age, the harp has been an inseparable
part of Sheldon's life and her meteoric career,
both in school and music. It took her only 15 years to
finish high school, graduate from college, earn her
master's degree and secure a doctorate of musical arts.
"I especially cherish my college graduation in 2001,
at the age of 16," admits Sheldon. "Not only was I the
youngest Cal State Los Angeles graduate at the time,
but the occasion was also so special because of the
fact that my mom, Julie Evans, graduated alongside
me as a returning student with a major in music."
At the "ripe" age of 19, after earning her doctorate,
Sheldon became a professor at COD. "Actually, I
started giving private harp lessons at the age of 12,
so I was not a stranger to teaching," she intones.
"Although I was officially hired by the COD at 19,
I started teaching at 20, in August of 2005. I am
currently teaching American Music and Introduction to Art and Music."
This fall, she will still be the youngest professor at
COD, perhaps one of the youngest in the nation, nevertheless
she will be younger than many of her students.
"When I started teaching at COD it was at a night
class, so practically everyone was older than me. And,
everyone wanted to find out how old I am," she says.
This young and radiant woman is definitely different
than many of her peers. By her own admission she does
not even own a pair of jeans. For her performances, she
dresses in elegant long gowns, which complement her
custom-made white harp. And, there is a story about
that amazing instrument that she likes to tell.
"My white harp was made by Salvi in Italy, and it took
seven years to finish it," exclaims Sheldon. "Because it
took such a long period of time to make it, there probably
would never be a white harp made again."
Sheldon would not admit how much her precious
white harp- which has some 24-carat gold on it,
along with painted roses- is worth. She just mentioned
that there are harps out there on the market
"ranging from $200 to $200,000," and, mind you,
she has more than one harp in her collection.
"My five harps live at home," she adds jovially. "The
pedal harps need to be regulated every so often; they have
(more than) 2,000 moving parts that can sometimes require
fixing. The lever harps have been described as 'worry-free,'
but they do get 'jealous' if I don't play them enough."
In one of the famed Disney-animated classics, a cute siren
is playing harp. Certainly, there is an exotic aura about that
instrument because of its arched ivory shape and the 47
strings that produce such a magical sound. But, not everything
in Sheldon's life was so easy. The musician has ben
estranged from her father since she was an infant, and there
is no communication either way.
Nowadays, she lives here in the desert with her mother
and grandmother, and, although Sheldon has traveled and
performed in China, Spain and South Korea, she adores
Palm Desert above all."I remember celebrating my elementary
school graduation here, and the Gardens at El Paseo
were not here when I was a kid," she says. Of course, she
swiftly admits, she likes shopping there now.
"Actually," she continues, "the Palm Desert area is great
for a professional harpist because of the events, the parties,
the functions, the fundraisers, and the whole society here is
just perfect for me."
And there is a CD with her own music in the making
with a possible title, "The Desert Nocturne." "Now, that I
mentioned it," she explains with her characteristic wit,"I
'just' need to compose it for harp."
Upcoming harp performances
Dr. Vanessa Sheldon will be performing on Nov. 1 starting at 5 p.m.
at the Edenhurst Gallery on El Paseo.
She will be performing for the opening reception of the
"Early Desert Painters"exhibit, in conjunction with the Art Walk.
"I'll be playing Impressionist music to correspond with the art," Sheldon says.
Also, there is a performance of Nov. 3 from 10 a.m.to 2 p.m. at the Gardens
on El Paseo. "It's a spa day put on by Origins, and I'll be playing my Celtic
harp in the lawn area in front of Saks," explains Sheldon.
She will be performing, as well, at the Palm Springs Library on Dec. 7 at 6 p.m. The
program will include her transcriptions of Scott Joplin's "A Breeze from Alabama," and
Liszt's"Sonetto 104 del Petrarca." The performance is free and open to the public,
and before the concert there will be wine tasting and hors d'oeuvres.
"This program will be one of my most eclectic yet, and will
include classical, jazz, and pop as well," Sheldon says.