I come from a very musical family. My father is a flamenco and classical guitarist, my mum sings and plays the guitar, and my three sisters and I started with the violin from a young age, before learning instruments of our choice. When I was four years old we visited a man in prison who played the harp. I knew then it would be the instrument I’d play.
My name is Emily Rosner. I am a harpist, producer and teacher. I was born in Adelaide in 1977, and have lived in Heidelberg Heights for ten years. Growing up, my family moved to Kangaroo island, returned to Adelaide and then moved to Saint Arnoud, north of Bendigo. There I felt isolated from the arts until I got a scholarship at University High School.
The prisoner who I saw playing was a Hungarian musician. He played in a trio with his wife and best friend, until he discovered their affair and killed them in a crime of passion. The prison contacted dad because the man wanted his music published and needed a composer’s help. Dad took us along and, being in a low-security area, the man was allowed to perform for us. Hungarian music is quite mournful already, but I think his regret was present in his song. I’ve reflected on that moment, and while I was too young to understand, something in me responded to his music.
I started with the harp at twelve, but living in Saint Arnoud, the only way to study was to drive to Melbourne for lessons every two months and do the theory as distance education. As a child, I went to 13 schools, and whenever we moved I’d write to my friends, trying to stay connected, but eventually we’d lose touch. We’ve lived in this house for 10 years, and have tried to give our daughter that stability that I didn’t have.
When my daughter was born we owned a bar in North Melbourne. I was pregnant when renovations began, and she was two when we opened. It was very successful, but it was exhausting, and as she grew I started wanting a better space for her. That’s why we moved here. Since then this area has seen lots of demolitions and units built, with more cafe’s opening up, but not much renovation of old houses. Tamika is now in high school and plays the cello, but she doesn’t aim to be a musician.
In high school, I was very driven to become a harpist, despite not having parental support after moving to Melbourne. Till then I had felt like a big fish in a small pond, and suddenly I was a small fish in a big pond. The standard was very high and having had an inconsistent development with the harp I always felt I was behind. Moving the harp around was hard too. I needed help from friends’ parents to drive it to school and had to leave it in the hall during classes, which didn’t amuse school staff.
When I finished high school I felt I wasn’t ready for university. My harp was very old, and I wasn’t confident about my skills. Now I realise I could have done it, but I just lacked the self-confidence. Instead I got a job, met someone, and life took me in a different direction. I sold my old harp, wanting to buy something I felt happy to play, but I still couldn’t afford a proper upgrade. Finally, I made my own a little harp at a harp-making workshop with Andy Rigby Harps, and while working in hospitality I began busking and playing at weddings with my lap harp.
I am 42 and have gradually become more recognised, to be booked with high-end groups, and for the most part, being paid what I should be paid. It’s been a long road. Recently I played a recital and afterwards, I was told by people how amazing the performance was. Mum was there and quietly said to me: “It takes forty years to become an overnight success.” And it’s so true. Mum was who inspired my sisters and me to play; she guided us, drove us to lessons, and shared every sacrifice we made.
Most musicians have this level they think they must reach before being worthy, and I’ve discovered that you never really get there, because once you get there you want to go higher. Eventually, you must be happy with where you are, and I’ve learned to be happy while still striving for more.
I’ve just finished a degree in composition and now want to teach young women to compose and work in production; only 05% of this industry are women and I want to be involved in changing that. I would also like to introduce people in remote areas to music they have no access to; I understand what that is like and it’d be my way of giving back.