In a row of identical townhouses in a little wooded neighborhood on Siesta Key, there’s no mistaking where Cheryl Losey lives.
Her harp can be heard from the parking lot.
The sound of the strings is so soft and light, airy and calming, you half expect white doves to flutter out the front door when Losey opens it.
“I hope it’s not too loud,” Losey says sheepishly. “I always worry that I’m annoying my neighbors.”
If ever there existed a musical instrument incapable of annoying neighbors, the harp would probably be it.The 27-year-old Losey doesn’t realize she could be making a much more offensive racket.
The Sarasota Orchestra’s principal harpist since 2008, Losey has spent the past few weeks engrossed in the music for “Madama Butterfly.”
The opera, which opened last week at the Sarasota Opera House, marks the orchestra’s fourth collaboration with the Sarasota Opera.
“I’m loving it,” Losey says of Puccini’s famous three-act love story. “It’s gorgeous, and there’s tons of harp.”
By “tons of harp,” she means 70 pages. Most orchestral harp parts are 10 pages or less.
Losey is grateful for the challenge. A perfectionist, she tends to throw herself into a piece until she’s mastered every chord.
She’s this way with most things.
When she’s cleaning, she scours the house from top to bottom. When she’s reading, she wants to finish the book in two days.
Losey is sure the compulsion comes from years of practicing her harp, which she began playing at the age of 5.
“When you devote so much time to one thing,” Losey says, “You end up with a little bit of a one-track mind.”
In September, the harpist — a native of Maine and a graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Music — was awarded an individual artist grant from the John Ringling Towers Fund.
One of three Sarasota County artists to receive the $5,000 award, she applied for the grant this summer, hoping to receive funding to record her first full-length solo album, a project she’s thought about for years.
“It always seemed so daunting,” Losey says of recording a CD. “I was worried I didn’t have the skills to do it, but as more and more people started asking me, I realized now is the time.”
She devoted the off-season in Sarasota to researching and rehearsing the repertoire. As she began collecting music for the album, she started to notice an over-arching theme.
Many of the pieces — the theme from Bellini’s “Norma,” “Une Chatelaine en sa Tour,” (A Princess in Her Tower) and “Girl With the Flaxen Hair” — were all based on old European folktales or poems.
Without realizing it, she had developed a kind of storybook theme. To add further depth to her grant proposal, she added an educational element to the project by offering to perform the pieces at area schools after students had read the literature.
“It’s a way to show how music can represent something larger,” says Losey, who has yet to title the album.
She recorded the album at The Cleveland Museum of Art with a well-known classical music producer. It took three days to lay down the tracks.
“We were in the auditorium, which has great acoustics,” Losey says. “We’d work at night when the museum was closed. They’d turn off all the air so it was perfectly still. The first edit should arrive any day now. I’m watching the mail.”
The harpist’s giddiness is palpable. She’s been so absorbed in rehearsals for “Madama Butterfly” that she hasn’t had time to celebrate her first grant win.
Last week she missed the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County’s Annual Awards Celebration, at which she was honored for receiving the award.
She doesn’t mind dodging the attention.
Even though the spotlight loves her, Losey doesn’t love the spotlight.
In 2007, she was one of a handful of harpists whose participation in the prestigious USA International Harp Competition was filmed for the documentary “Harp Dreams.”
It was directed by Emmy Award-winner Susanne Schwibs and narrated by actress Blythe Danner. After spending three years in post-production, the film aired in June 2010 on PBS.
Losey was staying at a hotel in Kansas, en route to the Aspen Music Festival, when it came on TV.
She curled up on the hotel bed, trepidation rising in her throat. The film opened with her shopping for the perfect competition dress at a store in Cleveland.
Halfway through the documentary, however, Losey was eliminated from the competition.
“I got so sick to my stomach watching it,” Losey says. “It was like I was experiencing it all over again. I was just as nervous as when I was there. I ordered in pizza, and I couldn’t eat any of it.”
VIDEO: Cheryl Losey plays "Watching the Wheat," a Welsh folk song.