Catherine and Elizabeth Rajhans, also known as Katya and Liza, are harpists from Kyiv, Ukraine, who are students at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and Trinity College London Scholarships recipients.
We spoke to the twins about their experiences learning to play the harp and their time at Trinity Laban so far.
Katya told us how they first became interested in playing the harp at five years old.
“We went to the opera theatre with our family and we saw a harp in the orchestra. We really liked how it looked and sounded, so we thought it might be interesting to learn it.”
Not long after, they started taking harp lessons at Kyiv Music School, which luckily had a harp they could learn and practice on. However, Liza explained that they did have to overcome a few obstacles with the instrument in those early days.
“We didn't know that children in the UK usually start playing harp with a smaller instrument. When we started playing, the harp was full size, so we had to adapt by standing up when we were playing.”
After five years of study, Katya and Liza entered the specialized music school named after Chopin in Moscow at the age of 11, where they studied for the next five years.
Over that time, the twins took part in several international competitions, where they became laureates. At the age of 16, they returned to Kyiv, where they had their first experiences with Trinity Laban, studying A-level Music online with Junior Trinity.
Elizabeth and Catherine wanted to go on to study at Laban's Senior department under Gabriella Dall'Olio, who they admired as a harpist, but due to tragic events outside of their control, this seemed less and less possible.
“2021 and 2022 were very tough for us. We lost our father and war began in Ukraine. Our plans on continuing our studies seemed impossible.”
The twins came to the UK as refugees, and were able to apply for student loans, which covered their education at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire and also student accommodation.
They also both received a prestigious scholarship for music students supported by Trinity College London, which they use for their living expenses, allowing them to focus fully on their studies. Liza talked about the difference this made to their first year at Laban.
“The scholarship helped us a lot - we didn’t have to look for part time jobs and are able to fully focus on the new style of teaching and learning as well.”
“It has helped us invest more of our time and energy into exploring different styles, and the different possibilities that we both have as musicians.”
The twins have also been taking advantage of opportunities to perform in the UK, including a fascinating collaboration between ExploreTheArch Theatre Company (ETATC) in Hastings and the SERIA project in Kyiv, Ukraine amongst others, which Elizabeth particularly enjoyed.
“I really like performing in Hastings and in the chapels near Trinity Laban. I like concerts where a lot of instruments can play, so I can listen to other people as well.”
Now nearing the end of their first year at the conservatoire, Katya told us about some of the developments she has noticed in her playing already.
“At Trinity Laban, there is more of a focus on how you feel when you play - I didn't really think about it in such detail before.”
“I think it's about finding harmony between your body and what you're doing, and in my opinion, it changed a lot the quality of the sound that I produce.”
The sisters are looking forward to the next year of their studies and are already making plans, including an opportunity to play Elektra opera by R. Strauss as part of an orchestra.
"We thought maybe we could try for the orchestra because we don't have much experience playing with other instruments and watching the conductor.”
“We usually play together, but we really do know each other, so I think building musical connections with other people who we don't know is also very important.”
“Maybe we will take a part in a competition - we didn't do it this year because we had a new teacher and a new approach to music, so we wanted to immerse ourselves.”
“The scholarship helped us a lot - we didn’t have to look for part time jobs and are able to fully focus on the education and the new style of teaching and learning as well.””