College Guitarist Wins the Los Angeles American String Teachers Association Competition

Apr 18, 2024
Moreno Valley College
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Moreno Valley College’s Laurel Harned, a second-year virtuoso guitarist, won first prize at the Los Angeles American String Teachers Association competition in April. The victory was her second after winning the Denver Guitar Competition in October.

Harned, 18, began playing the guitar nine years ago.

“My mom started me on lessons as kind of a school elective, and I loved it immediately,” Harned said. “I'm not sure exactly what drew me to the instrument, but everything about playing was fun to me - from practicing to lessons. That's the main reason that I love the guitar. It is just fun. I enjoy it just as much or even more now than when I was nine.”.

Since graduating from being homeschooled, Harned has set her sights on a degree in guitar performance.

“(My goal is) to perform as much as I can and have fun doing it,” she said. “I love traveling, so seeing the world through music-related travel is a goal of mine. I love sharing music with audiences big and small, and I also love sharing music with other musicians, whether it be through jam sessions or performing in an ensemble. The classical music world is such a cool thing to be a part of, and connecting with others who share my love of music is really a special thing.”

Harned is currently working to complete her associate degree before transferring to a four-year university to continue her studies. She plans to begin applying to music programs this fall while preparing for college auditions.

“I plan to see just how far I can take my music career, but I don't have a solid plan because anything can happen,” she said. “I try to stay open to whatever opportunities come my way and shape my career around that. In a perfect world, I would love to tour as a soloist or in some form of an ensemble, performing in as many of the world's beautiful concert halls as possible.”

Barry McNaughton, associate professor of Music at Moreno Valley College, said he has seen exponential growth with Harned as a professional artist.

“Needless to say, I am thrilled with Laurel’s achievements,” he said. “It is truly a privilege to work with such exceptional musicians within the program.”

Harned said competing in the Los Angeles ASTA competition was a last-minute decision to enter. She had only 48 hours to prepare. “It was a little stressful, but definitely a good experience,” she said. “The competition itself was a super encouraging environment, and I'm glad I got the chance to meet and network with some of my local peers. In many ways, the first-prize title is less valuable than the experience itself, as the people I met and experience I gained have had an effect on my career in so many ways.”

The competition was just her fifth overall. In addition to winning the Denver Guitar Competition she also made the semifinals in the James Stroud National Classical Guitar competition in 2022 and 2023. She credits much of her success to her mentors.

“I have been lucky to study with so many incredible instructors over the past years,” she said. “I could spend hours naming things I have learned from each one. But much credit is due to my very first instructor, Susan Graves, as she cultivated my love for the instrument and gave me a solid foundation to build my playing on.

“Since then, the professors at Moreno Valley College have helped me take my playing to the next level. Barry McNaughton, Taro Wayama and now Sean Samimi each bring their unique experiences and teaching styles to the guitar studio, and they give everything they possibly can to students through their immense love, dedication and passion for teaching and the instrument. They are truly some of the best teachers and people I have had the honor to work with, and learning from them has shaped me so much as a musician and performer.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the things I have learned at Moreno Valley College will stay with me for the rest of my career, and I'm so grateful to them for everything they have done for me and for the studio. Much credit is also due to my current private instructor, Jack Sanders, who in addition to quickly advancing my playing level, has given me a much deeper understanding of technique and the instrument as a whole.”

Harned enrolled at Moreno Valley College at about the time she started to compete and travel for guitar on the national level. Prior to enrolling at the College, she had minimal experience performing solo, having only played in a handful of ensemble situations and had only studied with a single teacher.

“Over the past year, I have gained an unexpected amount of recognition within the national guitar community, and there is no doubt in my mind that without Moreno Valley College, I would not be where I am now,” she said. “However, in addition to incredible support from my professors, many of the students within the guitar program have become lifelong friends and collaborators, and I have learned so much from just being in a supportive environment with other dedicated musicians.”

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