Sheila Sterling


  • Adjunct Faculty, harp


Recently retired after a thirty-nine year tenure as principal harpist with the San Diego Symphony, Sheila Sterling is currently devoting herself full time to teaching. Along with an ongoing mission to make the study of the harp a positive and joyous experience, her teaching philosophy is dedicated to training and collaborating with harpists of all ages and levels, to develop technical skills and musicianship while encouraging them to experiment with their own musical sensibilities. In this pursuit, she has been acclaimed by all of her students as an inspiring and intuitive teacher.

Because teaching has been a significant component of Sheila’s musical career, she  participated in Outreach and Meet-A-Musician programs with great success during her tenure with the symphony. She also served on the faculty of the Professional Studies Department at SDSU. Currently she maintains a private home harp studio, and also serves as an adjunct harp professor on the music faculty of Point Loma Nazarene University.

Throughout her career, Sheila’s performances have received extensive praise, being called “luxuriant, expressive and graceful, with a rich dark sound and a flawless technique.” After a performance of Ravel’s “Introduction and Allegro” the reviewer wrote: “Harpist Sheila Sterling…did much to reveal the Ravelian virtues of luminosity, transparency, mystery and ardor.” In addition to solo performances with the San Diego Symphony and the La Jolla Chamber Orchestra, she has premiered new works of composers Esa Pekka Salonen, Tan Dun, and Kaija Saariaho at SummerFest La Jolla. 

 Sheila has performed scores of solos and chamber music concerts at venues including St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Immaculata, the San Diego Museum of Art, the Westgate Hotel,  the Hotel Del Coronado, the San Diego Women’s Club, the Darlington House, and Copley’s Foxhill Estate, to name just a few. Her orchestral experience is also extensive and varied. Besides having been principal harpist with the San Diego Symphony, she was also principal for the San Diego Opera, the California Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet, the La Jolla Chamber Orchestra, the San Diego Chamber Orchestra, the Idyllwild Arts Festival Orchestra, Starlight’s Musical Theater, and the orchestra of SummerFest. 

Despite a busy professional life both teaching and performing weekly concerts with the symphony, Sheila served for two years as president of the San Diego Chapter of the American Harp Society. During that time Sheila, along with several symphony colleagues, performed chamber music for the annual AHS convention, which took place at the University of San Diego. The ethereal impressionist music was received with great enthusiasm and acclaim. Worthy of note, Sheila was also privileged to perform a new work by composer Conrad Susa honoring the presence of Queen Elizabeth II, who unveiled a bronze sculpture of Shakespeare at the dedication ceremony for the re-opening of the Old Globe Theatre. 

Sheila’s formal musical training started with a four-year preparatory scholarship at the Juilliard School, which was presided over by Marcel Grandjany.  Private studies continued with New York Philharmonic principal harpist, Myor Rosen, renowned soloist and recording artist Susann MacDonald, and first chair harpist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Stanley Chaloupka. To this day Sheila, moved by a lifetime love of music, carries forward through her teaching, the highly valued methods and philosophies of these esteemed masters.