Recently retired after a 39-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 her students as an inspiring and intuitive teacher.
Because teaching has been a significant component of Sterling'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.
In addition to solo performances with the San Diego Symphony and La Jolla Chamber Orchestra, she has premiered new works of composers Esa Pekka Salonen, Tan Dun, and Kaija Saariaho at SummerFest La Jolla.
Sterling 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. Worthy of note, she was 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.
Sterling'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 Myor Rosen, New York Philharmonic principal harpist; Susann MacDonald, renowned soloist and recording artist; and Stanley Chaloupka, first chair harpist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. To this day, moved by a lifetime love of music, Sterling carries forward through her teaching the highly valued methods and philosophies of these esteemed masters.
Experience in Field
- Principal Harpist, San Diego Symphony
- Principal Harpist, San Diego Opera
- Principal Harpist, California Ballet
- Principal Harpist, Bolshoi Ballet
- Principal Harpist, La Jolla Chamber Orchestra
- Principal Harpist, San Diego Chamber Orchestra
- Principal Harpist, Idyllwild Arts Festival Orchestra
- Principal Harpist, Starlight’s Musical Theatre
- Principal Harpist, Orchestra of SummerFest
Professional and Community Involvement
Sterling served for two years as president of the San Diego Chapter of the American Harp Society. During that time, she, along with several symphony colleagues, performed chamber music for the annual AHS convention, which took place at the University of San Diego.
Awards and Honors
Throughout her career, Sterling’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.”