Local harpist makes it big in ChicagoFeb 18, 2021 11:13AM ● By Becky Ginos
WOODS CROSS—When LeAnne Bennion was sitting on the grass after a track meet at Woods Cross High School, she never dreamed she’d end up in Chicago playing her harp for celebrities.
“If someone would have come up to me and said ‘you’re going to be a professional musician in Chicago,’ I would have been like ‘what?’” said Bennion, who graduated from Woods Cross High in 2005. “I love this city. I’m a different person. I’ve never learned more about life and humans moving from Utah to Chicago. The culture is so diverse.”
Bennion started playing the harp when she was nine. “My grandmother started playing after she retired,” she said. “She showed up at my house and said, ‘here, you’re playing this.’ She was my first teacher.”
Learning to play the instrument is not easy. “There are pedals that you have to move your feet to for sharps and flats,” said Bennion. “It’s kind of like playing the organ. You’re playing with all of your appendages.”
After high school, Bennion got a Bachelor of Music in Harp Performance from the University of Utah. “I worked for a non profit for two years,” she said. “I was told if I really wanted to do music I had to go out of Utah.”
While studying with Louise Vickerman, principal harpist of the Utah Symphony, she was told to check out being a harpist in Chicago, that one of the teachers there was taking new students. She auditioned in the spring of 2015 and moved to Chicago in August of the same year.
Bennion received a Master of Music degree at Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts and studied with Marguerite Lynn Williams, principal harpist of The Lyric Opera of Chicago.
“I watched her and listened to her and learned how to teach and become a professional musician,” said Bennion. “I learned how to audition and work with a professional orchestra.”
She started getting gigs too. “I played for hotels, weddings and birthdays,” Bennion said. “I did a ton of networking with other harpists so if they got a call for a gig that they couldn’t do they’d hand it off to me.”
That’s how she found herself playing for Grammy Award winning singer, Jennifer Hudson. “I knew the harpist who played for her and at the last minute she couldn’t do it so she called me,” said Bennion. “It was a small private party with her friends and family. I sat by her Grammy and Oscar and her walk of fame and it was so surreal. She came over to me and extended her hand out and introduced herself. She was very kind and personable.”
Bennion has also played at a reception for Laura Bush and regularly performs for teatime at the downtown-Chicago Palmer House Hotel, the Langham Hotel and The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. She recently appeared in a national commercial and on an episode of the television show Empire.
Now that teenager sitting on a field at Woods Cross High so many years ago has traded in her track uniform for beautiful gowns and mixing with celebrities. “I found a dream and I went for it,” said Bennion. “It’s a fun life – so fun.”