Post image for Anabel Gutierrez Orraca

Anabel Gutierrez Orraca

September 30, 2015

This profile, by Bailey Briscoe, first appeared in Inside IU Bloomington on Sept. 30, 2015.

At first, she tried settling for the piano, but every time she attended a concert, she would “fall in love with the harp all over again.” While Orraca was able to study the harp at her conservatory, a harp department did not officially exist. Eventually she realized she would not be satisfied until she was able to enroll in a harp department, so she began looking at universities outside her home country of Cuba.

Orraca’s search led her to IU Bloomington. Little did she know, coming here would allow her to be one of 16 students working under the instruction of Susann McDonald, Distinguished Professor of music in the harp department at the Jacobs School of Music, and her long-time idol.

“Working with Susann McDonald is the best experience a harp student could possibly have,” Orraca says. “You’re working with someone who has had a wonderful and marvelous career as a performer and as a teacher.”

The feeling is mutual, as McDonald is inspired by Orraca’s intense passion for the harp and is thrilled to give her the harp lessons she needs to further develop her already “outstanding musicianship.”

“She really soaks up all that I say,” McDonald says. “It’s gratifying to me as a professor to be able to teach someone who really, truly appreciates what I have to offer.”

Watch a video of Orraca working with Susann McDonald:

Orraca’s dream come true hasn’t come without challenges, however. Until May 1, she didn’t think she was going to be able to come to IU. Without a full scholarship, the cost of tuition was too much for her to afford.

“That was a really hard time, because I didn’t know what was going to happen,” she says. “I thought my dream was falling apart.”

To her surprise, 12 hours before the deadline, the Cuban Ministry for Culture agreed to fund the remainder of Orraca’s expenses.

Orraca says she has to pinch herself every now and then to be reminded that she really is here. And her love for campus seems to grow every day.

“When I see a sign that says IU or the American flag I realize that I’m not home. I’m in a foreign country, but it feels like home,” she says.

Orraca is enrolled in 20 credit hours during the Fall 2015 semester, and her instrument requires at least four hours of practice per day. In addition to her music classes, she is taking math and history and getting her certificate in entrepreneurship. These are areas unfamiliar to someone who was raised in the arts, Orraca said. She is the daughter of a choir director and oboe soloist and attended a university for the arts before transferring to IU, so she has spent her whole life surrounded by musicians. Coming to IU opened up a new world for her.

“It’s refreshing to meet people who aren’t doing the same thing as you,” Orraca says. “You can meet people from all different backgrounds.”

She says studying entrepreneurship will give her the tools she needs to succeed, because she came here with a purpose.

“I’m here to learn as much as I can, but at some point I have to go back and start the harp department in Cuba,” Orraca says. “The country needs harpists.”

Orraca is glad for the truce between Cuba and the United States, saying that she hopes others will have the chance to benefit from it like she has.

“We have different ways of learning, and it will be beneficial for both countries to be able to send students both ways,” she says.

For Orraca, IU is full of opportunities. She recently took part in a coaching rehearsal with Krzysztof Urbański, the music director of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, with her fellow Philharmonic Orchestra members from Jacobs School of Music.

“I want to learn as much as I can from Susann McDonald and take advantage of all the opportunities the Jacob’s School of Music offers its students,” Orraca says. “My end goal is to be the best harpist that I can possibly be.”

Orraca’s experience aligns with priorities in the university’s Bicentennial Strategic Plan, including a commitment to student success and maintaining a global university. Her opportunities are an example of the types of collaborations IU’s Cuba Initiative hopes to achieve.