Charlene Harb: An unimaginable life journey

Susan EspirituFeature

There are few sights as captivating as witnessing the mesmerizing performance of a talented pianist and for Charlene Harb, it has been a music journey she says chose her instead of her choosing the journey.

Charlene has always loved practicing the piano and says she cannot imagine her life without it. Not being a child prodigy, which requires pushing boundaries beyond the norm, she was afforded an incredible Tennessee childhood. Valuing her well-rounded youth as a credit to her parents, Charlene remembers Smoky Mountain picnics, lots of baseball and basketball games, movie theaters, amusement parks, and huge family gatherings.

Charlene says being the only musically-inclined child in her family, her parents encouraged her to play and study the piano from the age of 3. Her increasing talent motivated her teachers to feature her in school assembly performances. She confirms the adage that the arts are 10% talent and 90% the commitment and hard work put into it and so she continued her commitment and hard work.

Besides crediting her parents with providing a memorable childhood, and consistent encouragement to pursue her musical talent, Charlene says her Middle Eastern immigrant parents’ main priority was the education of their four children, all of whom graduated from UT Knoxville.

After completing her bachelor’s degree at UT, she went to Indiana University in Bloomington, completing her master’s and doctorate at IU in piano under a renown piano professor, Menahem Pressler, who told her, “Never forget you are a child of my brain, so we will always be connected.”

Charlene says this comprehensive musical education was excellent preparation for her career and the many milestones that would occur over the years.

Charlene played as the principal pianist with the Nashville Symphony and had the opportunity to play with the orchestra for its very first Carnegie Hall appearance, plus she received a Grammy for one of her recordings.

Of her more than 40 years teaching and performing, Nashville has provided a home base at the Vanderbilt University Blair School of Music.

After studying one summer in Baden-bei-Wien, Austria, the next spring Charlene received a surprise telegram from the Mozarteum offering her a summer position. The lasting impact began a many-years odyssey to Europe and from that one telegram her European career ensued.

She taught at the renowned Mozarteum University in Salzburg, Austria, which introduced her to many European musicians.

Finally, Charlene has taught and performed for 23 years at the American Institute for Graduate Studies in Graz, Austria.

While she would not know it at the time, studying German in college prepared her for those later teaching posts in Austria.

Life is not without challenges and Charlene feels her biggest was trying to balance a career such as hers with parenting her son as a single mother. She says it may have been exhausting, but every moment was worthwhile. She now gets to spend time with her son and his family in Texas where he lives.

Charlene Harb, now 80, still travels to Europe as much as possible saying she encounters a different world view with much enrichment from the art and culture, while spending her summers teaching another generation in Graz, Austria.

At home she enjoys bridge, movies and the ocean, but always playing the piano, teaching students and performing.

“This life I could never ever have imagined growing up as a teenager in Knoxville!”~Charlene Harb

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