SALT LAKE CITY — There’s a sassy harpist who makes a few appearances on the TV show “Gilmore Girls.” Although she’s a bit rough around the edges, she wows people day in and day out with her dynamic performing and lightning-speed fingerwork. But when she’s feeling especially rebellious, she finds a way to slip some hard rock and heavy metal — such as Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” — into her classical music for her guests’ unsuspecting ears.
Although Camille and Kennerly Kitt grew up watching “Gilmore Girls” together, it was later on that they realized something interesting about that quirky TV character: She was a fictional version of themselves.
“(We thought), ‘Oh my gosh, she’s us!’” they said. “But we like to think that we’re a little bit nicer.”
Better known by their self-descriptive band name the Harp Twins, the Kitt sisters’ harp covers of hard rock classics have reached a population far greater than the fictional “Gilmore Girls” town of Stars Hollow: Their cover of Metallica’s “One” — which features the twins simultaneously rocking out on one harp — has more than 10 million views on YouTube.
While two harpists sharing one harp might seem a tricky feat, this is how it all began for the identical twins, who were 13 years old by the time they earned enough money from walking dogs and babysitting to purchase their very first harp. This proved their dedication to the instrument, and their mother pitched in to buy a second harp so the twins wouldn’t have to fight over practice times or keep performing duets on one harp — which can get tricky when you’re playing heavy songs like “Sweet Child O’ Mine” or Iron Maiden’s “Fear of the Dark.”
Speaking on the road from Montana, the Chicago-based twins shared their excitement in returning to the Utah Renaissance Faire this weekend (last year marked their Faire debut). Because the enthusiastic, harp-playing twins have an effortless way of finishing each other’s sentences, all quotes will be attributed to both sisters throughout the article.
‘We’re fine with being very similar’
The tight-knit Kitt sisters have embraced their wide variety of similarities for as long as they can remember. In addition to being harp virtuosos, both sisters are third-degree black belts in taekwondo — they had an “early retirement” from the sport when Kennerly Kitt broke two fingers and Camille Kitt had to get stitches in her face because of a puncture wound sustained while holding the board her sister was breaking.
But the similarities don’t end there. Both graduated with honors from the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music in Illinois in harp performance, have competed multiple times at Junior Olympic swimming events, are trained horseback riders and skilled in rifle marksmanship. But when it comes to their differences, the twins don’t have many answers.
“A lot of times with twins, people are always looking for, ‘OK, who's the evil twin (and) who’s the good twin? Who’s outgoing and who is the shy one?’” they said. “We’re fine with being very similar. We feel like we are who God made us, and that is very alike. (He) made us identical.”
That hasn’t always been an easy conviction for the twins to hold — especially in a society they believe encourages differences. Every video of the Harp Twins shows the sisters making similar facial expressions, imitating each other’s movements and wearing the exact same clothes — from white summer dresses to Nordic-inspired clothing to bright red jackets.
“People started teasing us about dressing alike (in middle school) and we got really self-conscious about it,” they said. “It wasn't something (that) was forced upon us — we just always wanted to be together and dress alike, to have the same activities. It was something we just had to grow into and realize that we didn't care whether what we were doing or the fact that we were so close and so alike was socially acceptable. … People say, ‘Oh, you dress alike so you must not have any individuality' … but everyone basically dresses alike — we just dress alike on the same day.”
Two is better than one
While some people tease them for wholeheartedly embracing the twin life, it’s that very aspect that seems to work in their favor: The sisters have a half-million YouTube subscribers on their channel, sold out several shows in the U.K. earlier this year and have a large following in South America. The pair even got the attention of rocker Billy Idol, who promoted the twins’ rendition of his hit song “White Wedding” on social media, writing, “If u live long enough u get to see this version of W. Wedding.”
"It seems kind of crazy, but it seems to work,” they said with a laugh. Performing heavy metal music on two harps isn't exactly typical harp repertoire, but growing up listening to hard rock and heavy metal — their mom was a big fan — made their rock arrangements a natural step for these two musicians. These days, playing Billy Idol and Iron Maiden has become just one of the many things that makes the Kitt sisters stand out — and as they say, it all seems to work.
“The first time we performed in Utah, we were shocked by how many people came out to see us. But when we play, it’s kind of like having a conversation — it’s like we’re talking to each other. We just unconsciously anticipate what the other one’s going to do in live performances. … (Maybe) it’s the fact that we’re identical twins, but there’s a special connection when we play, a special bond. … There’s never been a time when one of us wanted to quit or one of us didn’t want to play.”
This “special bond” between the sisters makes them adamant about one thing: They will never pursue solo careers.
“One music professor asked (us), ‘What would happen if one of you got offered a solo gig?’ and we said, ‘Well, then we’re not going to take it because we’re a duo.’ He thought that was really stupid. But to this day, we’ve never played separately and we don’t have any interest in that. We have a passion for not just the music but playing together.”
‘Hey, this works!’
Everything about the sisters’ unique act — the matching outfits, quirky movements and heavy metal/rock covers performed on a harp — makes it tailor-made not only for an event like the Utah Renaissance Faire but also for a variety show such as “America’s Got Talent.” But their disdain for that is just as strong as it is for pursuing solo careers.
“(The show) won’t leave us alone. We have a file in our computer of the emails they’ve sent us. We’ve read the contract for reality shows and … you have to sell your soul,” they said. “For us, we’d rather work hard and do things the old-fashioned way than to have those 15 seconds of fame. We’re not going to say that they can say anything or lie about us on TV. … We have a certain reputation and almost a responsibility as role models for the people that follow us and the young girls that follow us, and we want to be able to continue without risking a reality show portraying us in a way that we’re not.”
So the twins will keep building their fan base the “old-fashioned way,” breaking harp stereotypes and showing people the instrument’s versatility with their next stop at the Utah Renaissance Faire.
“People were super skeptical when we (first) told them that we played rock on the harp. They basically thought it sounded crazy and weird,” they said. “We’ve always had to prove to people by actually having them hear our music, that hey, this works! We really look forward to (showing that to) all of our amazing friends in Utah.”
If you go …
What: Utah Renaissance Faire
When: Aug. 24-25, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Where: Electric Park at Thanksgiving Point, 3003 N. Thanksgiving Way, Lehi
How much: General admission, $15; students and seniors, $12; children ages 6-11, $8; children 5 and under, free