I started playing the piano at the age of 3 and the harp at the age of 6. At the age of 10, I received a music scholarship to study at Bedales School which provided me with the opportunity of performing in public from a young age.
Due to the difficulties of finding teachers and the limited repertoire for the harp, particularly as it is mostly classical, I found myself becoming disenchanted with not being able to express myself on the harp, which appeared a less versatile instrument than the piano. So I decided to continue my studies with an ALCM in performance on the piano. However, a few years later, I decided I wanted to continue playing the harp and to explore other ways of performing on the instrument outside of the usual traditional ways. This was also helped by the fact that from a young age, my father introduced me to music of Miles Davis, Bird, Dizzy, Keith Jarrett and many more. The freedom of jazz excited and intrigued me and I would sit and improvise at the piano for hours.
Over the years and having studied with musicians such as John Parricelli and Park Stickney, I have started to develop my own techniques in composing and arranging for the harp, to emulate the sounds I hear in my head. I am passionate about changing general perceptions of the harp, which I encounter frequently, and to demonstrate its versatility.
"I don't usually like the harp. But the way you play it, it sounds like a different instrument"
- Claudia Carr, artist and tutor at the Royal College of Art.
A great deal of what I have learnt is the result of having played alongside many fantastic musicians, some of whom have become my mentors. In 2010, I was invited by violinist Nigel Kennedy to be a part of his band for his Duke Ellington tour, playing alongside other notables such as Orphy Robinson and Doug Boyle. This collaboration with Nigel Kennedy led to me performing with Cleveland Watkiss, Pat Thomas, Claude Deppa, Shabaka Hutchings, Neil Charles and Adam Waldmann, playing on the latest Kairos 4Tet release ‘Everything We Hold’.
I have performed at various venues throughout London including the Vortex, the Spice and Charlie Wrights. I am also the recommended harpist for venues including: Blenheim Palace, Highclere Castle, The Ashmolean, Taplow House, Eynsham Hall, Waddesdon Dairy, Caswell House, The Baytree, and the Randolph Hotel.
I currently lead the Tori Handsley Trio (harp-bass-drums) with Ruth Goller and Moses Boyd, and self-released an EP in both CD format as well as online.
“Tori Handsley took the harp into unexplored territory with her open-minded, mesmerizing post-EST compositions and freely improvising young trio at Soho's Spice of Life.”
(Selwyn Harris, Jazzwise).
After performing at ‘Freedom’, a free improv night hosted by Orphy Robinson, I have now been invited to become a member of the Jazz Warriors International. I have played with Orphy and Cleveland as a trio. I also perform with: Solus 3; FEAR, (a multi-media free improv project at the Royal College of Art); and co-run a music interaction session at the Bridge Special School, using improvisation to communicate with children who have profound multiple learning difficulties. I am also a visual artist and I am currently a visiting lecturer at the Royal College of Art.
"Tori Handsley is the face of the new harp generation- adept, versatile and creative"
- Andy Lowings, Director-Stanford Harp Festival.