a history of the harp

Mom gave me harp lessons for Christmas in 1990.  She wrapped up a borrowed lab harp from a coworker who had built it from a kit, and she arranged for lessons from a  man who lived in a dusty house in South Minneapolis. My teacher, a gentle and humble soul who wore a uniform of cowboyboots and polyester slacks, charged 10 dollars per hour, a steal even 20 years ago.  I went on to study with him for the next eight years in his livingroom, which was filled to the brim with books, harps and houseplants.

I saved all my money starting at the age of twelve with the goal of buying a concert-sized harp.  Part of the way I made money was to play publicly at weddings and events during junior high and high school. My family would help me lug around my Troubadour, a black harp which stood on the floor and was ackward for me to carry. For some time during my early teenaged years I pasted a photo on my bedroom wall of a blond concert harp, with flowers carved into the collumn and gold vines trailing up the soundboard. I thought it was the most beautiful harp I had ever seen. With patience, frugality and the help of a generous grandfather, I bought that very model of concert harp at the age of 19.

The first time I appreciated the harp’s ability to heal was when I was about 13 years old.  My mom worked at an inpatient treatment center for women, and I provided a little mood music during a graduation ceremony.  There was a baby crying in the audience, and whenever I played, she fell silent.  As soon as I stopped playing, the crying resumed. The pattern continued for about 45 minutes. The mother joked with me that I should come home with her, and I was in awe that the music could have such an effect on others.

I kept on playing.  The harp has taken on varying degrees of importance throughout the changes of my life, from being a music major practicing 9 hours a week in college, to a busy new-grad RN who was lucky to pick it up once in 3 months.


playing at my mom's house in 2008


Flash forward to today.  I brought my lap harp up to Phoenix this weekend as a little surprise for my mom, who ended up getting admitted to the hospital with fevers and low blood counts.  I brought my harp to her room last night and played simple, peaceful tunes which floated through the whole unit.  I saw my audience of family and staff start to relax their shoulders and breathe a little deeper.

I’m grateful for my family support in taking me to lessons, encouraging me to play, and facilitating my performances throughout all those years.  I’m not the player that I used to be, but I still have some ability to unleash magic on the harp. There are songs so ingrained in my neuropathway, they will be with me for the rest of my life.

Music matters even more in times of fear and uncertainty.  Life gets busy, but I’m going to try to remember that its important for me to play, and for others to listen.  I feel better when I carve space for music in my life, and others can benefit too.


1 thought on “a history of the harp

  1. Barbara Snow

    I think the universe is playing with us. Last night I flashed on you playing your harp and that memory got me up to send an email to your mom. This morning an update about Nellie and you write about your harp. Missing you all and think of you constantly.
    Lovem, Barb


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