All harps have a story about how they come into your life. Mine starts with a special student. Her mom always told me that she felt she had a special connection to me. This student came to me already a level 5 pianist and wanted to learn to play harp. Because of her piano skills, she took to the strings quickly, playing levered pieces within 18 months. She joined the San Jose Youth Orchestra Harp Ensemble. Shortly after that, she said:
“I want to learn to play pedal harp.”
“I don’t play pedal harp, honey,” I said. “I’ll have to find you another teacher.”
“No,” she said firmly. “You’re my teacher.”
“OK,” I said. “I guess I need to get a pedal harp.”
Around that time, I had been hearing through the “coconut wireless” – the local Hilo, Hawaii, grapevine – that the university had a pedal harp that no one was playing. Eventually I found the right person, and offered a deal. If they would let me fix it up, keep it in my air conditioned studio, and play it, they could have it back whenever they wanted. The university agreed. In fact, when I picked up the harp, the department head’s body language was “thanks for taking it off our hands.”
I thought it would be a simple restring-and-away-we-go, but it turned out to be a slower more deliberate cleaning and stringing – about 9 months. The harp hadn’t had strings on it in years, and I had to put pressure back on the soundboard slowly. I consulted with harp techs via Zoom. Everything seemed to work ok on the Lyon & Healy 85E.
Then just as I was really ready to sit down and learn my way around the pedals, I had a surprise divorce. I decided to leave Hawaii and return to my home in Colorado. I was in a quandry. The harp was not mine. It belonged to the university. And I had just put $1000 worth of strings and 50 hours of time into restoring it.
I decided to bite the bullet and buy the harp. I emailed the university and explained everything. I asked what they might want for the harp and could I work out payments…
The head of the department wrote back to tell me the whole story of the harp. It had been part of an estate, given to the university as part of a patroness’ gift. But the university didn’t have an orchestra program. And tropical weather is the natural enemy of acoustic stringed instruments, so the harp had been shuffled from closet to storage locker, strings broken, unplayed. For years.
The university gave me the harp, and asked that I give a donation to the university, which I have done, and continue to do.
So when the movers came to pack me up and move me back to Colorado, the pedal came along. And I have been studying myself, while I also teach my student. She’s still a special student, and I now have my harp.
Completed string job and restoration.
The pedal harp among the flock in Colorado.