I used to play the harp
Many years ago (way too many), when I was a young child, I watched Harpo Marx play his harp in the Marx Brothers movies (and occasionally play bed springs, weavers looms and so on). But what caught my attention wasn’t what he was playing, but the music he made; it was downright beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that I never doubted that anything that beautiful could be real. It was all in the movies, right? It couldn’t be real; just the stuff of dreams.
So that’s where I left it; in my dreams.
Instead, I played the clarinet. I played the organ. I played the banjo. And I played them all quite badly, I assure you, and quickly tired of each; well, I was more disappointed in my inability to get the music I wanted out of each of them, and became convinced that I would never, ever be a musician of any sort. I didn’t know why that would be; I just knew I would never be good with any of them.
Because none of those instruments were the stuff of my dreams.
It wasn’t until the latter part of the 1990’s (I was living in Israel at the time, with a full-time job in a senior management position in a high-tech firm in Jerusalem, a wife and four children) that I ever laid my eyes on a harp. A good friend of mine, Bruce Brill, who is a fine musician and performer in his own right, had a small lap harp resting on the top of his grand piano. I was astonished; I picked that instrument up with far more reverence than it deserved, and begged him to allow me to borrow it.
A few weeks later I was convinced of two very important things. First, that instrument was a piece of crap, and more importantly, I desperately needed a fine harp of my own and someone to teach me how to play it.
Those two decisions drove my life for the next several years, and I will always be grateful to my friend for keeping that piece of junk laying about for me to find.
After months of research, I came across Dave Thormahlen’s web site, http://thorharp.com/, and sent them an email. In the end I chose a Thormahlen Swan (36 strings) lever harp, and we agreed on a price that included spare strings, a digital tuner and shipping from Oregon to Israel. That was a whacking great price for a truly fine, professional instrument.
The harp arrived two months later, and I fell in love all over again. And promptly ordered far more sheet music than I would ever have the time and skill to learn how to play.
But I gave it my all, at every opportunity. Don’t forget that I was a husband, a father, an employee and a member of the Israel Defense Forces, so there wasn’t a whole lot of time left over for the harp. But desperation sharpens the mind, and where there is a will one will find a way.
I first studied with a local harpist, Nellie Sitbon; she was French, and had studied the harp in university in France, along with another harpist, Sunita Stanislaw, with whom I studied for the last few years of my life in Israel. Nellie played the concert harp, and she played beautifully, classically, and insisted on teaching me the same way she learned. We tried to compress her ten + years of study into a matter of a few months. Well, I tried, anyway. She knew better.
But I surprised myself with how quickly I picked up what she was working so hard to teach me, and I also learned how to temper my impatience, as well. I was an amateur; a middle-aged amateur at that, trying to master an instrument others spent their lives learning how to play. Talk about arrogance; Well, that beautiful, gorgeous instrument taught me humility.
But Nellie played the concert harp, which uses pedals to change the pitch of the strings, and I had a lever harp. True, most harp students begin their studies on a lever harp; but I was never going to have access to the kind of money I would need to buy a pedal harp. As it was, I’d had to borrow the money to buy my Swan.
So I contacted Sunita Stanislow (http://www.sunitaharp.com/), explained my situation and she agreed to teach me. Sunita also studied in France, as I said, and is an excellent harpist in her own right; she is in fact, a world-class performer and travels to the States and England (and Ireland, and Scotland, among other destinations) to give seminars and concerts several times a year. She is also an excellent teacher; knowledgeable, compassionate and patient. She had to be, with me as one of her students. Together with another of her students, we established the Jerusalem Harp Circle in the late 1990’s and eventually had close to thirty members at our monthly meetings. While most were locals we had many who drove from Haifa, Tel Aviv and even Beersheva to attend. Sunita prefers the pedal harp as her main focus for her students; it is far more approachable than the pedal harp, and much, much easier to carry around.
I had to leave Israel in December of 2003. My mother’s health was beginning to fail, so I flew to Florida to help care for her. Some time in late 2005, Sunita and the Harp circle put the money together and shipped my Thormahlen Swan over to me.
I was astonished, and very, very grateful to them all.
Sadly, my mother passed in 2008, and I found myself in financial straits. Very nearly everything I owned had to be sold off. Including my beautiful harp.
I miss it still, and always will. For a few brief moments in my life I lived my dream.
That is far more than many others ever have the opportunity to say.
Do I hope to hold another harp in my arms some day? Yes, every minute. That IS the stuff my dreams are made of.