Stephenson Tales

The Harp

Because I was a member of the faculty of the National Music Camp, our children were allowed to take classes as "Day Campers." Lucky was the first to do so. Dr. Maddy had started a class called "Talent Exploration" in which the student was exposed to various instruments in each family: strings, reeds, brass, keyboard, and percussion. It turned out that Lucky had a natural talent for percussion and for harp - a cousin of the keyboard, since the strings represent the keys of the piano. There was no way that we could possibly afford a harp, which cost as much as a new car! We bought her a harp key for tuning a harp as a kind of sad joke.

But it got us to thinking. Each summer she took lessons, and by the time she was 15 or 16 she was very good. When we moved to Carbondale, there was a music teacher who had a harp. For a while, Lucky went to her house to practice. Then the teacher did a remarkably generous thing: she loaned us her harp so Lucky could practice every day. A harp is a very demanding instrument with 47 strings and 7 pedals. One MUST practice two to three hours a day just to maintain a level of competence, and to improve one must practice four to six hours each day.

The High School music teachers asked Lucky if she would be the harpist for Benjamin Britten's "Ceremony of Carols" for solo harp and orchestra, a production they were able to do since they had a harpist in the school. "Ceremony of Carols" is not easy music, and Lucky had a real challenge in the assignment, but, being Lucky, she took it on with no fear (or none that she ever shared with us, anyway). The harp stood in the middle room of our rented Carbondale house with the harpist chair in front of the windows. We all respected the value of the instrument, and walked past it with caution.

John was intrigued at Lucky's ability on the instrument, and one day decided he would try his hands on the strings. He sat down and pulled the harp toward him, but the unexpected weight threw him off balance and he crashed into the window. As he fell back through the glass, he shoved the harp away from him and (fortunately) it stopped in the upright position. Remarkably, he was not cut! But he made no further experiments with the harp.

It was so pleasant for Lucy Chase and me to lie in bed at night and hear that beautiful sound of Lucky practicing each night as we dozed off.

Her performances of that difficult piece went perfectly, and we were all so proud of how far she had come as a harpist. We realized that Lucky had to have an instrument of her own, so for a whole year, Lucy Chase and I did extra speaking engagements; I taught extra classes, and as a family we all pitched in to the "harp fund."

The company that made harps, Lyon & Healy, was in Chicago. Harps are made in pairs, for some reason that now escapes me. But off we went to Chicago. The man in charge of sales was named Hale Champion and had been a couple of years behind us at U. High!

So we bought one of a brand new pair and had it delivered to our house in Carbondale, and Lucky played on her own harp. The High School did everything they could think of that featured a harp. That was our last year in Carbondale. When it was time to go to Interlochen for the summer, we carried the harp in its case in the 4x6 baggage trailer that I had rebuilt, pulling it behind the Oldsmobile convertible.

Toni was wee at the time, and her first complete sentence was, "Don't touch the harp!"

At the end of the summer, Lucky took John and Evie from Interlochen to start their new schools in Kent. She set off in the Oldsmobile with the fully loaded baggage trailer, harp and all. The nut on the underside of the trailer hitch ball came off, and as they were turning a curve on the outskirts of Clare the trailer ball bounced out of the hitch. The car went around the curve, but the trailer went straight, into a ditch, did a COMPLETE flip, and landed upright in a field adjacent to the highway. The steel tongue of the trailer was bent up, the ball still firmly in place on the hitch. Lucky called me and I drove down. A man helped us get the trailer to a garage where, with a welding torch, he forced the tongue back down into a straight shaft again. Lucky et al continued their journey to Kent.

The harp? It was barely even out of tune! The case protected it perfectly (along with all the other "stuff" packed around it in the trailer)! Lucky Lucky!

At Interlochen the harp lived at the foot of the stairs, in Kent it was in the sunroom, and when Lucky married Danny, it went with them, of course. We lent them our Airstream trailer and they joked that they had wall-to-wall harp.

Lucky played the harp through college at Kent State University and performed with the University Orchestra, University Theater, for weddings, ensembles, churches, and various groups. Within two years after her graduation, she and Danny had three little boys and were living in a trailer of their own, somewhat bigger than our Airstream. She had no time to practice and no room to move around. Something had to give. They came to us and asked us very formally if they could sell the harp. Our reply was, "Of course. It is yours and you must do what you must do."

So they sold the harp and made a down payment on a house on Valley View where they lived for the next 35 years until their retirement.

Thus endeth the story of the harp.

Lucky's Note: I am, and always will be tremendously grateful to our parents for making it possible for me to have a harp all those years. I loved playing it. People often ask me if I regret giving it up. Yes and no. I still love the music, and my fingers still move automatically on imaginary strings when I hear certain pieces. But being a wife and mother was (and is) more important to me.

Truly great harpists are married to their harps because that's all there's time for. My harp teacher at Kent State, Arlene Wangler, was very upset when she learned that I was pregnant. A few months after Daniel was born when I told her I was pregnant again, she despaired and said, "Now you'll never amount to anything!"

She said she should never have married, much less have had her two sons. That wasn't for me! I loved my harp, but I adore my husband and sons!

Composed 25 October 2008; Transcribed by Lucky

© Jim Bob Stephenson 2008

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