Things I Love: The Harp

“I had a dream that you were older and you were playing the harp for a lot of people.” I don’t remember what her exact words were, but I remember her telling me that.

In a way, her dream came true.

I was only around six years old when I began playing the harp. People ask me how I got started playing such a unique instrument, and I really don’t remember. I went to a harp teacher’s house for a lesson one day. And then I went to another lesson. And another. I grew to like the Irish woman with long hair who had a quirky sense of humor and a patient heart. My little fingers were clumsy on the small harp, but I never remember her becoming cross with me.

I loved my teacher, but I hated practicing and wanted to quit. My family kept telling me that I would regret it when I was older. I didn’t have much of a choice but to keep playing.

A couple years later I grew bigger, which meant I could play a full size harp. I had gotten better at playing, so now I could play more complicated songs. And now my teacher could play duets with me. We played mostly Celtic songs, ancient melodies that had stayed alive only by being passed down by people listening to them and playing them back. And that’s what my teacher did with me. She played part of a song, and I played it back. Once I learned the whole song, we would play it together.

Some of my favorite lessons took place when it was chilly outside. My teacher would build a fire in her wood burning stove, and we would make music together while the cats wrestled in the warmth that radiated from the stove. Everything was cozy, and the happy feeling I got would linger through the next morning upon the realization that my shirt smelled like smoke.

I stopped playing after my teacher stopped teaching. Every once in awhile I would pluck a few strings, play a song here or there, but not like I used to. It wasn’t until my later teenage years that I got back into it again. I don’t remember why I did other than for the offer of money I received.

The first few performances I played are a bit of a blur. The more I played, the more I wanted to play.

After most of my performances now there is at least one person who comes up to me to express their appreciation for my playing. A young boy who is learning how to play, a middle-aged woman with tears in her eyes, an old man who squeezes my hand. A pastor, a waitress, a kid who had never even seen a harp.

I’ve gotten to play for a lot of people. Because it makes other people happy. “I was having a hard day, and this was what I needed.”

When I see how I’ve made people happy, it makes me happy too.

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