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Proving that it's Never Too Late to Learn

by Treva McNally

Harpist Jill Harris

I have always liked music. I took many years of piano lessons as a child but hadn't played for a long time and found that I missed making music. As a result, in the last year or so I had been thinking about getting a keyboard or a similar portable instrument which didn't require rearranging the furniture. An article in The Guardian last year about playing the harp had caught my attention as a possible instrument to try, but I had been busy and hadn't followed it up.

Then this summer while visiting Woodleigh Replicas with my daughter, we arrived during a medieval fair featuring a woman in a long gown playing the harp. The woman was Joan Woods, the woman who been featured in the paper last year, and when I told her how much I liked the sound of her harp, she sat me down to try it. I plucked hesitantly and the most incredible sound came out . . . I was hooked! We exchanged phone numbers and in September, she called to tell me she had an Irish harp available and was I interested in taking lessons? Definitely "yes."

This first week of practicing on my beautiful Limerick rosewood lap harp with its rich tones has been one of ups and downs. I discover that although fingers that had once been nimble were now arthritic and stiff, I still remember how to practice and read music. Fingering on the harp is opposite to the piano but when you make a mistake, it doesn't sound as bad. Practicing takes effort but experiencing the improvement is exhilarating. Friends have been incredulous ("Why in the world would you want to play the harp?"), supportive ("When will you be ready to play for us") and good natured ("When do you get to buy the long dress?")

Since Joan started The Island Harp School nine years ago, the number of harps on PEI has grown to more than thirty, ranging from little lap harps to beautiful big concert models, and there are now more than fifty people playing them. When I listened to a senior student, Jill Harris, make beautiful music at the Harp School's open house and found she had been playing for only six years, I was filled with hope. If I keep practicing, maybe I'll see you at the medieval fair next year!

[If playing the harp is something you might like to try, you can reach Joan at 569-3178.]

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