Before I began my real estate career, I was a professional harpist. For over 20 years, I performed countless concerts, and appeared on some of the most acclaimed stages in the area. I have such wonderful memories of this unique career, and I draw upon the many skills I learned as a performing artist in my real estate profession.
The first time I saw a harp, I was a senior in high school, in Omaha, Nebraska. I was 17 years old. I was a mezzo-soprano in my school’s concert choir, and we were preparing Benjamin Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols”, written for choir and harp. The harpist who performed with us brought her daughter to rehearsal – the babysitter had fallen through. Being winter in Nebraska, it was frigid, and this small and wide-eyed 2-year-old snuggled herself up in her mama’s cozy coat like a little angel, and captured my heart as I watched her, watching us.
That’s the beginning of my story. It’s a somewhat unlikely way to begin a career as a professional musician. I seem to have a propensity for doing things unusually. That 2-year-old stole my heart, and not long after, so did her mother’s harp. That summer, I accompanied the family, the harp, and my soon to be recognized obsession, to Camden, Maine. I began the summer as a nanny, and I left as a harpist – just like that. Nothing could be done about it.
I auditioned for acceptance to the Oberlin College and Conservatory of Music, to study with Alice Chalifoux. Miraculously, I was admitted. Brand new to my instrument, I had not the slightest clue how ridiculous it was to begin a conservatory education with only a few months of study behind me. What did I have to lose? In my mind – not one thing. I started at the beginning, with nothing but my passion, time to commit to it, and the best teacher in the world. I was tossed into the deep end, and sometimes, barely kept my head above water.
After graduating from Oberlin with my degrees in music and art history, I spent a year living in Boston, and then decided to return to school to pursue a Master’s Degree in Music Performance. I headed to Baltimore, to study at The Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. Little did I know that Baltimore would remain home to me. It was not my plan, but Baltimore does have a way of keeping you in her snares. And happily so.
By the time I had finished graduate school, I had carved out a fine variety of work for myself, and was supporting myself quite nicely playing the harp. I was performing regularly for Afternoon Tea, first at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Washington DC, and later, in the Peacock Alley of the Willard InterContinental hotel. I was often asked to substitute with various symphony orchestras in the area; the Baltimore Symphony, the Annapolis Symphony, and the National Symphony, mostly.
When the Baltimore Symphony created its education outreach program, Arts Excel, I was invited to be a visiting artist to select Baltimore City Public Schools. This program was designed to supplement existing curriculum with music and art, working in tandem with classroom teachers, to enrich lesson plans through an interdisciplinary approach. Working with these students was incredibly fulfilling, and brought deeper meaning for me as an artist. I still think of some of the kids I worked with, and wonder if they remember the lady who brought her harp to school when they were young.
I appeared in these classrooms, with my big harp – and talked with Kindergartners about the seasons, or to 4th graders about diversity and being different. It was wonderful and satisfying to integrate the harp into a bigger curricular picture. Witnessing a child feeling the magic and wonder of the harp is a moving experience, to be sure. In these moments, I felt connected to our shared humanity. It is that childlike wonder that lives in us all, when we open our hearts to the truths that are expressed through art and music. Seeing that magic come alive is what it’s all about, for me.
During those years, I also built up a very successful business, booking harp music for private engagements. My harp and I were in high demand for weddings, holiday parties, and other special events. It was good work, and I have wonderful memories – of playing my elegant harp, and wearing fancy dresses. It was a privilege and an honor to be invited to contribute to these intimate moments of celebration, and sometimes loss, for hundreds of families. There must be countless wedding albums where I can be seen in the background. Occasionally someone will tell me, “you played at my wedding!” I always remember.
Although dragging my huge instrument around, maneuvering it into choir lofts, and carting it onto sandy beaches in the wind and weather was often tedious, at best, some of the most honest and heartfelt music-making I ever did was with those good souls. In giving my gift of music, I received perhaps even a larger gift – the privilege to create beauty, and in turn be bound together in the shared experience of something bigger, something better than our ordinary selves. I feel fortunate to have had these experiences.
I am a founding member of Summer Chamber Music in Roland Park, a stellar chamber music series in Baltimore City. For ten years, we produced outstanding concerts with musicians from near and far, and fostered community and friendship through our concerts together. Some of the most inspired moments in my life happened on those Tuesday nights in July, over the course of those years.
I continue to play my harp. I choose my projects carefully, and play more often for my personal joy. She is a mighty instrument, and demands much of me. We are still getting to know each other’s boundaries, but the harp continues to mystify and captivate me. She is truly, entrancing.