Stories from the Harp: Playing Harp with M.S.

Dec 22, 2016

Ginny Oman.jpg

We had the pleasure of meeting Ginny Oman at the Southeastern Harp Weekend in the fall of 2015. She had been playing a 26-string Dusty Strings Allegro, and we had a wonderful time hearing about her pursuit of therapeutic music in the face of a physical disability. She had been dreaming of a larger harp, and during her time in our booth, she fell in love with a Crescendo 34, but was going to have a difficult time figuring out how to get one. We went home from the show turning over her situation in our minds and wondering if there was some way we could help.

It must have been fate when a few weeks later, we were contacted by someone from a different part of the country who was moving to a smaller harp and wondered if we knew of a person who would particularly benefit from the donation of his FH36B. We immediately thought of Ginny, and agreed to act as intermediaries so that the benefactor could remain anonymous. Upon learning of her situation, concern that his harp might be too large for her prompted him to instead sell that harp and donate the proceeds towards a smaller 34-string harp for Ginny. This made all the difference in her ability to get the Crescendo she had been dreaming of.

We are amazed at the way the stars seemed to align to bring these two people together and to spread the joy of harp playing to those in need! Here’s what Ginny wrote to us about her experiences with playing harp and the challenges she’s had to overcome.

I have secondary progressive M.S. which has very much limited the dexterity and strength in my hands and fingers.  I also have numbness in my fingers, and a hand tremor.  That's a lot of "challenges" for playing a stringed instrument.  Since having M.S. I have had to give up or modify the playing of many instruments because of that and as a musician, it has been a very hard loss. When I first became interested in playing the harp 2 years ago, I had NO idea whether my fingers would be able to do what is required.  Watching harpers with normal hand functioning be able to reach all fingers to a wider stance to reach certain strings... looked intimidating.  I took my first harp class with Lorinda Jones for a week at John C Campbell Folk School (highly recommend it).  I found out 3  things... one is that my hand tremor does make it challenging and my finger placement is not the same in appearance as it would be if I didn't have limited functioning in my fingers.  The third thing I found out is that I CAN play the harp regardless!  My hands look slightly different on the strings, and I brace my forearms on the sides of the soundboard to help stabilize the tremor.  But I can PLAY!   The harp can be VERY forgiving and if you learn from a great teacher and make modifications, there is INFINITE music you can play on the harp.  I even was able to get to a level of proficiency that I was able to complete a wonderful Harp Therapy School and now be able to play for Hospice (which was my goal from the beginning).  Recently I have even been requested to play for memorial services and other events.  Soooo... if you think you can't play harp, think again.  With determination, steady practice, and good instruction, you can find infinite enjoyment with this instrument.

When I first struck a string on a wonderful Dusty Strings full size harp (having never touched a harp in my life), the sound reverberated into my soul.  Knowing the amazing calming and centering effects of string vibration, it spoke to me as being a "healing" instrument for me.  I was in love with the sound.  Years later in harp therapy school, I found out specifically why that is. 

When I practice my harp, my cat (named Zen) comes right up to the bookshelf ledge 7 inches from me, curls up and just gets very "Zen".... eventually falling asleep. She adores the harp.  When I play for myself in the evenings, it centers me and gets me ready for relaxation before bed.  OR, I can also do the opposite and play blues or other genres of music and feel very energized.  It can bring about any emotional/psychological/physical state you might be in need of.  I truly believe (and many researchers have shown this) the harp is like no other instrument in the world, which is why it's been used for healing, centering, bringing different emotions and physical states... ever since its creation on this earth.   When I play at Hospice I have had caregivers come up to me in tears of appreciation saying, "I can not thank you enough for your harp playing... you made my spouse (who is transitioning) and I feel like we are in heaven!! They are out of pain enough now that they're resting very peacefully.”

THAT's the power of the harp.   

Spend some time with a harp.  Even if you know nothing about it... find a good quality harp and sit with it, just plucking individual strings slowly, one at a time. See how it makes you feel.  See if it "speaks" to you.   Your life could be changed forever.




Comments

Posted by Mark Andersen on
This is a powerful and wonderful story to which I can relate mightily. I began playing harp as a child but when I was diagnosed with MS and could no longer play with the "accepted proper" hand shape, I put the harp away. It took me almost 10 years into the disease to realize that the therapeutic power of the instrument was what I truly needed to heal. Since I taught harp, it presented a special challenge in that I could not make the hand shapes that others taught their students and I was embarrassed that my hands did not look like the other harpists I knew when I played. There were other teachers who made fun of me although my students always played wonderfully. Finding the Dusty Strings harp, I was gratified that I could still make beautiful sounds even though my hands didn't look like all those "Salzedo" types. On days when my tremors were too extreme or my muscles too weak for a high tension harp, my Dusty brings me great solace and I've found it to be most therapeutic. Now instead of packing the harps away in the closet, I play and teach proudly even when I'm not feeling well. I'm grateful for each and every one of the fine people at Dusty Strings who never looked down on me because I didn't play like the other harpists in the city. I love the heart and soul built into every single Dusty harp I've ever played. These harps have made it possible for me to continue to play and to teach many others to enjoy the beauty that is harping.
Posted by Dominique Faveere on
Thans you for thuis amazing story! So ice to read such testimoniums!
Posted by June on
I was in that harp class at the Folk School with Ginny. She was, and is, an inspiration - always positive, cheerful, and ready to tackle anything! I'm so happy to hear she now has a full-size harp!!!
Posted by Alexandra Corusen on
What a heartening story. There are many styles of playing harp, and it is moving to hear how you found a way to play.
Posted by Lorinda Jones on
Ginny's determination in that class was inspiring to all of us. Not only did she have to make accommodations to her playing style and technique, but she had to accommodate how she moved the harp from place to place, something that many of us take for granted! With Ginny's music background, she understood about playing "in time" to stay with the group, and she quickly adapted the pieces to play the notes she could and be a part of the ensemble. Her first harp purchase came during that week and it's really wonderful that she now has the harp of her dreams. As her first teacher, I want to thank Dusty Strings and her anonymous donor for making this happen and keeping all our dreams alive, as I share this story with my students.
Posted by Glenda Patterson on
This is a wonderful and inspiring story. As a student of Lorinda Jones I can attest to her accommodating and encouraging methods of teaching.
Posted by Debby Couch on
I was there at John Campbell in the harp class with Ginny and remember her keen and intense interest in making music and learning. She was an inspiration to me and others in the class. With the onset of arthritis in my hands and fingers I also have issues with hand placement. I have found that doing more "jumps" and less stretched out placement does not cause as much pain. Ginny, maybe we will have the opportunity to play music again in the future.
I loved your comment about your cat. My dog does the same thing when I play my harp. No matter what time of day it is, if I start practicing the dog comes to her bed where I am and "chills out". BTW, the week I was taking the class at John Campbell, my husband told me that our dog, Dollie, grieved by lying in the spot where my harp is usually located.
Posted by Diane Renee Macdonell on
Wow! What an inspirationall testamony!
Posted by Michele cook on
It is inspirational to read about others who have similar struggles. I was diagnosed with MS in 2011 and had been playing the harp for over 15 years. It's only the last couple of years that the weakness in my hands and arms, particularly on my right side has seriously affected my ability to play. As someone else mentioned, I could not keep my hands and arms in the proper position and I was very self conscious about that. I didn't want to play for anyone because I was embarrassed by my faulty fingers. I finally realized that it didn't really matter if I wasn't playing in the "proper" way. I continue to play, and am gradually re-teaching myself how to play my way. I have a Dusty Strings 36B walnut harp, and also a Triplett Christina harp that I can carry around easily. The DS36B is my first and most favorite harp and I am grateful that I have found the courage to keep playing regardless of my disability. Thank you to everyone who has shared their stories.
Posted by admin on
We're constantly blown away by the courage, generosity and supportiveness we see in the harp community. You are all an inspiration!
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