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