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A Girl and a Harp

Copyright © 1998 by Peter Berry

 

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On a trip to Ireland last summer I did some worth-while research in the Irish Traditional Music Archives, and came home with more tunes to learn on my harps.

But the main harp event of this trip was the delivery of a harp to my young friend Aimee who has Down's Syndrome and is Anne Gabriel's age. We met in 1992 during my first trip to Ireland, and fell in love with one another right away. She fell in love with my harps on my subsequent visits to Ireland and when she and her Mom visited Seattle in 1994. Seeing how much Aimee "resonated" with the harp reminded me of how much I longed to learn to play the harp, a dream which finally came true after almost 10 years of yearning. I didn't want Aimee to have to wait as long as I did, so I decided to do something about it. After shopping for small harps in Seattle, I realized that even a small, simple harp was not something I could afford to buy for her. So I placed an ad in a regional harper's newsletter hoping to find a second-hand one. A local harpmaker called me up and after asking me some questions to get more information about the situation, volunteered to make a harp for Aimee and give it to me to take to Ireland as a gift for her. He said he wanted to place the gift of making music in the hands of someone who longed to make music but would otherwise be unable to have a harp.

So I took the harp on the plane with me, in its bright green case made by another harp friend in Seattle. On the day that I met with Aimee she was staying with her Dad while on holiday in the wilds of West Cork (my favorite corner of Ireland!). I arrived at the house with the harp case slung over my shoulder, and Aimee didn't bat an eye because she is so used to seeing me travelling with a harp. So we sat down in the backyard overlooking rolling meadows and pastures going down to the sea to have a cup of tea. "Yesterday was Dad's birthday", Aimee told me. I took that opportunity to say "Oh Pete, I didn't know about your birthday, so I didn't bring you a present, but I DID bring Aimee a present! Shall I bring it out now?" So I went in the house and brought out the bright green harp case with bows and a card on it and placed it on the ground beside Aimee's chair and said "I believe this has your name on it". Aimee knelt beside the case for several silent moments as she undid the ribbons and read the card. Still not speaking, she opened up the harp case, and then lifted out the beautiful mahogany and spruce harp and placed it on her lap as she sat in her chair. And then she finally spoke these words.. "Oh, my dream come true!!! My own little harp!"

Peter, AImee, harp, Irish countryside

 

We sat and talked while she explored the strings and before long she picked out the melody of "Ode to Joy". She has such amazing capacities for the harp! We then took it down to the rocks by the sea where we sat and took turns playing beside the clear Atlantic water in a cove where the bottom was clearly visible, with golden seaweed waving back and forth in the gentle ocean swells.

But wait, the story doesn't end there! Aimee and her two older sisters (who are adults in their early 30's) brought her to Seattle a month later. I called the harp maker (who prefers to remain anonymous), and told him that Aimee's family had sent a thank you present, and asked if I could bring it over with her oldest sister who had driven up from Portland, Oregon. Well, we assembled on his front porch, and as the door was halfway open I knocked on it and he called from inside for us to come on in. We entered in single file and after I hugged him I introduced the others.. "This is Julie, Aimee's sister from Portland, and this is Rachel, Aimee's other sister". George looked puzzled and said, "But don't you live in Dublin, are you here visiting?" "Yes" answered Rachel, and then I introduced the handsome fellows that followed her in "This is Bill, Julie's partner, and Christopher, my partner". In that moment Aimee stepped out from behind Christopher and I said "And here's someone who would like to say THANK YOU!" George was dumbfounded with surprise as Aimee stepped forward and presented him with a painting she had done of herself with her new harp.

Aimee and her harp

The harp maker later said that there was no better way to thank him. Up until then Aimee had been "a figment of his imagination", a young girl in a far away land to whom he had given a gift. But having her and her sisters in his home, and seeing her play his wife's harps (which he also made) brought Aimee into living reality for him. It was an afternoon that I am sure none of us will forget.

Having played the harp for almost 9 years now myself, and becoming familiar with the deep magic of it, it is my belief that the spirit of the Celtic Harp was longing for Aimee to have a harp as much as she was longing to have one, and that this spirit found a way for Aimee to have a harp. The harp maker and I were simply servants of an intelligence and beneficence beyond ourselves, and were priviledged to be a part of the process that finally brought Aimee and her beloved harp together.

Peter Berry is a sculptor, Celtic hartpist and storyteller living in Seattle. His homepage is at: http://psweb.com/berry.


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