When I was seven, my father asked me if I wanted to learn to play the harp or the piano.
Dad didn’t ask if I wanted to learn an instrument, simply which one. I don’t think I had any idea what a harp was, but I chose that instrument because everyone in the fifties was taking piano. One of my father’s (dental) patients was a harpist. That’s how it popped into his mind as an option.
Dad bought a harp for $1,100, a small fortune back then, which stood regally in the small area that divided the dining room from the living room in our extremely modest home. The harp looked as out of place in our house as I looked playing it since I was a chubby Jewish girl with dark eyes and hair and the harp looks better with blond haired, thin, angelic girls playing it.
Mrs. Bannerman, an elegant waspy woman, came to the house once a week to give me lessons. Dad told me I had to practice an hour a day, every day. I guess my dad felt that if he was going to get his money’s worth, I’d better learn to play. I honestly don’t remember if I hated having to practice so rigorously, but I do remember enjoying it when I knew my dad’s patients, waiting in his downstairs office, were listening. I’ve always liked to have audiences. Should have been an actress.
Mrs. Bannerman also had an intimate student recital in her home every year and a big-time recital in a school auditorium. We’d perform in an ensemble as well as solo. It was scary, and exciting. One year I was the only student not dressed in white. I was around 10 and my mother bought me a navy blue and white stiff organza dress that scratched my entire torso. I stood out like a sore thumb in the group photo. I wish I knew where it was now.
I studied harp until I was 17 and went away to college. I actually played pretty well. They wanted me to play in the college orchestra, but my father would have had to ship my harp to school and pay for the insurance. He wasn’t interested. So I stopped playing,
Years later, my husband and I went to my parents for dinner and it took me a moment to notice that the harp was missing. My dad had sold it. I was furious. Although I hadn’t played in years, I would have liked the opportunity to buy the harp from him.