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Awake the Harp

December 19, 2017 by

Take me straight to the video where I can watch the construction and debut performance!


Last year, my daughter disappeared often. She'd flit through the wardrobe door to discover Mr. Tumnus, or fall down a rabbit hole to have tea with the Hatter. And she was just as unhappy at my calling her back home to help wash dishes as I had been when my own mother attempted to relocate me from Middle Earth to Later Earth because the table needed setting. Kids need a foot in both the real and the storybook worlds. But how do you strike a balance?

Balance struck all by itself last summer, when a professional harpist treated us to an impromptu outdoor concert. We were ten feet from the sound box, and as the haunting melody rippled out into the evening air, a certain daydreamer beside me woke up – and stayed awake. When the music ended, she walked through several people, never taking her eyes off those strings. The harpist was cross-examined, though she didn't seem to mind. We walked home rather dazed, and daughter informed father that she was going to play harp. He snorted in disbelief. The man can play seven instruments, but harp was not on his radar. The "you're-only-nine-think-it-over-for-a-bit" conversation went on for six months, but she kept harping on it. (Yes, I know.)

marlys playing her harp

Then some strings started to align. A friend donated a small secondhand lap harp. Another friend recommended a teacher, the harpist in the local symphony orchestra. But a lap harp gives you no room to grow, and it can't change keys. A quality lever harp, however, can cost five thousand dollars. While we were puzzling over that one, my husband and I traveled to Lancaster to staff a booth at a homeschool conference. From a distant corner of the exhibit hall, the unmistakable tones of a harp flowed over the five thousand people in attendance. We followed the sound to the booth of harp-maker Alex Marini and his family, who were playing hymns on a succession of majestic Regency harps.

From Psalm 98:
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
burst into jubilant song with music;
make music to the Lord with the harp,
with the harp and the sound of singing.

We crossed paths at lunches and after hours, and each time learned a little more, not only about harp-making, but also about the history of an instrument that has accompanied praise and prayer to God for centuries. When Alex found out that my husband is a carpenter, he told us to look into ordering blueprints and hardware for a Regency harp, for a fraction of the cost of a finished one.

What followed was the Summer of the Harp. And it must be said that the dad who had snorted at the whole concept did the lion's share of the work. But everyone helped, by scrambling around in the lumber shed for lengths of cherry wood, sanding – the three-year-old using 1000-grit sandpaper, so it didn't matter how much energy was expended – gluing, painting, and staining. Oh, and tuning! It took fifty times before the strings held their pitch faithfully enough to add the key levers. Now the first Christmas songs are echoing through our house. "In the bleak midwinter," "Oh Holy Night..."

There is nothing in the world like the sound of a harp. Is there a downside? Maybe. Now dad and daughter squabble over who gets to play... and neither of them will do the dishes.


Watch the harp-building process and hear the debut performance

Watch on YouTube.


Maureen Swinger works as an editor for the Bruderhof’s publishing house, Plough, and lives at the Fox Hill Community with her husband Jason and three children.

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  • It brings us much joy to know that our harps have inspired your family to make your own... we are glad to be a part of your harp story! May God continue to bless and guide you as you use this beautiful instrument to praise Him! Blessings, Sue Marini, Marini Made Harps

    Sue Marini
  • Wow! So beautiful to see everyone working together, and Marlys’s playing at the end made me tear up a little- so lovely. Thank you so much for sharing!

    Katie Hamilton
  • What a beautiful story about a dream awakened and a Dad who helped make it come true. We had the pleasure of befriending this delightful (and talented!) family this past year. We also got to meet the harpist in real life!

    Tamara Hill Murphy
  • Thank you so very much for sharing this blog and video! This is indeed a Christmas gift and blessing to read/see. It's funny... so many life events had to be aligned for the delightful and perfect outcome of "The Summer of the Harp" ...and this outcome is far from final! When I was your daughter's age, I had a similar experience hearing a professional harpist and wanting so very much to learn to play the harp someday. Only God could have aligned the events that led up to my coming to Fox Hill, to donating my harp, and then, to being unexpectedly invited to play that evening. And my part of the story is simply that. Then there are the experiences of your family, of Marlys, of people we've met along our life paths, and so many other events and pieces I can't possibly conceive of. These are the beautiful moments when we KNOW without a shadow of a doubt that the Spirit of God is living and breathing within and among us all, throughout the world, working out His purpose. Soli Deo Gloria! I especially loved hearing Marlys play "In the Bleak Mid-winter." Well done! Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, a fabulous New Year, and lots of beautiful music-making!

    Clara Keller
  • Thanks so much for sharing - a beautiful story and so well written. Each child in our lives is special, and you are so blessed to be able to write this one about your daughter (and her daddy). I can't wait to read one about Jay making a clarinet. Our organist at church used to play harp (her second instrument) and she and I would play duets (me on vibraphone) at church services - especially during the Advent and Lenten services.

    Bob Schoonmaker
  • The Cohen family is filled with awe and great joy over Marlys' inspiring response to following this calling! We look forward to watching her progress and to hearing many more live concerts!!! Mazal tov!!!

    Rachael Cohen