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A Father’s Day Tribute to My Harp Dad

Yesterday was Father’s Day. According to Hallmark, it is the fourth largest greeting card holiday, right behind Mother’s Day, with approximately 72 million cards exchanged. As I was writing a message on the card to send to my dad this year (he is 92 years old), I reflected on the unconditional support my dad gave me, not just as my dad, but especially as a “harp dad.”

What is a “harp dad?”

A harp dad doesn’t just provide his young harpist with a harp and lessons. He also provides all the necessary accessories – covers, stands, benches, music - and of course, the car to move it all. And then, he gives up his evenings and weekends to transporting harp and harpist to lessons, rehearsals and concerts.

That was what my dad did. From the time I played in my first harp recital at age eight until I went to college, my schedule was his. My mom had broken her back years before, so harp moving was not something she could help with. My dad became my personal transport company, taking me to rehearsals and concerts usually three or four times per week.

My dad was also responsible for my first professional gig. The company he worked for was hosting some Japanese visitors, and one of the company execs planned a gala outdoor dinner at his home to entertain them. Someone at the company knew that Don’s daughter (that would be me) played the harp and thought harp music would be a lovely addition to the cocktail hour. That was my first $100 engagement. Thanks, Dad!

Of course, moving the harp in downtown Philadelphia had its challenges. One youth orchestra I played with had Saturday morning rehearsals at the YMCA right near City Hall, at one of the busiest intersections in the city. Even on a Saturday morning, traffic was tricky and there was no legal place to park and unload. We would pull up in front of the building with our hazard flashers on, unload the harp as quickly as possible, and I would wait just inside the door with the harp while Dad parked the car. The building had no elevator, so when Dad came back, the two of us carried the harp up a long flight of steps to the rehearsal auditorium.

One Saturday morning in January, there was an unexpected complication. The Mummer’s Parade had been postponed from New Year’s Day and was being held that particular morning. The Mummer’s Parade is a very strange Philadelphia tradition. It includes lots of strutting, banjos, feathers, sequins and alcohol. Because of the elaborate costuming, the parade is postponed if it is raining or if there are high winds. I’m not kidding; look it up.

When my part in that morning’s rehearsal was finished, Dad and I moved the harp downstairs just inside the front entrance where I would wait for him to bring the car around. Did I mention that the Mummer’s Parade always finishes at City Hall? Yes, that’s exactly where I was waiting with my harp.

While Dad was gone, one of the parade performers who had just finished his strut and was still enjoying the effects of lots of liquid warmth saw me with my harp and lurched on over. I could perceive he wasn’t a threat to my safety; he just loved the harp. He was also inspired and began outlining detailed plans for how they would incorporate me and my harp into their performance in next year’s parade. He staggered away when Dad arrived with the car – good timing, Dad!

When I look back, I am so grateful to my dad for just saying “yes,” for making all my harp adventures possible. And while I know he never resented spending the time, money and energy, I knew he was happy when I could take on the transportation aspects myself.

I think it was on my eighteenth birthday. He had me pack up the harp and practice moving it from the house to the car and back again. When he was satisfied, he handed me the keys to the car and told me, in effect, I was on my own. He retired as harp mover that day, but he has never stopped being a wonderful harp dad.

Here’s to all the amazing harp dads – and harp moms too! We couldn’t do it without you!

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