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Striking a chord

Posted on Saturday, December 2, 2017 at 9:00 am

Collinsworth starts class to share her love of harps


Kali Bradford


Three years ago, the ethereal and magical sounds of the harp captured the attention of local musician Vicki Collinsworth.

A classically trained pianist, she said she fell in love with the ancient instrument and, for the past three years, has been working to hone her skills on the harp along with developing a program that would enable her to share her love and knowledge of the instrument with people in Tullahoma and the surrounding areas.

Woodworkers Fred Heltsley, left, and Lytle Anderson discuss stringing of the harps beside the completed prototype they made from walnut. -Staff Photos by Cameron Adams

With the help of friend and fellow First Christian Church member Fred Heltsley, Collinsworth recently took her idea of introducing the beauty of the harp to others and is seeing it come to fruition with her first harp class.

“It was an idea I had. However, if it wasn’t for Fred Heltsley, it probably wouldn’t be happening,” she said. “He really helped me to bring it to fruition.”


Stringing it together


Collinsworth said her love for the instrument came to be after she attended a harp conference in North Carolina.

“Around three years ago I heard the harp and thought, ‘I would really like to be able to play a small harp’ … just something to play and sing with in church,” she said.

“I went to a harp conference in North Carolina where I bought my first harp not long after. I then began to take lessons and have been doing so for the last two years.”

While at the conference, she became aware of classes that were being taught on how it was even possible to build a harp.

“At the conference they had classes where you could make your own cardboard harp,” Collinsworth said. “I thought it was interesting and wondered why people would want one and secondly, how did they use these things.

From left, Thomas Starling, Caren Teichman, and Liz Kennedy apply varnish to harp sound boxes Wednesday, Nov. 1. With the help of friend and fellow First Christian Church member Fred Heltsley, Collinsworth recently took her idea of introducing the beauty of the harp to others and is seeing it come to fruition with her first harp class.

“The more research I did the more interested I became. I thought what a great resource it would be and a great introduction to people who may want to go further with harp playing or for those who just want to sit with a harp in their lap and have some therapy or to also take it and share music with others.”


Harp therapy


“Lap harps are often used in hospital or hospice situations,” said Collinsworth. “It’s really a science. You can take a course on this, but you can actually sit at the bedside of someone and actually help people relax with the harp. It’s a wonderful concept that these people with therapy harps have.”

According to an article by nbcnews.com, medical experts believe music can alleviate some of the mental and physical symptoms of disease.

Instruments such as the harp are said to contain special healing qualities. Resonant vibrations from live harp music can be particularly effective at regulating quivering heart rhythms.

Harpists in intensive-care units are used to help normalize sick newborns’ heart rates, after surgery to reduce patients’ anxiety and during childbirth to soothe mothers in labor.

Harp therapy also has been cited to help patients deal with chronic pain from arthritis, fibromyalgia and other conditions and is often used to soothe dying patients in hospice.


Developing the class


Lytle Anderson installs counter-sunken screws while Liz Kennedy and Rosie Graham sand harp frames.

Currently held each Wednesday evening at the First Christian Church in Tullahoma, students are making cardboard harps in the class.

“What I thought we could do for the class was to make these types of harps,” she said. “Cardboard harps sound like a toy, but they actually have a wonderful sound. They are also made with wood, as the column is just made of cardboard. Working with cardboard also makes it easy to clean and take into hospital environments, nursing homes and such.”

Prior to the class, Collinsworth said Heltsley had developed kits especially for the students.

“Fred studied how others made their kits for classes such as these,” she said. “He cut the wood out, and students then cut the cardboard out for the column, paint it and sculpt it. Once we’ve got all that together, we will be stringing them last.”

She also credits Heltsley on his skill to help create the unique kits.

“He’s a master builder of anything,” Collinsworth said. “He helps to build dulcimers for our dulcimer group at the church. He’s very creative and likes to build things. We are very lucky to have him and his ability. For the class, he’s worked to get everything set in stages, so we hope to continue to refine the class and be able to offer it again in the spring.”


A work in progress


Collinsworth said the current class is still being developed with the hopes for additional classes in the future.

“At this point, it’s really just a prototype effort,” she said. “We currently have around 15 people in the class and if it turns out well, we are going to try and do it again,” she said. “The class is the beginning of what I hope will be more educational information for people out there who are interested or might be interested in playing the harp. What I’d like to see is a harp program develop here in Tullahoma.”

Thomas Starling applies varnish to a harp frame.

Now nearing the end of the instruction phase, Collinsworth said it has been enjoyable to see how the class has progressed.

“It’s wonderful,” she said.  “The class is just fun. While we don’t know what we are doing, we are learning together. It has been a lot of learning and laughing together. You know when you build something with your own hands, it’s just really neat. The neat thing is that everyone’s looks different. The cardboard is being painted and everyone is putting their own spin of artwork on it, which is really cool. I can’t wait to see how they are going to look and sound.”

Collinsworth said at the end of the class, she plans to have a small performance where the students can try out their new handmade harps.

“I’m going to write some very easy Christmas carols for us to play at the conclusion of the class,” she said. “Then, if there is continued interest, I may take it further and have music classes for these harps. With a new harp, you do have to tune it many, many times for it to hold a key. We may sound a little out of tune during our first performances, but that’s OK, because it’s all about having fun and we are learning together.”