The Harp Side of the Story

Columns | Vienna Review | October 2010

At times, it comes back to me how much I miss my music. Ever since I took my big leap into the wide world, I was unintentionally forced to leave behind bit by bit the traces of my musical identity. This might sound strange now, but how could I transport an approximately 1,80 X 1,10 meters tall, and roughly 30 kilos in weight half way across the world?

And then it happened, the other day, when I was walking through the 5th District, fascinated by the warm strays of sun tickling my nose at that time of year. A typical afternoon in Altweibersommer, old ladies’ summer, the Austrian name for the gentle days of late September that Americans call Indian summer. It happened then when I passed a little antique store selling the musical aristocrats from an earlier era, the instrumenta of "a certain age." Glancing over the scratches in the varnish on an old violin in the display cabinet, easily a century old, golden reflections caught my full attention, hanging suspended in the glass.

Suddenly, it was a snowy January afternoon back in 1998, when I first packed my tiny little harp, back then it still seemed huge to me, to go to my first music lesson. Excited but shy, how could I know that this day would shape my future. Doing my first two-finger exercise with my teacher, I was barely able to pluck the strings. So much to get used to – the tension on the strings and the force with which they had to be plugged to produce sounds.

In the window, the gold-column harp pulled on me; I wanted to be back to the days when I could dedicate time to music. Walking into the store, I plucked the strings, played a few triads…, it was badly out of tune. Who would sell such a beautiful instrument? It had been a Wiener Philharmoniker, the store owner told me, who had passed away. This instrument had seen hundreds of concerts, dozens upon dozens of premiers, stories I was sure about mishaps on stage. I took one last look, and then said good-bye. But I was looking forward to going home on the weekend, to unpacking my harp and letting her tunes fill our home, to let my harp tell her side of the story.

- Sarah Rabl

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