It is Friday at Andrew Jackson Middle School in Kershaw, SC. The 7th grade Strings class students pile in, dropping bookbags everywhere there is space in the cramped classroom. Strings violins, violas and cellos line the back of the room. As the instruments are unpacked and adjusted to the right height , Dr. Thomas Moncrief started the day with a discussion if “Good Golly Miss Molly” He counts the measures to highlight the pattern. Giggles and laughter slowly fade as the class moves towards tuning up and making sure everyone is seated with their instrument.
Dr. Moncrief is new to the school and in eight weeks has started to bring the students into the art of making more than just notes on an individual basis, to a coordinated group sound. A week ago, the students of his class and those of the 7th grade chorus, as well as 8th grade strings and chorus, got to experience the performance of celebrated harpist from Charlotte, Ms. Van Arsdale. It turned out to be a exciting and unique experience for them. I wanted talk with them about what the experience was like.
Due to costs, many schools cannot afford to have the Harp as a school instrument. The cost of a harp is comparable to the cost of a car. In talking to the students, it quickly became apparent that for many, this was the first exposure to the harp as a musical instrument.
The 7th grade Strings students spoke of their experiences at the performance. CiDarius Miller, who had never seen a Harp is person thought the experience was “Pretty cool.” He talked about how he learned that Ms. Van Arsdale had started with a small harp and worked her way to the full sized harp. Shawn Johnson was impressed with the beauty of the “Old, Old look. It was inspiring to him. Lacey Small felt that she “played really really good”. She was impressed that the harpist started young and got that good. “If I can put that much effort into playing, I could be that good.”
Ray Poston like that he could “experience something that prestigious. It helps you understand that if you could put in that effort, you could become a musician.” Tara Kelly said “The sound of the harp is a dramatic sound that was not too sharp, but sounds good.” Kalyssa Dood like that sound because it was calm and makes you feel good.
Adrian Payne talked about the harpist herself. “She was into the music, She closed her eyes when she was playing.” Zoriah Hough thinks it is very important to have the exposure to the harp. “It is similar to the cello.” Dazariah Stokes liked that she could recognize that it sounded like her favorite movie, “Coraline”. “It is important to get the new experience”
Trey Thompson was impressed with the harp and how it is played. He spoke of the colored strings. “no matter what you strummed, you get a new sound.” Andrea Herod had never seen a harp before, she liked seeing how the harp worked, how it was played.
For the 7th grade chorus, they spoke of the experience of singing along with the harp as it played. Ashlyn Broach “It was special because of how good she was. I felt really special to be able to sing with her.” Mazzy James said “It was cool. I have never sung with a harpist. Everything about the day was the best.” Kamille Carter loved when the harpist played Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. “I have never heard the harp in person. It opens up some options on how to use the harp.”
Rilee Payne had her first experience with the harp as well. She is now recognizing the harp in the music of movies like Mary Poppins. The noticing of the harp is music now, was also reported by Jordyn Knight. Aydan Kennington expressed some new understanding. “I had always thought the music of the harp was fake, but in real life it sounded so good. It was soothing.” Aaden Fair loved the way she played.
JoJo Allen spoke of how they had notes to go by as she played. “ I have more interest in the harp.” Reece Earl said “I thought she played a little fast, and we were able to catch up.” Zachary Looper thought it was “Cool, and when we sang it was louder than us.”
The Eight Grade Strings class was smaller but enjoyed just as much. Karli Rathel thought it was a cool experience, not something you do every day. “It is quieter than I expected, I enjoyed playing the violin with the harp.” Cecelia Williams thought it would be difficult to play the harp. “The strings have colors on them. I enjoyed the way the story was told as she played the harp.” She remarked that if they had a harp she would choose to play it. John Kirkland wants her to return and play more for the students.
Cameron Green was impressed that harpist “played the whole instrument” . Luke Benfield said “I enjoyed watching her play with her whole hand, even her knuckles.” Luke was impressed with how much she enjoyed playing. Kenneth West was excited to see someone else playing a big instrument. “I play a big instrument, and I was impressed with how she got all the notes. I learned more about how about handling. Darissa Issard like singing with the Harp. “It was very beautiful, and we all got to play with a famous harpist.”
Dr. Moncrief shared their excitement. He is realistic that adding a harp would be beyond the financial availability of a small school. He brought in the experience to help broaden the view of his students. It is a day the students will not soon forget. As many of them related, they are more attuned to hearing the harp in their everyday interactions with music.
The students launch into the introduction piece for the upcoming Veterans Day event. Inspired and focused on being the best they can be, they have a day of soothing and dramatic sounds from an formally unknown instrument to guide their learning
Special thanks to Ms. Van Arsdale for coming and lighting the way for future musicians. Thank you to Dr. Thomas Moncrief for arranging for that experience. And thank you to the students of the 7th and 8th grade springs class, and the 7th grade chorus for sharing their insights.