By Alix Raspe
It all began while watching Duchess in Walt Disney’s “The Aristocats.” Though the Scat Cats were entertaining, I was completely mesmerized by Duchess. At that moment, I didn’t want to “Be a Cat”; I wanted to “Be a Harpist”. This dream was a self-proclaimed commitment. Nothing would change my mind; nothing would stop me... except maybe my parents.
Not only was the harp an expensive investment for a five year old; it was three times my size. Mom and Dad tried to sell me on piano lessons, but I remained resolute. As a compromise we agreed on piano lessons for three years and harp lessons thereafter.
My obligatory interest in piano lasted exactly two minutes. Sitting at our baby grand piano, my eyes skipped over the keys and immediately focused on the inner strings. I had to pluck those strings. I dragged the piano bench to the side, climbed up, and started picking at all 230 wires. When Mom arrived home from work, she found me headfirst inside the piano. Afraid that the lid might crash on my head or smash my fingers, Mom insisted that “piano string plucking” become a supervised activity. She assumed that this provision would suppress my need for a harp. Little did she know.
A year later I made an even greater discovery. While rehearsing on my grandparent’s upright piano, I noticed that I couldn’t visibly see strings. But there had to be strings. My grandmother had no rule against “piano string plucking,” so I proceeded to pop the top, pull out the soundboard, and plunge my fingers through the soundboard’s crevices. At that moment my grandmother walked into the room and witnessed a scene right out of “A Day at the Races.” Like Harpo Marx, I had pulled apart a piano and proceeded to play the wires. Though the soundboard didn’t fit back into the piano, my miffed grandmother joined the battle for harp lessons.
Finally three excruciating years of piano lessons passed. I earned the nickname, “The Terminator,” thanks to two destroyed pianos and countless broken wires. My Mom kept her promise and she enlisted former jazz harpist, Ruth Berman Harris, a spunky ninety year old lady with severe arthritis. As I watched her play throughout her pain, my respect and devotion to the harp intensified. Mrs. Harris started my early harp education, leading me to then study with June Han at Juilliard Pre-College in high school, Bridget Kibbey at New York University for my Bachelor’s, and Jessica Zhou at New England Conservatory for my Masters in Music. Stated simply, harp was my calling, and Luna will be my friend for life.
Alix is a graduate of New York University and New England Conservatory. She has received numerous awards as a soloist including: the Annapolis Music Festival Maestro Award for Outstanding Soloist at the age of 13, the NYU Excellence in String Performance and Leadership Award, and the NYU Orchestral Excellence Award. She has taught harp for Note-worthy Experience since May of 2018.