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Matters Of The Harp

Anne Newman sighed and looked down at her hands, they were a manicurist’s nightmare. The tips of her fingers were hardened and calloused from many years of abuse. Although she was barely twenty, her hands were streaked with deep lines and scars from old blisters. Her nails were cut extremely short and did not have any remnants of nail polish on them.
Her eyes followed the graceful contours of her fingers up to tip of her sleeves. She was wearing a floor length dress with long sleeves in a bright sea-foam color. It had slightly puffy arms and a slit down the middle from around the knees. On her feet she wore plain black Mary-Janes. Heels were beyond her. Anne stared into the mirror in front of her and tried to put up her hair, just like her mother used to do. Her hair was relatively long with gentle waves of chestnut locks. Some of her fondest memories from her childhood, were of her mother doing her hair.
First, her mother would sit her down and brush her hair so gently it was almost a massage. Then she would take two equally sized locks from the front and tie them together in the back. At last she would fasten them together with a jeweled hair piece that had been passed down in the family for generations. It was a beautiful hair piece set in a simple design with miniscule diamonds. It was only thing Anne owned that had any sentimental value. She only wore it on special occasions and that day was certainly special.
It was her first concert in front of more than fifty people, and she was nervous. She had always had a fear of the stage, which had never been very helpful for her as a musician. She was fine in a large orchestra, because she wasn’t the center of attention and if she made a mistake, only her fellow musicians would notice. Most of the players in the orchestra were so focused on not messing up themselves, that they barely even noticed anything else.
This concert however, she was the center of attention. She was playing two pieces, each a half an hour long. Both pieces concentrated most heavily on the harp. The harp is one of the oldest instruments still used today. It dates all the way back to ancient Mesopotamia around 3,000 BC, and there are documents supporting its existence all over the world. The instrument remained virtually unchanged until about 1810, when a Parisian piano maker Sebastien Erard added petals, to alter the pitch, to the noble instrument. Ever since then, though, the instrument has remained unchanged.
Unlike many musicians in New York City, Anne was unable to carry her instrument around in the subway. She was using a harp that Lincoln Center had permanently in its vast collection of musical instruments. It was a beautiful ancient-looking harp carved out of a light wood. It was a breathtaking harp for any harpist to play. After one of her late night practices, she had spent nearly an hour just feeling the smooth wood and observing the intricate floral carvings all over it.
A man came into her dressing room and gave her an optimistic smile. He announced that she was to play in five minutes. Anne could feel her heart beating and her blood pumping in her ears. He barely noticed that he had left. Somewhere inside her head there was a tribal drumming to the beat of her steps. Her black Mary-Janes made little clacking noises, adding to the building orchestra in her head.
She joined her fellow musicians behind the wooden sliding door to the stage. She could hear the low whispers of the audience, like a single low note ringing clearly through her mind. The swoosh of the two violinists’ dresses as they fiddled with their clothes filled the enclosed space that they were in. Anne was the youngest in their sextet. The men and women were even in numbers and most were about ten years older than Anne and much more experienced than her. She swallowed the building saliva in her mouth and rubbed her dry lips together. More than anything else, she wished for some chap-stick to relieve her sandpaper lips.
Suddenly the monotone sound of the audience stilled and she knew it was time to go out and perform. She was quite sure her heart would jump out of her chest any moment, just to escape the constant thrumming beat. The sliding door was cracked open by the same optimistic man who had been in her dressing room. He gave her a wink and a thumbs up signal. The tall, dark cellist from Slovakia was the first to leave the comfort and safety of behind the stage. The bass player, viola player and Anne followed. The two slender violinists were the last to come out.
To Anne’s great surprise, she was very clearly able to see the audience and could make out every single head. Their features were blurred, but she could see that there were at least several hundred people all gazing down at her with harsh, and criticizing eyes. They clapped enthusiastically for all the musicians, but all Anne could hear was the frantic beating of her own heart. She froze momentarily and almost tripped on the hem of her dress, so she picked it up as gracefully as possible and almost collapsed from fright in her chair. By then her heart was gathered in her throat and she was barely able to breathe.
From the moment she touched the soft and comforting wood of the harp, however, she felt a wave of uneasiness leave her. Her arms embraced the harp like a dance partner and she closed her eyes. The rest of the world disappeared and a tranquil silence covered her like a warm blanket. As the first note from the viola started to breach her consciousness, she knew she was prepared to play. Two measures into Claude Debussy’s Danse Sacree et Danse Profane, she welcomed the first note. While her eyes were still closed off from the rest of the world, she let her sense memory take over. The music was more branded into her mind than anything else at that moment. She was aware of nothing except the delicate notes being emitted from her fingers.
Anne was merely an extension of the harp itself. She plucked the strings of the harp like she was plucking petals off a rose. Her arms moved gracefully for the slow parts, and jerked suddenly and almost violently as the pace got picked up. Her head moved with the music, because the conductor was merely in her mind. When she finally forgot where she was and opened her eyes, she was blinded by the reflection coming off the viola. The viola player was so enthusiastic he was almost jumping off his chair in excitement. Her eyes slid to her right where the two violinists were playing so synchronized that they could have been mirror images of each other. The music ended with a rainbow of notes coming solely from Anne’s fingertips, and the crowd erupted in applause.
InvisibleSadGirl InvisibleSadGirl 18-21, F Jul 3, 2012

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