What Mr. Rogers Taught Me About the Harp

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Mr. Rogers puts on his sneakersLast week I attended the American Harp Society National Conference in New York City. In reflecting on the fun day I spent there, I found that my three most important take-aways from the conference were things I learned in my childhood watching “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Let me share with you how I made the connection.

I was on the exhibit floor at the conference, looking at a bin of brightly colored tuning keys. Tuning keys often remind me of my favorite Mr. Rogers episode. On that show, after he made his familiar entrance and changed into his cardigan and sneakers, Mr. Rogers pulled a harp tuning key from his pocket. “Do you know what this is?” he asked. I did, and I remember telling him so through the television set. Later in the show, he visited with a harpist who played and talked about the harp.

In my thoughts, I began free-associating, and decided that there are three things I learned about the harp, first from Mr. Rogers, and then had beautifully confirmed at the conference.

1. A sense of community. The song Mr. Rogers sang every day to open his show was one of his own compositions called “Won’t You Be my Neighbor?” The hallmark of his show was the friendly, enveloping sense of a community that he shared with his television neighbors and carried into thousands of living rooms.

And so it was at the harp conference. These conferences are held every two years. Hundreds of harpists from all over world converge to play, to listen, to learn and to be a community of harpists. We harpists tend to feel isolated at times. Conferences are an opportunity to renew our friendships and restore our sense of belonging.

2. The joy of discovery. Just as Mr. Rogers always had something new to share with his young viewers, the conference provided many opportunities for discovery. From Renaissance harps to electric harps, to harp music of China and South America, there were worlds of things to see and hear.

3. Respect for oneself and others. Respect was a core value of Mr. Rogers’ work, and nowhere was that more evident than in his live appearances. I was fortunate enough to have been part of a symphony orchestra performance he gave some years ago. The professionalism, friendliness and courtesy of everyone involved brought to life the teachings on his show in a deep and meaningful way. (The highlight of the concert for me was when Betty Aberlin played my harp!)

The same level of respect was apparent at the conference. With all the diverse musical perspectives presented, it was wonderful to see the encouragement and support given to all the performers. There is surely room in the harp world for us all.

And as Mr. Rogers would say, “it’s such a good feeling.”

Just for fun: Watch the PBS Garden of the Mind Mr. Rogers Remixed on YouTube.

Question: If a group of geese are a gaggle, and sheep make a flock, what do you call a bunch of harpists?

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