Sharing the Music
Members of the Coastal Carolina Chapter of the American Harp Society cultivate appreciation of the harp through performances, instruction and guest artist recitals.
The resonant sounds of the harp, one of the world’s oldest instruments dating back to 3500 BC, can be frequently heard across the coast of North Carolina. Hailing from coastal towns spanning Wilmington to Myrtle Beach, members of the Coastal Carolina Chapter of the American Harp Society are bringing joy and knowledge to audiences, students and those struggling with life-threatening illnesses.
The Coastal Carolina Chapter had its beginnings in September 2013, when Wilmington resident Carole Green, a professional harpist and proponent of bedside therapeutic music, invited 20 people who played the harp to a meeting in a church. It was something she had dreamed about for a long time.
By November of that same year, professional harpist Christina Brier assumed the role of president and formalized the chapter through affiliation with the American Harp Society (AHS), the largest organization of harpists in the world.
Brier, who is the principal harpist with the Carolina Philharmonic and Wilmington Symphony Orchestra, enjoys leading the chapter along with its eight-member volunteer board of directors. She views the chapter as a “way for harpists to connect with each other and be a part of the larger harp world through the AHS.” Brier impacts the chapter’s repertoire of music from Celtic to classical to contemporary influenced by her global teaching and performance experiences in the United States, India and Italy
Suzanne Sourwine of Ocean Isle Beach also is one of the founding members.
“I think most of us were amazed that there are so many people in the area who play the harp,” she says.
A harp performance in the lobby of Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center sparked Sourwine’s interest in the harp. While she also plays piano, clarinet and hand bells, it is the harp she enjoys the most.
“I have never enjoyed practicing musical instruments as I do the harp,” she says. “I sit down to play and lose all sense of time.”
Sourwine performs several times a year at Seaside United Methodist Church in Sunset Beach and has played for the Waterway Art Association Annual Spring Art Show reception. “But I mainly play for my own pleasure and that of my two poodles,” she says with a smile.
Sourwine makes it a point to attend the harp chapter meetings, which are often held at the Leland Cultural Arts Center. During these meetings, harpists bring their harps to learn and perfect new music. The musicians practice classical harp music, folk tunes, hymns and popular songs.
“Most people I meet think playing the harp is very rare and special. And it is!” Sourwine says. “But being around other harpists is even more rare. Being in a harp circle is fun because we all speak the same language.”
Nancy Brennand, who currently resides in Little River, was the very first chapter vice president. She is currently the principal harpist of the Long Bay Symphony in Myrtle Beach. Brennand has played harp on Broadway, was an entertainer on two cruise ships and has travelled to 60 countries with her harp. She currently owns five harps and performs in Southport and Calabash, often for art show receptions.
“The harp has been very good to me and opened many doors!” Brennand says.
Brennand recognizes the value of chapter membership. “I have been in local chapters in the various places I lived,” she says. “The harp chapter offers students an opportunity to hear other harpists and to compete and learn new compositions.”
Susan Wilzer of Brunswick Forest is the chapter historian and also one of the founding members. In addition to ensemble performances, she plays at the Leland Cultural Arts Center on the second Tuesday of the month as well as at her church.
“I fell in love with the harp when I was young,” Wilzer says. “Now retired, I have more time to devote to music. Chapter events provide opportunities for sharing music and offering a friendly environment for growth as musicians.”
Annually, the chapter reaches beyond its membership to connect with the community through free performances. In October, chapter harpists performed for guests of Little Pink Houses of Hope, a nonprofit that brought 11 families impacted by breast cancer to Oak Island to reconnect, rejuvenate and celebrate life.
“By performing for free we are helping people see that a harp community exists here in coastal Carolina,” Brier says. “It’s good to expose the public to the harp and it gives harpists a chance to play together.”
The chapter also offers annual workshops and concerts that are open to members and the public. In spring 2020 the chapter will sponsor Wilmington Harp Day, a hands-on workshop led by a renowned guest artist, culminating with a free public concert.
For some members of the chapter, there is an even higher purpose.
Susan Creasy, Julie Rehder, Shari Hancock and Lynne Boney are Certified Music Practitioners (CMP™). Their certifications were obtained through the Music for Healing and Transition Program (MHTP™) accredited by the National Standards Board for Therapeutic Musicians. These musicians have completed two years of coursework, including patient assessment and repertoire, music theory, physics of sound and music, etiquette and professionalism, and health and care of the dying. The certification also required a supervised, 45-hour practicum in a healthcare facility.
Creasy, who completed her practicum at Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center, can be found playing with Rehder throughout the hospital. Creasy also plays her harp bedside at SECU Hospice House of Brunswick.
“It’s very fulfilling for me when patients tell me that I have taken them to another place with my music, Creasy says. “I’m glad to get them out of the medical environment mentally, if only for a few minutes.”
Creasy would like to see the chapter grow, adding her favorite parts of the chapter are the friendships with other harpists and seeing her skill level continue to improve.
Membership in the harp chapter has inspired admirable future aspirations for its musicians. Inspired by the therapeutic harpists, chapter member Andrea Kelly has recently started coursework and hopes to play for babies in the NICU struggling with drug detoxification.
Brier, who is also the executive director of the Brooklyn Arts Music Academy, which offers lessons and comprehensive music education, envisions the local harp chapter expanding to children.
“My hope is to develop programs for youth,” Brier says. “I would love to see more kids playing the harp. I also would like harpists from broader coastal Carolina towns to connect.”
Wilzer sums it all up simply when she says, “Music is to be shared. It enriches those who play and those who listen.”
Want to play along?
The Coastal Carolina Chapter of the American Harp Society welcomes harp enthusiasts of all ages and skill levels from beginner to professional. For more information, visit coastalcarolinaahs.com or their Facebook page: facebook.com/groups/CoastalCarolinaHarpCircle