Last year, my daughter disappeared often. She’d flit through the wardrobe door to discover Mr. Tumnus, or fall down a rabbit hole to have tea with the Hatter. And she was just as unhappy at my calling her back home to help wash dishes as I had been when my own mother attempted to relocate me from Middle Earth to Later Earth because the table needed setting. Kids need a foot in both the real and the storybook worlds. But how do you strike a balance?

Balance struck all by itself last summer, when a professional harpist treated us to an impromptu outdoor concert. We were ten feet from the sound box, and as the ­haunting melody rippled out into the evening air, a certain daydreamer beside me woke up – and stayed awake. When the music ended, she walked through several people, never taking her eyes off those strings. The harpist was cross-examined, though she didn’t seem to mind. We walked home rather dazed, and daughter informed father that she was going to play harp. He snorted in disbelief. The man can play seven instruments, but harp was not on his radar. The “you’re-only-nine-think-it-over-for-a-bit” conversation went on for six months, but she kept harping on it (yes, I know).

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing.” Psalm 98

Then some strings started to align. A friend donated a small secondhand lap harp. Another friend recommended a teacher, the harpist in the local symphony orchestra. But a lap harp gives you no room to grow, and it can’t change keys. A quality lever harp, however, can cost five thousand dollars. While we were puzzling over that one, my husband and I traveled to Lancaster to staff a booth at a homeschool conference. From a distant corner of the exhibit hall, the unmistakable tones of a harp flowed over the five thousand people in attendance. We followed the sound to the booth of harp-maker Alex Marini and his family, who were playing hymns on a succession of majestic Regency harps.

We crossed paths at lunches and after-hours, and each time learned a little more, not only about harp-making, but also about the history of an instrument that has accompanied praise and prayer to God for centuries. When Alex found out that my husband is a carpenter, he told us to look into ordering blueprints and hardware for a Regency harp, for a fraction of the cost of a finished one.

What followed was the Summer of the Harp. And it must be said that the dad who had snorted at the whole concept did the lion’s share of the work. But everyone helped, by scrambling around in the lumber shed for lengths of cherry wood, sanding – the three-year-old using 1000-grit sandpaper, so it didn’t matter how much energy was expended – gluing, painting, and staining. Oh, and tuning! It took fifty tune-ups before the strings held their pitch faithfully enough to add the key levers. Now the first Christmas songs are echoing through our house: “In the bleak midwinter,” “Oh Holy Night. . . .” There is nothing in the world like the sound of a harp. Is there a downside? Maybe. Now dad and daughter squabble over who gets to play . . . and neither of them will do the dishes.


Watch the harp-building process and hear the debut performance:


Photographs by Clare Stober