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THE BEAT OF A DIFFERENT STRUM
Timeless harp music soothes the soul, players in Bristol Township say
By Peg Quann, staff writer
On the third Monday of every month, lilting harp music resonates from the Silver Lake Nature Center in Bristol Township.
It’s all the doing of Gloria Galante, a Bristol Township resident who teaches harp and piano lessons both in Bucks County and at West Chester University in Chester County.
Members of the West Chester Harp Ensemble, which she directs, play the harp for residents who come to the nature center to listen to the melodic tunes.
Galante formed the ensemble, composed of students from the university or its Community Program, a musical outreach providing lessons to those who want to take them without matriculating to the university.
“Anyone who wants to play harp can come (to the nature center) and we’ll teach them,” she said.
Some members of the ensemble have been meeting at the center monthly for about 10 years to play for an audience of anyone who shows up.
The mother of an autistic child told Galante it’s her “me time” to come and listen to the harp music and have it rejuvenate her. Galante said she and her members feel they’re doing “the Lord’s work” by playing for others.
Some audience members offer donations to help support the nature center. When Elaine Tosti, of Bristol, started offering to help move the harps, Galante recruited her to be the group’s percussionist, giving her lessons in the process.
Liz Solomen of Moorestown, New Jersey, crosses the Delaware River to join the ensemble each month. She and her husband, Bob, are members of the Golden Eagle Band based in Mount Holly, New Jersey. She had been playing other instruments since childhood but took up the harp only as a senior citizen.
“Gloria — she’s an excellent teacher,” she said. “I haven’t found one harpist who isn’t a nice person.”
“We encourage each other,” Galante said.
Both Marissa Cusick, of Warminster, and Danielle Lehr, of Bensalem, are West Chester University alumnae and have been members of the ensemble since their college days.
Lehr, who runs the education program at Pennsbury Manor in Falls, said that when she gets home from work, she plays her harp. “It’s mostly for my own enjoyment,” she said, but sometimes she joins her musically talented siblings in a group performance. “It makes you reflect on life.”
“I’m so proud of each one of them,” Galante said. “I’m so proud for the Bucks community.”
During a recent recital this month, geared to the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, the harpists played a variety of well-known Celtic tunes and hymns, including “Danny Boy” and “Be Thou My Vision.”
The jam session also included a recital featuring Galante’s younger piano students as well as the harp ensemble. Some have been studying piano for only a few months but they gamely showed their skills on the piano, playing classics from the great composers.
The youngest included Aria Wilityer, 7, of Middletown, Rachael Leffler, 8, of Bristol, and Gianna Morrisey, 10, of Bristol Township. Galante’s husband, Fred Vandenberg, also joined her in a harp-bass duet.
Olivia Quinn, 16, of Newtown, sang a solo from “The Little Mermaid,” for the recital. Her sisters — Juliette, 14, and Isabella, 12 — joined her in other songs. The girls are among the youngest members of the ensemble, along with Alyssa Caffrey, 17, of Moorestown.
It was quite a night, made the more exciting when Galante announced that one of her students and a member of the harp ensemble, Michael Turner, 13, received a scholarship to attend the prestigious boarding school Phillips Academy, Andover, in Massachusetts.
Turner, who lives in Phoenixville, started playing the piano at age 5, but turned to drums and then the harp.
“I started off playing percussion, but percussion drove my parents crazy,” he said. So he decided to try the harp because he liked the music it made in videos he watched. After he tried it for a year in his school music program, his mom, Annette Turner, searched online for harp teachers in the Philadelphia area and found Galante.
Once a month, Michael’s parents bring him to Bristol from Phoenixville — an approximately 45-mile drive — for his lesson. At other times, he receives virtual lessons with Galante on Facetime.
The harp lessons turned out to be “the best thing,” Michael’s mother said. Andover, as the New England academy is called, wants Michael and his harp in the school orchestra, she noted proudly.
As the concert ended, Martina Miller, of Bristol, and the other harpists wheeled their unwieldy instruments out to their cars on dollies. Miller has four harps and usually brings the most easy to transport.
“I love it,” Miller said of being in the ensemble. “We really are very close. We’re family.”
“It’s just a great joy,” Galante said, to be able to play an instrument that so many people like to hear.