is heavenly to health plan ombudsman
By Dan Heuchert
Marsh's mother gave her the gift of music. When Marsh was a child
growing up in New York, her mother made it a tradition to pack
up the family and take them to the free Sunday afternoon concerts
offered by Syracuse University's music department. It was no small
effort; Marsh was one of seven children.
used to sit in the balcony and look down at everything,"
recalled Marsh, who began taking piano lessons at age 4. "My
parents did a lot to make music important to us."
remembers being particularly enthralled watching the harpists
and listening to their mellifluous sound. So when she began studying
music at Onandaga Community College in Syracuse and found that
the school offered instruction in harp, she eagerly signed up.
A love affair was born.
later attended West Virginia University on a harp scholarship,
then received a Ph.D. in piano performance and pedagogy from Northwestern
University. For many years, she taught piano and harp and performed
professionally, including an appearance in the famed Carnegie
Recital Hall in New York City.
Marsh no longer makes her living playing music -- she has worked
as a health benefits financial analyst here since October 1997,
and is the U.Va. Health Plan's ombudsman -- she continues to play
the harp at various concerts and functions in the area. She has
played with symphonies and at shopping center openings, at weddings
and elementary schools, at hospices and hospitals, at the University's
New Employee Orientation Fairs and with church choirs. Lots of
an unwieldy six feet tall and 70 pounds, her grand concert harp
is no easy instrument to haul around town. Her father built her
a carrier with wheels, but it still takes an effort to get it
in and out of her Dodge Caravan, even with both back seats removed.
"The biggest hassle is trying to get it into churches without
wheelchair ramps," she said, "or to get it into the
choir lofts." She cringes at the memory of having to watch
as volunteers carried the harp -- a new one costs between $12,000
and $20,000 -- up a spiral staircase at one church.
memorable performance came back in New York, when she was contacted
by a member of a rock 'n' roll band who had written a piece that
included a harp part. Would she be interested in playing at a
accepted, then wondered what she had gotten herself into when
she arrived to find that the place even had a mosh pit, where
patrons slammed violently into one another as the band played.
"My harp stunk for weeks from the smoke,² she recalled. "It
was actually fun."
though, she sticks with classical pieces.
a very soothing instrument," she says. "It soothes me,
as well as the people who hear it.
gets you in a quiet place so you're able to relax and remember
surprisingly, given her mother's influence, she particularly enjoys
playing for children. She used to make appearances at schools,
demonstrating both the grand concert harp, which has 47 strings
and foot pedals, and the smaller folk harp
many kids are enthralled by the harp," she said, partly because
it is so unusual. At one shopping center appearance, "One
little girl came up and asked her mother if I was an angel."
the transition from the piano to the harp wasn't miraculous, she
said, since the music is the same for both, with treble and bass
clefs. The hardest part is getting the feel of which strings produce
which notes. The C-strings are red, the F's are black, and they
serve as landmarks for the rest of the scale.
though, is hard to come by. There is a small harp community centered
in Richmond, where there is actually a harp supply store, but
Marsh knows of only one other regularly performing harpist in
Charlottesville: Eve Watters, who plays the folk harp. They refer
gigs to each other all the time, Marsh said.
the nightclub appearance, one other performance is particularly
came last May 2. She was scheduled to play at Piedmont Virginia
Community College, and on the program was John Rutter's "Requiem",
which the composer wrote in memory of his son. It is a non-traditional
composition, but includes wonderful harp passages.
was a very personal requiem, and some of the most luscious music
I had played," she said. "It was my absolute favorite
piece, and I was excited when a group in town wanted to play that
morning, though, she received awful news: her mother had died
was a question of whether to stay and play or to go home"
right away, she said.
opted to play. "When we actually played, I was playing for
her," Marsh said, her voice thick with emotion. "It
was definitely the right thing to do.
would have said, 'You made a commitment. You have to play.' Š
Whenever I play the harp now, I think of her."