Strike the Harp and Join the Chorus

December 8, 2006

Holidailies 2006A friend and I went to a harp concert tonight. The performers included the Harrisburg Harp Orchestra, a thirty-six piece classical ensemble, Harp Rock Cafe, a small jazzy group, Inishowen, a traditional folk quartet, and the Greenwood Muse, a popular local group that specializes in medieval and Renaissance music. Beyond the traditonal songs (“The Holly and the Ivy,” “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day.” “There Were Three Ships”) and the familiar Christmas carols and pop favorites, I can’t tell you anything else about the music and the personnel because I didn’t get a program. They printed only 1200. There were 1500 people there.

And it’s probably fair to say that though the music was nice and I enjoyed the presentation, I enjoyed the company more. I met the woman I went with when I was in about seventh grade. She was a voice and piano student and I was a violinist, and we moved in the same student musician circles. We went to the same high school and were friends there as well. She was more socially awkward than I was (this describes a fairly deep degree of social awkwardness, let me tell you). She was studious, drawn to classical music and classical literature, unaware of and unconcerned about popular culture. I’ll bet back then she couldn’t name all four Beatles, or maybe not any of them.

I used to say that Bonnie was born forty. Even in ninth grade (1962), she wore sensible shoes and carried a briefcase. She was utterly focused on getting a four-star higher education. She went to a prestigious New England women’s college on a generous scholarship, worked for NASA the summer of the moon shot, and then got two master’s degrees at an Ivy-league university. Before she was thirty, though, she moved back to this area, and has lived in her childhood home ever since, unmarried, and, since her mother’s death five years ago, alone. I have no idea what she does all day.

We’ve been in touch only sporadically since then. She came to my first wedding in 1975. (An elegant and formally-mannered woman, she gave me a pair of silver grape shears. I didn’t know what they were, and had to take them in to school and ask an older teacher to tell me what they were for.) I send her an invitation to my Open House Extravaganza every year, but she’s never come. I last saw her in 2001, when she wrote (she wrote a formal letter) to tell me that if I wished to see her mother (recently turned 94) again, I should probably come soon. Lynn and I had a wonderful afternoon. The mother did pass on a few months later. I didn’t know until Bonnie wrote me a letter about it the next Christmas.

My friend Michael’s death (he was one of Bonnie’s classmates, too, of course) continues to move me to take action to renew old relationships. Sometimes I feel a little awkward, as if it is awfully presumptuous and self-serving of me to call someone up and say, “Hi, I haven’t bothered to call you in fifteen years, but I’m really sad about Mike and I’d like you to help me feel better by seeing me again.”

And I’ll tell you the truth, I didn’t think she would accept my invitation. But she did, and we went, and even if nothing else wonderful happens this Christmas, this event alone can symbolize the fullness of the season’s promise for me.

The concert was held in a “mega-church,” one of those buildings on a “campus” with an 1800-seat sanctuary, a gift shop, a coffee shop, and more classrooms than the grade school Lynn attended. As in most such places, the stage area (it’s not really an altar) was flanked by two huge video screens.

“This is like being at a Rolling Stones concert,” I said to Bonnie.

“Did you see the Stones in Hershey this summer?” she said. (Hershey is 15 miles from where we live.)

“No, ” I said.

“I did. It was wonderful. Mick can still start ’em up.”

Bonnie went to a Rolling Stones concert. To see Mick start ’em up. Bonnie of the sensible shoes and the briefcase.

Dear God, I need to change my life!

And call Bonnie again soon!

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One thought on “Strike the Harp and Join the Chorus

  1. I was one of the harpists at that concert. You’ll have to be sure to check out this year’s Christmas concert on December 5th, 2008 at the Forum in Harrisburg at 7:30 PM. (And don’t worry–we’ll be sure to get you a program this time!) If you would like to be added to the orchestra’s mailing list and receive information about upcoming events, please contact

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