Smile Politely

Soothing harp concert offers respite from the holiday hustle

A crowd gathered in the lobby of a library watches a harpist perform.
Catherine Case

Looking for a moment of calm in the midst of what can often feel like a stressful countdown to the holidays? Visit the Champaign Public Library this Friday, December 8th at 5 p.m. for a relaxing and festive harp concert. In what is hopefully becoming an annual holiday tradition — harpists first played a pop-up concert here in 2019 — the library is welcoming back the Roslyn Rensch Central Illinois Harp Chapter for an informal performance of Christmas favorites and wintry music in the lobby. Grab some hot chocolate from the café and let the work week slip away as harp music fills the air. 

The Roslyn Rensch Central Illinois Chapter is part of the American Harp Society, an organization that celebrates the legacy of the instrument and supports a diverse community of harp enthusiasts through a wide range of educational programs, regional events and national conferences. The local chapter is made up of students of all ages, professional harpists who teach and perform throughout the area, and University of Illinois students who make up the robust harp studio at the School of Music.

The chapter’s namesake, Roslyn Rensch (1923–2021), is famous in the harp world and holds a special meaning for the local community. She taught harp at the U of I in the 1950s and later donated the vast majority of her private collection of music and recordings to the university, giving harpists access to a treasure trove of historical documents. She also provided fellowships to U of I harp students and donated her harps to the School of Music for students to practice on. Her popular book Harps and Harpists, written in 1989 and revised in 2017, covers the history of the instrument from ancient Egypt to the present day and is a staple on harp studio bookshelves everywhere. 

4 people stand next to a harp, 2 on each side. It appears to be in a room located in an educational institution.
Harp Society Roslyn Rensch Chapter on Facebook

As chapter members gear up for a busy holiday season, I talked to chapter president, Jonathan Schneider, about the upcoming concert in the library:

Smile Politely: What can you tell us about this concert? 

Jonathan Schneider: This concert will be a fun mix of Christmas and holiday tunes. This is a great performance opportunity for harp students as well, so there will be some other music that students are working on at the moment. We will have a pedal harp and a lever harp there, so hopefully there will also be some duets!

SP: What do you enjoy most about playing in the library? 

Schneider: One of the things I like most about playing in the library is that it feels friendly and warm and accessible to people. In a formal recital, the performer is on a stage, so there is more separation and distance between you and the audience. Playing at the library, I feel more connected to the audience and I like how it provides people a chance to engage with the harp as opposed to being far away from it. 

People in the lobby area of a library watch as a harpist who just performed talks to the audience.
Catherine Case

SP: Will there be a chance to talk with the harpists and get a close-up of the instrument after the concert? 

Schneider: Yes! It’s so fun after a performance to have people come up and ask questions about the instrument or the music. If somebody is interested or has questions, they should definitely feel more than welcome to come up and talk to us!

SP: What’s the most frequently asked question people ask you about the harp?

Schneider: A popular question I get a lot is, “Don’t you wish you played a smaller instrument?” And my answer to that is always yes, but at the same time, absolutely not! 

I think a lot of people don’t have an opportunity to see a pedal harp or lever harp up close, so when they suddenly get close to one, they start seeing all these details and have a lot of questions about the mechanics. Seeing it up close is a great way to learn about the instrument and create special memories. 

SP: What is your hope for the audience to take away from this performance?

Schneider: I think this concert is a great way for people to learn about the harp. But also, this time of year can feel so rushed and hectic. There can be a lot of stress. My hope is that this concert can be a time to slow down, to appreciate being present, and to recharge — to have a moment of rest while listening to calming music. 

Roslyn Rensch Central Illinois Harp Chapter Holiday Concert
Champaign Public Library
200 W Green St
F December 8, 5 p.m.

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