A gift from the harp: Local residents donates Celtic harp

This story started several years back, when I made the move from California to Asheville. The harp, one of my prize possessions, was carefully wrapped, placed in a custom-made crate and made the journey with the movers across the United States.  Most everything arrived in the same condition, but not the harp.

It wasn’t broke, but the drastic change in climate from mild to hot-and-humid was a little more than the delicate instrument could take. The temperature change forced its two main pieces to detach. Because of its unusual shape, only one person attempted (unsuccessfully) to put it back together again.

A few years passed. I had a dream about giving this precious harp to a young girl who loved it but whose family could not afford to buy one. Deciding to make this dream a reality, I continued the search to find the right person to repair it. In 2010, I learned about Autumn Greenfield, who runs a repair and retail guitar shop in West Asheville called Guitar Mama. Lucky for me, Greenfield has an incredible talent for building and repairing musical instruments and because the harp was going to be a gift, she offered to do the repairs at no charge.

Next, I had to find the little girl I dreamt about. Another year passed, until the Southeastern Harp Conference came to Asheville in October. Musicians, students and teachers from all over the country attended these conferences. Thinking this would be a great place to network, I showed up on the last day with printed fliers of the harp and about my request. By chance, a young man happened to see and read the flier and immediately called his mother, Susan Rhea, a music teacher from Knoxville, Tenn. Rhea had a student she felt sounded like the girl I was looking for.

Ten-year-old Amanda Knopps has been Rhea’s student for about a year. Knox was born premature, and doctors didn’t think she would be able to walk or talk. But the girl has beaten the odds. Music has been her therapy, helping her with eye-and-hand coordination, among other things.

Rhea teaches voice, piano, guitar and harp, and she lets her students experience all at a discounted price. For the past year, Amanda has had the opportunity to learn all of these and just started learning the harp.

Whenever Knox’s mom Tonya, a single mom, gets an opportunity to work extra hours, the money goes toward her daughter’s music lessons. According to Rhea, Knox is one of her most hard-working and dedicated students; she always coming prepared for her lessons and doesn’t like to miss them. When Knox started playing on one of the studio harps a few weeks back, she asked Rhea whether, if she practiced really hard, would she be able to play in the December music recital. Knox had fallen in love with the harp but knew her mom couldn’t afford to buy her one of her own.

After hearing Knox’s story, I contacted Rhea and asked we could arrange for Knox and her mom to come to Asheville. If at all possible, I wanted it to be a surprise. Rhea and Tonya Knox picked Nov. 12 as the day for the surprise gift (Amanda’s birthday is Nov. 18). The little girl was told no more than hat the trip was to celebrate her birthday. (Interesting enough, Gayle’s birthday is Nov. 19).

On Nov. 12, we all met at Guitar Mamas, arranging it so that Knox would think that Rhea’s son wanted to look at some guitars.  When the family and Rhea walked in, Mark recognized me from the harp conference and shared that the family was down to celebrate Amanda’s birthday.  I mentioned my dream, and told Knox, “I believe you’re the little girl I dreamt about, and I would love to gift you my harp.”

Knox’s face lit up and with a big smile, she said, “Really?”

“Yes, really” said Gayle. “And if weather permits, I’ll be at your first concert.”

Knox’s first concert will be on Dec. 10 in Knoxville.

For me, this story tells us that if we wait patiently our dreams do come true. It is also a story about “paying it forward” and giving from the heart.


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