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When you think of the harp, you might picture an old-fashioned instrument played several hundred years ago. In reality, there are thousands of harpists in America today.

I started playing the harp three years ago. What began as a hobby became an important component of my life. After a year of lessons, my grandparents gave me a harp of my own. I have already been able to play at several weddings and other gigs, which have helped add to my college savings.

My instructor, Karen Almquist, has been teaching harp for 16 years. Her studio in Silverton has grown to include more than 30 students, ranging in age from 8 to 50.

"The harp has a heavenly sound unlike any instrument, even with beginning students playing," Almquist says. "The harp seems to bring comfort and healing."

Almquist gives students every possible opportunity to excel in their music. Christmas recitals in the Capitol rotunda and spring performances at the Oregon Gardens are just some of the opportunities through which we learn to become confident performers.

Another yearly opportunity is performing at the Salem Federated Music Festival. We memorize two pieces and play them before an adjudicator, who then gives us suggestions for improvements. After three years of superior ratings, we are eligible to earn a gold cup.

This fall, Almquist organized an ensemble of 10 harp students. We played four pieces on Oct. 24 at the University of Oregon.

It is quite a challenge to get 10 harps in tune. (The harpist joke is somewhat true: She spends half her time tuning the harp, the other half playing it out of tune.) But the reward of hearing the beautiful pieces come together makes it worth the work.

"Most people don't realize that a harpist also uses their feet to change the seven pedals at the base of the harp," Almquist explains. "It is a magnificent instrument to look at with its carved column, graceful brass neck and 47 strings."

Everyone enjoys listening to the harp, whether at a wedding or a retirement home. I love sharing music that brings joy to others. Playing the harp has helped push me past my comfort zone. It has shown me that with hard work and diligence, one can do almost anything.

Jessica Glaser is a home-schooled 10th-grader who lives near Scio.

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