Five minutes of music that changed the lives of TSO musicians

Take Five with Principal Harpist Nancy Lendrim

Published Monday, July 13, 2020

by John Fedderke

Maybe you’ve been lucky enough to fall in love at first sight. I know I have.

The world stands still, your focus narrows to a pinpoint and a squadron of F-16s roar overhead. Having just celebrated our 50th anniversary, I know for sure that it can happen. According to the Gallup Poll, 40% of Americans also believe in love at first sight as well.

In our Take Five series, we will seek out that instant (five minutes, actually) when our Toledo Symphony musicians fell in love with a piece of music or an instrument that changed their lives forever.

Having spoken with a number of musicians on this topic, I know this phenomenon is real. It is vivid and compelling. However, at the same time, narrowing a lifetime of music to those transformational moments can be a very difficult task.

Perhaps, she’s being dragged to yet another lesson while all the other kids are out having fun  and the snatch of a performance on the car radio slams home, “So that’s what the violin is supposed to sound like!”

Maybe on a school visit, the lights in the Peristyle dimmed, the orchestra struck those iconic first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and a restless 5th grader discovered a new world, never to fully come back.

Could even happen at a ballet in London. Let’s find out more!

Those readers who have played an instrument or pursued a craft know that there are countless hours of practice required. But for the lucky few who fall in love at first sight (or sound in this case), what was the magic that propelled them to a life-long commitment and career?

What makes this series so fascinating is that our musicians have each found a deep and abiding love for an instrument and an art form that has molded their lives. Appreciating that moment and what they hear in their minds when they put on their game faces before a concert makes their performances all the more powerful and personal.

Take Five with Principal Harpist Nancy Lendrim

Nancy Lendrim’s road to Principal Harpist with the Toledo Symphony features some scenic twists, exciting turns and amazing coincidences. And, of course, the AH-HA moment that was both the end and the beginning.

Nancy has been Principal Harpist of the Toledo Symphony Orchestra since 1980. A graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the Cleveland Institute of Music, she was a student of renowned harpist Alice Chalifoux.

She has appeared frequently as a soloist with the Toledo Symphony on their Chamber, Mozart, and Neighborhood Concert series. She has also performed with the Cleveland Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony and the Erous world premiere performances. As a member of the Salzedo Harp Duo with Jody Guinn, she released in 2004 a CD of Salzedo's music.

Teaching has always been an important part of Nancy's career. She is a member of the music faculty at the University of Toledo and at Heidelberg University and was formerly on the faculty of the National Music Camp in Interlochen, Michigan and Toledo School for the Arts. She has appeared as a performer, presenter and clinician at both regional and national harp conferences, and in 2002, performed at the World Harp Congress in Geneva, Switzerland as a member of both the Salzedo Harp Ensemble and the Salzedo Harp Duo.

About those Five Minutes of music that changed her life, Nancy recalled, “I do feel fortunate that I can vividly recall the two instances when I was struck by the beauty, power and magic of the harp.”

“I grew up hearing a lot of choral music, and organ, as my father was a choral conductor (early years at Kenyon College, and then the College of William and Mary) and organist (at Bruton Parish Church in Colonial Williamsburg). When I was seven, my father’s choir was performing A Ceremony of Carols by Benjamin Britten, accompanied by a harp.  

“I was completely entranced through the performance, and my eyes never left that beautiful gold harp.  

“After the concert,” Nancy continued, “the harpist invited, and encouraged me, to pluck a few strings. I was hooked.  SUCH a glorious sound!! I was completely hooked.  

“I immediately told my parents that I wanted to play the harp and was told that I needed to take piano lessons first.  Which I did, begrudgingly—but if it was the path to a harp, I would obey. 

“After a year, I asked again, and turns out that there were no harps to be found—so I was pushed to start the violin as it would be ‘a good background for the harp.’

“Someday….”.  

“I stuck with the violin for several years,” Nancy continued, “until fate intervened again. This time in the form of ballet.

“We were living in London for the year, and for my 12th birthday, my mother and I went to the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden to see the Royal Ballet performing Swan Lake. I adored ballet and was anticipating this experience for weeks. But what has stayed with me all of these decades later is not only the breathtaking dancing on the stage, but the perfect view I had of the harpist in the orchestra pit.  

“When the famous haunting, dark and beautiful oboe solo was played I was completely zeroed in on the harp. The harp plays the accompaniment and then the oboe enters.  And then when the harpist played the brilliant solo cadenza, as is always present in all of Tchaikovsky’s ballets—well that was it."

“The harp was clearly calling to me, and I just had to answer the call."

“When we returned to the US, I quit the violin and my parents were able to eventually find me a world class harp teacher and she had an instrument I could rent.  

Nancy added, “As a side note, it turns out that the performance of Swan Lake that we attended 40+ years ago in London was conducted by Yuval Zaliouk, who would become Music Director of the TSO when I first joined. Crazy.”

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