Spotlight on Ohlone:
Madeline Wilson, the harpist

By Shelby Stacy, Staff writer.

Thursday, October 22, 2009—Reprinted from Monitor.

Madeline Wilson. Madeline Wilson. —Photo by Nytasia Calip.

The magnificent instrument began with limestone, gut and bone. It was the first instrument, and makes a classically beautiful sound.

Madeline Wilson is an Ohlone College student and has played the harp since the age of 10, and seven years later, she is still a student of the instrument.

She began to play her first instrument, the clarinet, at the age of 8.

Wilson said “I saw a harpist at the county fair...she was sitting in the art column and I thought it was the most beautiful sound.”

Wilson then proceeded to speak to the harpist and discovered that she taught lessons. She began her lessons a month later. Wilson has an Aoyama Orpheus 47 that she got when she was about 14 all the way from L.A.

Madeline Wilson playing the harp. ‘Maddy,’ practices every day and still has time for school. —Photo by Accalia Calip.

The most common and easiest to obtain brands in the U.S., include, Lyon and Healy, Camac, Salvi, and Aoyama. “Most people stick with one of the four since they are the most famous” said Wilson.

It is a $13,500 student harp. The number after the model number indicates the number of strings on the harp.

A lever harp usually has from 38-44 strings because it can only raise half a pitch and doesn't go flat, but 46-48 strings is normal for a pedal harp.

On the average harp, the strings are separated into three pieces, the top third is nylon, the middle piece is nylon or sheep gut, and the lower third is made up of coiled wires. She has a special wheeled case to place her harp in as it weighs a good solid 40 pounds. “Its pretty heavy.”

Wilson’s favorite song to play is “The Little Fountain” composed by Samuel O. Pratt. She loves the harp and is her absolute favorite instrument, but she loves the harp best when it is blended with other instruments.

Although Wilson plays for the love of the harp, she doesn’t plan to turn it in to any type of career.

She has played at a few weddings “I just think that's really flattering,” she said, “and the harp goes with weddings, something just feels right about it.”

If she would not be playing the harp, she would still be playing the saxophone, yet another complicated instrument that she plays. Madeline also stated she would like to play the trumpet, but she thinks she doesn’t have the “chops.”

In school, she was in every band there was. It was not unusual for her to have a 14-hour day during season, the rest of the time it was cut down to 10. She enjoys going to concerts and has done much research and enjoys learning about the history of the harp. The harp, according to Wilson, is like the piano, just played on a vertical plane.

The harp is definitely not an instrument you see every day. Wilson is the Youth Ambassador for the Bay Area Chapter of the American Harp Society, that is “For people who want to get into playing the harp.” They tell you when there are concerts in the Bay Area and master classes. Wilson’s teacher is the co-Vice President by the name of Dominique Piana. “She is very kind and a very good teacher,” Wilson said, “You just have to find one you can get along with because you spend an hour or two a week with them and you want to have fun.”

It is a small community and close knit, “We all know who everyone else is.” If interested, you can go to when the website is up and running, or The Harp Society can be reached at for any questions or information.

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