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My mother suggested I play the harp because she believed it would make me into a picture of grace and poise. “I just think it’s so…impressive,” she said to me when I was in the sixth grade, assuring me that the instrument would set me up for more than my share of male adoration. “Besides,” she pointed out, “you can’t wear lipstick if you play the trumpet.”

I’ve found that most people think of harpists like unicorns, as if they only exist in mythical realms and dream sequences. In heaven, where all harpists surely dwell, everything floats. Earthly burdens such as mass and clearance are of no consequence.

The problem is, harps are real objects crafted of wood by nimble hands to endure decades of lugging from place to place to regale audiences with musical filigree. The delicate sounds that emanate from a harp bear no correlation to the brute strength it takes to get the instrument to the performance. I hadn’t considered any of this when my mother sold me on the deal with her guarantees of endless glamour and throngs of suitors. The worst part was, I would face these physical challenges in the harpist’s required uniform, a long, ethereal gown and high heels. I had unwittingly accepted a life sentence of logistical nightmares.

Despite the fact that the men in my life—my father, my brother, various lovers—valiantly offered assistance, I originally approached the task of transporting the harp as Gloria Steinem might: I can open my own doors, I can make my own money, and I can carry my own harp, thank you very much. Alas, the harp is a dusty instrument from long, long ago, and all good men act accordingly in the presence of a lady who plays it. Absolutely no one wants to be that guy who stands by and looks while a petite, gussied-up woman wrestles with an 80-pound object that stands a full foot taller than her. Ancient and sacrosanct, a harp makes the music of angels, and angels should be exalted. To see one stoop to the menial indignity of schlepping her gear is just wrong. It’s like watching a Greek muse scrub floors. (The muses played lyres, though. Harps are totes A.D.)

And so it goes, that the moment I arrive at a public venue with my harp, be it a grand ballroom, ornate theater or dirty rock club, men drop what they’re doing and go feudal. Basic bros knight themselves. Average asshats stand ready to throw down their cloaks, denounce their thrones and forego all the riches of the kingdom so that the defenseless cherub-damsel doth not struggle.

On a recent evening, in the 120 seconds my harp was parked in the entryway of a hotel where I had an engagement, no less than six men offered their muscles: a family member, a fan, a fan’s friend, a valet, a cabana boy and, finally, a famous musician who almost certainly hadn’t even carried his own gear in more than a decade.

“I must help you,” the rock star insisted just as I was gathering my things to make the final push to my vehicle.

“Oh, must you?” I said, whirling around and flashing the sexiest smile I could manage through labored breathing. I thought back to something my mother had told me about accepting help from strangers. “Don’t ever let anyone touch that harp,” I heard her say in her most authoritative mom-voice. “They could break it!” Just this once couldn’t hurt, could it? I let the man be a man. I let him put his hands on my…harp.

 

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Photography by Guy Aroch

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