Music shapes couple's world

September 21, 1998

Elizabeth and David DePetersby RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - The quiet of rural Mercersburg offers the peace and sense of permanence that David and Elizabeth DePeters say they need to balance their grueling schedules as musicians in one of the country's top symphony orchestras.

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Elizabeth DePeters, 31, is first harpist with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Her husband is a percussionist there and in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

A typical week has Elizabeth in Philadelphia Tuesday through Saturday for rehearsals every morning and concerts at night. David's schedule is similar, either in Philadelphia or Baltimore.


Elizabeth has been the principal harpist in Philadelphia since 1994. Before that, she was principal harpist for the Kennedy Center Opera House.

Skiing brought David DePeters, 35, to the Mercersburg area in 1990 when he became a part-time ski instructor at Whitetail Resort. He is now technical director of the resort's ski school. In 1997, he was named one of the country's top ski instructors by Skiing Magazine.

"I couldn't afford to ski if it wasn't for my musical career," he said.

The couple met while the Philadelphia Orchestra was on a European tour in 1995. They were married in Scotland in June 1997.

"It's a grueling profession," Elizabeth said.

"It's who you are. It's an identity," David said. "An orchestra like the Philadelphia Orchestra has been a dynasty for more than 100 years. It's part of who you are," said David, who hopes to one day win a permanent job there.

Conductor Wolfgang Sawallisch helped select Elizabeth for a permanent seat with the Philadelphia Orchestra. She beat out more than 100 harpists who auditioned.

Musicians in orchestras like Philadelphia, one of the top five in the country, stay for life, Elizabeth said.

"The only time a permanent position opens is when someone dies or retires. The woman I replaced was there for 47 years," she said.

The Philadelphia Orchestra makes a world tour every year. Next year it goes to Japan, Taipei, the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia, Elizabeth said.

The couple said they try to practice every day when they're home. Elizabeth's harp sits in the living room of the farmhouse. David's array of instruments, including piano-size marimbas, vibraphones, a xylophone, a glockenspiel, timpani, cymbals, castanets and drums, crowd an upstairs spare room.

Earlier this month they performed a benefit recital for the Conococheague Institute in nearby Welsh Run, Pa.

Elizabeth grew up in Toledo, Ohio. Her father plays in the Toledo Orchestra and both parents are public school music teachers. She began to play the piano and violin at age 4.

She started on the harp at age 10. "It caught my eye and my ear," she said.

Her first job after graduation from Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind., was at the Kennedy Center.

David grew up near Buffalo, N.Y.. He graduated on a full scholarship from the Curtis Institute of Music and went on to earn a master's degree from Temple University.

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