Tugging at the harp strings

Smithsburg musician to lead ensemble for Saturday concert

August 09, 2010|By JANET HEIM

SMITHSBURG -- Despite the drought, the tomato plant in front of Sally Lay's harp studio on North Main Street in Smithsburg is thriving.

"It likes harp music," Lay said. "Plants like music, if it's the right kind."

Harp music will be plentiful this week as Lay and her students -- known as the Tri-State Harp Ensemble -- prepare for a Saturday concert at Benevola United Methodist Church near Boonsboro.

Lay, 64, who directs the ensemble of adults and youth musicians, said the concert will feature sacred and classical music.

Her Subaru Outback is outfitted with a mattress in the rear for transporting her harps to weddings, funerals and church services.

Lay, whose maiden name is Carrill, graduated from North Hagerstown High School in 1964, before moving to Smithsburg. She has a bachelor's degree in music education from Susquehanna University and a master's degree in elementary education from Shippensburg University.


She taught in Washington County Public Schools -- mostly third grade -- for 23 years, then retired about 20 years ago when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Lay played organ for Virginia Avenue Baptist Church in Hagerstown and said that one Christmas she thought it would be nice to have harp music. She prayed about it and decided she would learn to play the harp.

"It's definitely God's doing, His own thing," said Lay, who is a Southern Baptist.

Lay took private harp lessons from Molly Hahn, who lived in Braddock Heights, Md., and directed the Tri-State Harp Ensemble. Lay had taken about eight years of lessons with Hahn when Hahn moved to Maine.

Lay took on some of Hahn's students, as well as leadership of the harp ensemble. She found another teacher in Alexandria, Va., so she could continue taking harp lessons.

Sally and her husband, Morris Lay, have been married 35 years and live on North Main Street in Smithsburg. They owned the house next door and turned it into a harp studio to give Morris a break from the harp music.

Sally Lay said she has about a dozen harps, of assorted sizes and finishes. She said it's an expensive instrument, with small harps selling for $3,000 to $4,000 and large ones going for $10,000 to $40,000, depending on whether the purchaser springs for the gold trim and other extras.

The big pedal harp, which she plays for weddings, weighs about 80 pounds. Lay said moving harps around "is the pits."

During chemotherapy and radiation treatments for cancer, Lay said she was very sick. It was her experience with cancer that led her to volunteer to play harp for hospice patients.

Lay, a certified music practitioner from the Music for Healing and Transition Program, has played for Hospice of Washington County patients for more than eight years. Using a small, portable harp, she plays familiar hymns and songs to relax the three patients she visits once a month.

Lay is the harpist and substitute organist at Greencastle Baptist Church, where she co-teaches Sunday school with her husband, serves on committees and is assistant treasurer for the congregation.

"We serve. That's what you're supposed to do," Lay said.

Members of the harp ensemble who will play Saturday include Holly Aikens, Elizabeth Allen, Julie Allen, Sam Culp, Maria Fedoriw, Bill Hull, Lois Jarman, Lay, Erin Sempowski, Grace Simonson and Rachel Thompson.

If you go ...

What: Tri-State Harp Ensemble concert

When: Saturday, 7 p.m.

Where: Benevola United Methodist Church near Boonsboro.

Admission: Free; open to the public.

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