Mandy Mangrum’s harp knows who the real star of the show is.
Foregoing any gold leaf gilding, cherubs, flowers or other design ruffles, the stately, wooden Lyon & Healy Style 85 model leaves all of the flourishes to the capable fingers of its owner.
“The Style 85 concert grand has less intricate detail but I like it. I think this one has a strong statement just the way it is,” Mangrum says.
The Brandon native was first drawn to the harp in the third grade at the wedding reception of one of her teachers. “It’s so neat to see but I couldn’t get over how amazing the sound was,” she says. After taking piano for several years, Mangrum finally convinced her family to get her a small Celtic harp that she has since traded in for the much larger Style 85.
From a drawing room at her Brandon home, Mangrum does a quick mini-concert of Debussy and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” then jumps up to go over some basic harp anatomy, using elegant gestures to highlight different parts.
“There’s 1,400 moving parts inside, which is really astounding,” Mangrum says, looking up at the instrument which towers over her. It takes more than a year for the Chicago-based Lyon & Healy company to build each harp and they have floors of their workshop dedicated to each part.
The fluted column or pillar supports the neck of the harp where a row of grommets and tuning pins hold strings that can be tightened by pitch-controlling pedals. The body of the harp has carved openings in the back that produce each sumptuous sound.
The road to becoming a classical harpist wasn’t easy for Mangrum. After the only private harp instructor in Mississippi moved to Atlanta, she took monthly lessons from teachers in Memphis and later Baton Rouge, La. The harp would eventually draw Mangrum all the way through college and graduate school at Louisiana State University and the University of North Texas.
UNT brought Mangrum “the coolest gig ever” of her young career after she was selected to accompany the UNT orchestra and country music superstar Tim McGraw at the grand opening concert for the Dallas Cowboys’ new stadium. Backstage, Mangrum got to meet McGraw and his wife, Mississippi native Faith Hill. “She didn’t have on a lick of makeup. Gorgeous, just gorgeous,” Mangrum says.
Mangrum has also played at music camps in Switzerland, the gardens and home of Netscape founder Jim Barksdale and antebellum homes from Vicksburg to Natchez. Other gigs are more somber. “I had met a woman a couple of days before she died,” Mangrum says. “She knew she was dying and came up to me at this event I was playing and said I want you to play for my funeral. It just hit closer to home.”
For an instrument that just brims with celestial, peaceful sounds, you would think that people would be lining up around the block to learn to play.
“It is really expensive and it is considered to be the most difficult instrument to learn to play,” Mangrum says.
The expense and misconception that the harp is some stuffy, Old World classical instrument may hold back general interest but Mangrum says any music can be enjoyed on the modern harp from Broadway to Britney Spears. Her favorite composer is Marcel Grandjany, one of the country’s founding fathers of harp music.
Currently an adjunct harp instructor at Belhaven University, Mangrum hopes to spark interest in the instrument at the college and one day have students playing gigs across the region. She also wants to use the harp to promote music appreciation in schools.
“I learned a canon on ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time,’” Mangrum says. “If I have a student that says they aren’t learning how to play the harp unless they can play Lady Gaga, then I’ll transcribe some of her music for the harp. You hear Lady Gaga on the piano and harp sounds the same.”
The Lyon & Healy Style
85 Concert Grand Harp
Wood: Sitka spruce, hard maple
Height: : 72’’
Weight: 81 lbs.
Retail price: $21,500
>>VIDEO Mandy Mangrum shows her concert grand harp to MBJ-TV.