Friday, Apr 27, 2018
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Long-time music lover gives symphony Steinway of harps

One of the Toledo Symphony s most faithful angels has just given 150 pounds of celestial music-making potential to the 65-year-old orchestra.

It s a harp, the biggest and best offered by Lyon & Healy, the Chicago company known worldwide as a premiere maker of the instrument that is not only beautiful to hear but lovely to look at.

Norman Nitschke, a long-time supporter of the orchestra, is the generous giver.

Standing more than 6 feet tall, with that signature deep curved top and elaborate Victorian-style carving, the new instrument, a Series 23, has 47 strings and seven pedals on which a player can produce music over six octaves.

And indeed, when Nancy Lendrim, the symphony s principal harpist, plucked its new strings this week for an appreciative audience of TSO trustees, it was a heavenly moment.

I know I m the happiest member of the Toledo Symphony, beamed Lendrim, a 28-year veteran artist who holds the Lois Nitschke endowed chair.

She gave a demonstration of the new acquisition s capabilities during the quarterly meeting of the board plucking her graceful way through music by Tournier and Britten, winding up with a lively carol medley.

I felt like I had won the harp lottery, Lendrim said. The American-made instrument is birdseye maple and spruce plus yards of strings made of metal, wire, and gut.

It s the Steinway of harps, noted symphony president Bob Bell.

Indeed, the century-old manufacturer at the center of the global harp world sponsors a regular concert series in its own Lyon & Healy Hall in the Windy City, and supports an international harp competition for professionals.

With its huge rolling case, cover, extra strings, and tools, the new instrument cost $35,000. For direct information on the harp, check this site:

Our hope is that this harp will be part of the Toledo Symphony for decades to come, added Lendrim, who gained an additional benefit with the new harp no more schlepping.

Because the symphony owns it, professional stage hands now transfer the harp and its 300-pound case from rehearsal hall to performance venue.

I figure I was spared 100 moves this month alone, noted Lendrim, who can now keep her own harps at home where she practices and teaches some 15 students.

During the busy holiday concert season this month, the new harp has gradually been broken in, a process necessary for nearly every stringed instrument.

By the time Lendrim and the Toledo Symphony perform Valeri Kikta s work for solo harp and orchestra, Fresco of St. Sofia, in Classics concerts March 27 and 28, the instrument should be at its peak.

Despite the recession swirling like ugly snow outside Symphony Space on Monday, the board savored some good financial news from orchestra executives: a nagging $111,000 current budget deficit that they worried over at the last meeting has been reduced to nearly zero by targeted cuts in various budgets and by not replacing several employees who left for other jobs.

Citing 1,100 gifts of record to date, Kathy Carroll, executive vice president, reminded the board, We need 3,000 donors to achieve the growth necessary for our long-range plan.

Among the optimistic members enjoying both the upside financial news and the glorious music was Nitschke, the angel. He and his late wife, Lois, showed their love for music by supporting the orchestra and musical events at Bowling Green State University. The Nitschke family also has endowed engineering buildings at the University of Toledo.

Why the harp?

A little history may help.

Many years ago Nancy played the harp at our daughter s wedding, recalled Nitschke, a retired engineer who helped turn up the heat in the glass and solar industry with inventions and business creation over the last half of the 20th century.

And Lois, whom he met when both worked at the Sun Oil Co. during World War II, was a musician.

She played the piano. Now, many of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren play instruments, Nitschke noted, violin, bassoon, and piano among them.

Through such gifts Lois remains a living presence in the community.

Nitschke, a quiet man, admits to playing the harp years ago the same harp favored by countless folk and rock musicians a harmonica.

Contact Sally Vallongo at

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