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A Beautifully Unusual Instrument and the Woman Who Plays It

NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) - It a classic Led Zepplin song with a beautiful refrain, but the beautiful instrument it’s being played on is not so common. Rachel Van Voorhees is, among other things, principal harpist for the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and an educator, but like so many other masters, she didn’t start out playing the harp.

“My parents made me take piano lessons, like everybody, and there was a summer music camp at the University of Vermont, and they encouraged you to take a second instrument for fun,” Rachel explains. “One summer I took the oboe, one summer I took the clarinet, and then by chance some gals were taking the harp, and I said, ‘I’ll try that’ and that was it, that was it.”

We are all much richer because Rachel choose the harp, an instrument that dates back centuries.

“I always say, do you know what the oldest instrument is, and that’s the human voice, and the second oldest is drums, the third oldest is the flute or the pan flute, and the fourth oldest is voila, the harp,” she says.

In addition to teaching music on the faculty at Loyola, Rachel also provides private lessons, and says she’s pleasantly surprised at the interest level of the harp in New Orleans.

“Some people come because they see me play with the symphony and the hold on to that idea and keep nagging their parents until they bring them over for lessons,” Rachel says. “Some people want to be able to play in their church, some people come because it helps their arthritis, some people come because they want to play in rock bands, and they want to learn to play harp for rock bands.”

She goes on to say, “Some people come because they only want to play Irish music and they want to learn to play that, and believe it or not some people come because they want to be symphony harpist.”

To her credit, Rachel is as comfortable in the concert setting with the philharmonic orchestra, as she is playing any genre of music.

“Besides the classical players in town, I have so much fun with everyone doing all kinds of music, it’s awesome,” she says.