Times Colonist Story

Harpist proves itís never too late to follow dream.
By Susan Down, Times Colonist staff, April 25, 2002

Rosemary Beland knew early in life that she was destined to be a harpist, but it took over 40 years before she achieved her dream. The Victoria musician makes her concert debut this Sunday with her new 24 carat-gold-leafed harp, playing the angelic music that she has waited half a lifetime to create.

Raised in Sidney, Beland was about four when her mother took her to the symphony. "She said to me, 'Listen to all the instruments and pick one out, then when you're older you can play it' " Beland recalls. "I knew I was born to play the harp." In response, her mother told her the harp was beautiful but not too practical. "She was thinking high school band," said Beland. "I put the harp aside and forgot about it because I was told I couldn't do it."

The youngster's second choice was the French Horn, an instrument Beland assumed she could start playing once she got to kindergarten. She recalls being horribly disappointed when she finally got to school and discovered she'd have to wait seven more years. In the meantime, she taught herself to play the family's old player piano (with the rollers removed) using handed down music primers from a cousin, since her family could not afford lessons.

Unfortunately the television was right next to the piano, something that caused conflict between Beland and her four sisters. She recalls being captivated by the Moonlight Sonata when she was about 12. When her mother bought her the sheet music, she spent hours deciphering it. "My sisters were cramped around the TV saying "Mom tell her to shut up'." she said. "They still bug me to this day. None of them can listen to the Moonlight Sonata."

In high school she excelled on the French Horn, earning a position with a local Peninsula orchestra. When she graduated she told her family she wanted to be a musician. Once again the response was "That's not very practical," so she chose plan B - nursing.

Suppressing her artistic temperament made her desperately unhappy, although she completed the program. When her new husband asked her what she would rather do, she settled on the idea of teaching piano, despite the fact that she had never had a lesson herself. So they got a piano and she had her first lesson at 24, galloping through the skill levels at a phenomenal rate. Four years later she was on the faculty of the Victoria Conservatory of Music after scoring the highest mark in the teacher training program.

She taught at VCM for a decade, during which time she also learned to play the hammer dulcimer, producing four recordings including collaborations with musicians such as Will Millar. When she and her husband separated, she went back to nursing, worried that she wouldn't be able to support herself and her son by teaching. Two years ago she hit the burnout stage in her job in a psychiatric program. She took a year's leave, relying on music to support her.

"I just threw myself on the mercy of the universe," she said. Toward the end of the year she played at a concert with Kathryn Ely, a UVIC harp professor and the Grande Dame of the harp community. "I was stunned by how beautiful it was. I hadn't heard anything like it since I was four years old." said Beland. She began taking lessons with Ely last year and in that time reached Grade 10. Just recently she bought her own 44-string concert harp, a $40,000 bird's eye maple and gold leafed model made by Camac in France, the only one of its kind in North America.

Now, at 48, she aims to continue the plan she made at the age of four. She plays at weddings and private functions and hopes to tour on the concert stage one day. She will attend UVIC in the fall to study music.

Surprisingly, finding her voice through the instrument allowed her to go back to nursing, too. "My perspective had changed," she said. "I thought it was preventing me from playing music, but now it is supporting it."

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