Making a harp for Judy

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Making a harp for Judy

Making a harp for Judy

By Geoff Grundy

Geoff Grundy, 72, lives with his wife Sue in a retirement village on the Central Coast. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s when he was 63. This is his story of how he put his musical and wood-working skills together to make his sister-in-law a harp.

Judy, my wife’s sister, came to visit. I was playing a few tunes on my guitar. She said she would have liked to learn to play a musical instrument.

This was difficult now as Judy had a stroke which had left her paralysed on her left side.

I thought, what could she play? A harp! I had previously attempted to make a harp, but this was a failure. I underestimated the tension placed on the soundboard by the strings.

So I proceeded to design and make a harp, limiting myself to two octaves. I looked up a chart for string lengths, tensions, and sizes. Looked at a few different designs.

This time it worked – or at least didn’t pull itself apart. It sounded terrible ( twang twang). I tried a string change which made a difference. Tried a different harmonic arc. Finally sounds and looks ok.

I hope she enjoys learning to play it. I have put her in touch with fellow ‘Parky’ musical mate Martin Prior to assist her.

I have found making small instruments is good for my Parkinson’s, the concentration, calculations, and planning keep me going.

There are days I am unable to do anything. Tools are very sharp, and one slip can cause a lot of damage – best not to touch when having shaky days. Frustrations when my mind is not quite connecting to the body.

The village where I live has a workshop where I can get assistance to break down the pieces of timber that I need. I try to recycle as much as I can: timber from old pianos, furniture and building materials.

After I get the timber roughly to size, everything is done by hand, There is not a lot needed – a good Japanese pull saw, a few sharp chisels of assorted sizes, a plane, scraper, measuring tapes, rulers, and lots of clamps. Oh… and patience – do a bit, wait for the glue to dry; do a bit more, wait for the glue to dry.

What once would to take me one hour now takes two or more. There is confusion when doing calculations. Some days I can do nothing at all. Others I can manage.

I have built guitars, having made my first locally at the Australian Guitar Making School. So I was able to use the woodworking skills learned from this to make the harp.

Through Parkinson’s I met Martin, who also has Parkinson’s. We both have music interests. Martin has made several recordings. Hopefully, we will be able to get together and make a CD of our music using homemade instruments. (I will have to learn to play a harp first!)

It has now been seven years since my diagnosis. There have been some difficult times. I have learned to live within my limitations and have a good life with my wife, Sue, who puts up with the dust from sanding wood and hearing the same songs over and over until I get it how I want it (not necessarily as written).

I am 72 years young. Now my days start with meditation and tai chi. I walk when and where I can,  One helps the brain, the other the body. I hope to have many good years ahead, Never give up.