Lyra Society builds the confidence of Philadelphia students through harp lessons

Katherine Scott Image
Wednesday, February 19, 2020
Philadelphia students have a unique opportunity to learn to play the harp
Philadelphia students have a unique opportunity to learn to play the harp

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Note by note, carefully running her fingers across the strings, third-grader Ky'Nirah Davis-Mitchell warms up for her harp lesson at Kipp West Philadelphia Elementary Academy in Parkside.

She is one of 30 students at five schools across the city, taking free harp lessons offered by the Lyra Society.

"It feels like I'm in an orchestra, but I'm by myself," Ky'Nirah described.

Elizabeth Hainen, the principal harp for the Philadelphia Orchestra, is the founding artistic director of the Lyra Society, which is a non-profit created 15 years ago. Its mission is to introduce the harp to underserved students and educate them through music.

"Not to be an exclusive instrument, but one that's inclusive, and one that can be available to any of the students who really want to try it," Hainen explained.

Chad King, a third-grader, has found an interest he never expected.

"I never thought I could play the instrument," he remarked.

Hainen said, "Somebody puts a harp in your hands, puts your fingers on the strings, and you pluck that first note and it's immediately something that gives you confidence and a title. It's almost like royalty."

Harps are expensive and hardly ubiquitous in schools, and these lessons have led to scholarships and opportunities in college and beyond.

Chelsea Steinberg, the school orchestra teacher, told 6abc, "There's growth in the academic component, so we're seeing increases in math and ELA scores of these students. And, just growth in confidence and the feeling of, 'I belong on this earth, and there's a reason I come to school every day.'"

No matter how long these children play the harp, the hope is that these lessons stay with them.

Ky'Nirah's father, Artis Mitchell, proudly watched his daughter play.

"It's going to be special watching her grow as she gets older," Mitchell said as he beamed.

As for Hainen, she says, "The notes I play on stage for my audience, I love that. But the notes I give to the students, in the schools, that's really the topping."