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Rolph Literacy Academy teacher shares 'super power' of harp playing

As chords of harp music floated through the music room, children with large eyes watched silently as Literacy Intervention Specialist Jenny Armstrong’s fingers flew up and down the harp strings.

Jenny wanted to show Rolph Literacy Academy students her own special “super power.”

Rolph Literacy Academy students have dyslexia, which is a learning difference that is characterized by difficulty reading, writing and spelling. Dyslexia comes with specific strengths, or super powers, in areas other than reading. These strengths are often in the visual-spatial, emotional, kinesthetic or creative areas, though each individual is different.

Jenny does not have dyslexia, but she does have a super power. Showcasing different talents helps the students understand that intelligence shows itself in many forms. From the age of 3, Jenny said she was drawn to harp music.

“I heard the harp on a CD my mom was playing, and I told her it sounded like angel music, and I wanted to play,” she said. “My mom wrote it off as a toddler fantasy, but I kept wanting to play.”

Finally, when Jenny was 9, family friends met a harpist and connected her with Jenny. One of the biggest hurdles to overcome for Jenny’s parents was making the decision to purchase Jenny her own harp to practice with at home. Pedal harps cost about $10,000, but Jenny started learning to play on a less expensive lever harp.

RLA music teacher Audrey Mershon had Jenny use the harp for several different curricular purposes, include reviewing scales and practicing conducting.

“We knew the kids would think it was super cool,” Jenny said. “It’s great. They are all in awe of it.”

Jenny said she was excited to bring her harp with her to school because watching someone play the harp is not something many of the children had experienced.

“It’s not something a lot of people encounter,” she said. “They might see one in an orchestra but not even hear it in the orchestra music.”

Audrey and Jenny had students take turn running their fingers up and down the strings.

“They like to watch how it works,” Jenny said. “The pedals change the tension on the strings.”

Jenny plays a handful of gigs a year, including playing holiday music and playing at weddings. For the most part, she plays for her own enjoyment.

“It’s relaxing,” she said. “I like playing soundtrack music or finding songs, and deciding ‘Ooh, this would sound really cool on the harp.’”

Recently, Jenny has begun writing her own arrangements of popular music.

“I can get a lot of different sounds from it, so I can play a variety of different music,” she said. “It’s just something I really liked the sound of and always wanted to play.”

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