Because I know that sometimes my students and their parents read this blog, I want to post a warning first - this story is a little disturbing, and there will be swearing.
As a freelancing harpist, I’m very used to moving my harp by myself. Since I was eighteen I’ve been able to load and unload it from my car, and drag it and all of my equipment around alone.
Inevitably, while I am in the midst of moving my instrument, someone will happen by and offer to help. And sometimes I do need help. I will often accept help in the form of a held door. If it’s a friend or acquaintance offering, I will sometimes ask them to carry my bag or my bench. But I personally never choose to have strangers handle my harp. So more often than not, when a passerby on the street stops and asks me if I need help, I smile politely and tell them no, thank you, I’ve got it covered. I do always appreciate it when people offer.
People don’t always take no for an answer. Sometimes people - strangers - will just swoop in while I am loading and start trying to push it and move it around without asking if that’s what I want. This is always annoying. My mom told me once that I should be more polite and let people help me, but when someone comes in and starts “helping” me without asking, it is much more of a hindrance than a help. This, of course, does not include people like my close friends, family, or boyfriend, who have observed me often enough to know my system and how they can be most useful. My father is the only person I trust regularly to unpack and move it without my help or supervision - he has, after all, been doing it longer than I have!
I have had amusing encounters, like the time I was packing up after a wedding and three muscly groomsman came over and very kindly asked what they could do to help me. When I smiled and said that one of them could carry my bench, but that I could get the harp on my own, they were quite bemused - but impressed that I could move it with relative ease.
I have also had annoying episodes with people who were being rude instead of helpful. Once I was loading my harp into my car after a church gig when an older man came over, practically pushed me aside, and informed me condescendingly that as a little girl, I could not do this without help (I was 24).
Last night was the first time one of these encounters took a bad turn and became scary. I drove my harp to downtown Manhattan for a late night rehearsal. As I was pulling it out of my car, a group of about five men who had been standing outside the building came over and asked if I wanted help. Like I usually do when this happens, I smiled and told them politely that no, thank you, I could do it myself. Instead of listening to me, several of them grabbed it and started tipping it to the side, pulling it every which way. I am normally a very chill person, but this is my harp we’re talking about. I freaked. I told them to put it down, stop pushing it, I will do it on my own. They refused, insisting that they were helping. I started panicking, and tried to put it on the cart and get out of there as fast as I possibly could. They kept tipping it over the wrong way, and too far, and I pictured it tumbling to the ground and cracking in half. I kept repeating myself - stop doing that, put it down, I can do it on my own. I raised my voice until eventually I was almost yelling, and drove them off.
All but one man, who grabbed hold of my harp and insisted that he was helping me. He started dragging it backwards - it was on the cart but not strapped in, and the ground was very uneven. I grabbed hold of it, and told him again, loudly, to let go. He refused. At this point, I snapped. I got in his face and screamed at him to back the fuck off and leave me alone. He shouted back, calling me a stupid bitch and saying that he was trying to help me. We yelled at each other several more times before he finally let go and backed away. He continued to shout curses and insults at me as I packed up my things and got in the building as fast as I could.
When I got upstairs to the rehearsal space, the anger I had felt moments before collapsed, and I just cried. Although they hadn’t been physically attacking me, I still felt sick and scared. I completely forgot that I was going to go out and grab dinner before the rehearsal, and even if I had remembered, I would not have gone outside by myself after that. I don’t think I played too terribly in rehearsal, but I felt dazed and shaky, and not altogether present.
I’m not too sure what to take from this story. I know my parents and aunts worry about me getting around the city by myself - and I’m sure that reading this will not help - but I can hardly stop taking my harp to gigs. There will always be creeps who do things like this. And I’ve wondered if this happens to other people - other harpists, or, specifically, male harpists. I realize I probably don’t look like someone who can move a harp on their own - I’m small, and female. Is it my imagination, thinking that being a woman is one of the reasons people think I can’t handle my instrument? Am I being oversensitive? I’d really like to hear from other people, and especially other harpists (or players of large instruments), about what you think. Do any of you have stories like this?
Although I’m still reeling a bit from this experience, I have to say - it is good to know that I’m capable of standing up for myself when I have to.