Harps — and hearts — of gold

Harpist Virginia Schweninger will conduct a Harps of Gold Christmas Concert with Harp Song of the Blue Ridge and Nancy VanZant at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 12 at Fort Hill United Methodist Church in Lynchburg. VanZant will perform on pipe organ and handbells. The concert is a benefit for the church’s Park View Community Mission.

Schweninger, a harp instructor at Sweet Briar, will direct up to 15 harpists over the course of the program, which will begin with local students in her Harp Song of the Blue Ridge group. Schweninger and VanZant will perform a set on the harp and handbells, followed by another in which a chorus of 12 to 14 harpists will play together, including Sweet Briar first-year student Carson Brooks.

The concert is free but charitable offerings will be accepted. Schweninger said she hopes to raise more than $4,000, with nearly the entire amount going to Park View because the musicians’ time will be donated. The mission provides food and services for homeless women and children.

This is the third year that Schweninger has organized Harps of Gold concerts to benefit various charities. The idea arose over lunch at the studio of Howard Bryan, a noted antique harp restorer who lives in Lynchburg. They thought it would be fun to have a concert featuring some of the rare gold harps he has restored.

“A neighbor said, ‘You can do it at our church,’ ” Schweninger recalled. “They then discovered the funding for The Gateway had been cut by the state. Perfect storm. Three weeks later we had seven antique gold harps, seven lovely harpists, a venue, a mission, and two hundred fifty people packed the church.”

They had to turn people away and raised more than $3,000 for The Gateway, she said. The agency serves homeless men recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. Last year a similar concert with the Wednesday Music Club in Charlottesville raised roughly $10,000 for scholarships for young musicians. This year they’re also doing another concert in Afton for Nelson County and Staunton seniors.

“Harpists love to perform with one another — hundreds of strings resonating in concert is truly a magical sound,” Schweninger said.

The musicians also love giving back to the community and have the means to do so, she said. “People are fascinated and mesmerized by the harp, which makes it pretty easy for us to attract a large audience, give them a very special experience and contribute to a worthy cause.”

For more information, call Fort Hill Methodist Church at (434) 847-1251 or visit www.virginiasharp.com.