The earliest record of the harp is in a photo of the Sacred Heart College orchestra in 1952.

Forgotten harp found at Sacred Heart College

Published on Sunday, 29 November 2020, 9:19 a.m. Print Article

Lara Coates had just started her job as a music teacher at Sacred Heart College when she made an amazing discovery under the stairs. 
 
There, tucked away in a corner was an old and forgotten harp that is believed to have travelled from France to the College between the 1800s to 1900s.  
 
Mrs Coates says questions immediately raised questions and she wanted to know the story behind the harp. 
 
Her students are equally as fascinated by the discovery.
 
The instrument: an Erard Freres Double Action Pedal Harp, is a unique seven-pedal harp specific to the Parisian company, which allegedly does not operate anymore. 

From searching Google, to speaking with people associated with the school, both past and present, she has unearthed some information but believes there is more to be unlocked. 
 
A lot of records were destroyed in 2001 when the convent building, the chapel and a section of the hostel were destroyed by fire. 

She contacted Sister Colleen, who retired at the end of 2014 and was the last Sister of Our Lady of the Missions.  
 
“Oral tradition was that the harp was obtained from France by the Sisters in Napier. In those days their only income was from giving private music lessons and no doubt a harp enhanced the lessons that could be offered,” she said. 
 
It is understood two other harps are in Christchurch and Hamilton. 

The earliest evidence of it being played is in the form of a photograph of the school orchestra from 1952. 
 
“It sounds like what happened was it was used and taught and then it sat in the flat attached to the convent under a window in direct sunlight for many years and so subsequently the hot sun beating down on the soundboard distorted and warped it.” 
 
She is unsure when it was last played but does know a young woman borrowed the harp during the 1990s when she would return to Napier for her University break. 
 
“At that time, her parents took it to a luthier to see if it could be restored and he deemed it unrestorable as too much damage had been done to it by the sun and so I think at that point it ceased to be used and has been shunted from one storage place to another ever since.”
 
Mrs Coates says she would like to find out the story of how the harp came to be. 

“I guess if we let our imagination run away with us it is entirely feasible to think that it may have even come on the boat with the Sisters when they came out and established the mission, or with Euphrasie and if that’s the case it’s an incredible link to the establishing of the convent and the Sacred Heart in Napier.” 

SHC on its present site in Convent Road was founded by The Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions (RNDM) in 1867 and was the first Catholic school and hostel established by the Sisters in New Zealand.

Euphrasie Barbier, a 19th Century French nun, founded RNDM in 1861 in France and is believed to have visited Napier.

Mrs Coates would also like to get her own assessment of the harp done as to whether it can be restored or not. 

“If it cannot be restored to be played, I think it would be really lovely to restore it visually because it’s a beautiful instrument.” 

If this is the case, and it is not able to be played, she has ideas of turning it into a picture frame with historic photos inside, and glass over it, and displayed in the Mission Centre. 

But the options are endless. “It’s a really tangible and beautiful link to the history of the school so that in itself is reason enough to have it out and able to be seen.” 

She hopes others in the community might have memories of the harp. 

She believes all instruments have “stories to tell”. This one just happens to have many tales behind its strings.  
 

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