Straight from the harp

Liew Yin Wan (left) and Alicia Chen (right), who learnt to play the harp at 72 and 67 respectively.

WHEN Liew Yin Wan was a little girl, she dreamt of learning a musical instrument. However, financial constraints made it a pipe dream at the time. When the 72-year-old learnt that the National Arts Council (NAC) commissioned a professional harpist to give free harp lessons for seniors as part of the Silver Arts Festival 2017, she leapt at the chance.

“When I was young, learning music was a luxury and I envied those who could play an instrument. That’s why I just had to sign up for this project!” Madam Liew said.

The Let The Harps Sound community arts project encouraged seniors to creatively express themselves through their favourite songs while learning to play the harp. The project culminated with a live performance by the seniors at the National Library to showcase their newfound musical talent.

For someone who has never played a musical instrument in her life, mastering the harp was a tall order as she struggled to memorise the notes.  

She had a stroke of ingenuity in figuring out those musical notes.

“I created my own method of re-writing the notes to help me remember them. I visualised the harp, practising my finger positioning and hand movement on the imaginary harp.

“It also helps that the instructor, Katryna Tan, was very professional, patient and encouraging,” she added. 

harp with instructor

Strings that bind: The harp lessons have helped Madam Liew and harpist Katryna Tan (right) bond over their love for music.

Madam Liew’s hard work paid off. Six weeks and 12 lessons later, she played the harp onstage with 19 other seniors whose ages range from 51 to 76 years old.

What was more impressive was the fact that Madam Liew overcame her stage fright too – her mind would go blank despite having mastered the performance.

“Surprisingly, I was not nervous before performing. I feel very proud and satisfied with my performance as I did not disappoint my teacher and myself!” she said with a grin.

Like Madam Liew, 67-year-old Alicia Chen has never played a musical instrument before. She too took the plunge with this NAC harp project.

“At first I had doubts whether I could learn the instrument as my eyesight is poor and I found it challenging to pluck the vibrating strings,” she shared.

Despite her worries, Madam Chen’s stage debut with the other seniors was a hit.

group harp
Ain’t no harpist old enough: Together with a group of seniors, Madam Chen (leftmost in picture) performed the harp for the first time at the National Library.

Although, being a perfectionist, she felt her performance could have been better. We think she is being too hard on herself!

Both women are living proof that you are never too old to learn and pursue your dreams.

“I enjoy learning new things and challenging myself. The sky is the limit,” said Madam Liew.

Added Madam Chen: “Seize the opportunities that come your way. We may be growing older, but there is still so much to be learnt.”

As with all Silver Arts community arts projects, Let The Harps Sound was a one-off project. If you are keen to receive updates on Silver Arts community arts projects, please email

Article published on: 22/11/2017