Finley’s Harpist Mary Grace Rorke Breaks New Ground

Mary Grace Rorke sits with her harp.

December 14, 2016

Mary Grace Rorke is breaking new ground. The J. Taylor Finley Middle School student is the first Huntington School District student-musician in decades – maybe ever – to play the harp.

Research is still ongoing, but it has already become clear that no Huntington student-musician in at least the past 30 years has played the harp in a school orchestra. A check of yearbooks back to 1930 is underway as researchers examine annual school orchestra photos in an effort to spot a harp on the stage.

It’s large size and complexity of sound makes the harp one of the rarest of played instruments. It’s a challenging undertaking, but Ms. Rorke isn’t one to shy away from something just because it’s hard to master.

The well-balanced Finley seventh grader also loves to read and dance. Ms. Rorke plays the harp in the honors orchestra and also plays the ukulele with music teacher/orchestra director Matthew Gelfer’s ukulele club. She even finds time to sing in the honors choir and participates in the school’s Friendship Club.

Ms. Rorke started her own accessory business two years ago. “Miss Chic Bowtique” is shaping up to be quite an enterprise.

A serious ballet dancer who studies and trains at Lynch School of Ballet, Ms. Rorke has attended various summer intensive programs, including the American Ballet Theatre’s program at the University of Alabama last June and the French Academie of Ballet in New York City in August. She participated in the American Ballet Theatre’s young dancer program in Manhattan for three years.

Frequently asked how she happened to get started playing the harp, Ms. Rorke responds that “the answer is actually quite funny.”

The seventh grader and her mother, Alice Marie Rorke were shopping at Walt Whitman Mall nine years ago when they came across a harpist playing the “most beautiful music” to the delight of shoppers. At all of three years old, Ms. Rorke stopped in her tracks and stood there mesmerized for 20 minutes while the harpist performed her angelic repertoire.

Later that night and for weeks to follow Ms. Rorke wouldn’t stop talking about the harp and it’s beautiful sound so on December 25 of that same year Santa Claus brought her a toy harp to satisfy her curiosity.

The questions kept coming periodically for the next two years, so Ms. Rorke’s parents spent a considerable amount of time researching the possibility of getting their daughter harp lessons.

After a series of trial and error lessons from various teachers across the Tri-State area, the family struck gold when Ms. Rorke was paired with Brandee Younger. The Finley seventh grade is currently a member of the Long Island chapter of the American Harp Society. She has performed at Studio 80 and the Greenwich School of Music in Manhattan and at various Nassau and Suffolk venues.

Ms. Rorke and Mr. Gelfer met last summer for an audition and to brainstorm how to incorporate the harp into Finley’s music program. The music teacher and Finley Principal John Amato were both excited to have a harpist in the school orchestra program.

Standing five feet in height, Ms. Rorke is just about as tall as her lever harp. She will soon transition to the next and final harp size, which measures six feet tall. The pedal harp is found in most symphony orchestras.

When it comes time to perform, Ms. Rorke and her parents mobilize to move the harp to the venue without damaging the instrument. She owns a hand truck/dolly that the harp gets strapped to when it has to be transported. A large car is another must.

Ms. Rorke’s passion for music and dance has motivated her to continue training in both the world of ballet and mastering the harp in the orchestra.

The Finley seventh grader feels so fortunate to have the opportunity to share her talents with the Huntington community and expressed appreciation to Messrs. Gelfter and Amato and Eric Reynolds, district director of fine and performing arts along with music department faculty members in general for the “incredible support” as Ms. Rorke pursues her interests.

Brandee Younger with Finley seventh grader Mary Grace Rorke.
Mary Grace Rorke might be Huntington's first harpist ever.

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