People on the Move: Majorie Mollenauer

The warmest part of my interview with professional harpist and music teacher Marjorie Mollenauer wasnt the gingerbread cake baking in the oven. Nor was it the black Lab/retriever mix, Mallory, licking my hand, or the live Christmas tree in the living room decorated with festive harp ornaments given to her by her pupils. It was Marjories sweet, warm smile and surprisingly soft hands. When I asked her how her fingertips could possibly be so callous free, she assured me that after more than 60 years of playing the harp on a daily basis, the calluses were therejust underneath.

    Marjorie met her husband Linn while attending Stanford University as a music major, minoring in French, and playing in the school orchestra. Linn was a Cornell graduate, working on his doctorate at Stanford and playing violin in the same orchestra. They have been making beautiful music together ever since, and are delighted to have three grandchildren. They have lived in Colts Neck since 1972, when he took a job with Bell Labs, and their two sons were raised here.

    Marjorie, however, was born and raised in Taft, California, a small rural oil town where parts of Thelma & Louise were filmed. Early on, she followed in the footsteps of her grandmother, who was an accomplished pianist. After a brief flirtation with the violin, she settled into her lifelong love affairs first with the piano and then with what is known as the concert or pedal harp.

    It was her talent and perseverance with the harp a quite difficult and cumbersome instrument to master that allowed Marjorie to travel and perform all over the world, from Hong Kong to Paris (where she dined with Rene Coty, the president of France at that time). She has played on radio, television, and in concert halls all over Europe, with Tower Hill, a musical group from the Presbyterian Church in Red Bank. She has also appeared at Carnegie Hall and with orchestras such as the Santa Fe and Monmouth Symphony Orchestras.

    Marjorie has performed at countless parties, schools, events, and weddings, the most memorable being in Yosemite National Park in an old church for a friends wedding. One of her harp strings broke as she played, making a sound like a gunshot and alarming the already nervous guests. She assured me that this is not a common occurrence and that strings usually go 10 years without breaking. There was also that time when the harp fell into the wedding cake! 

    Over the years she has met many celebrities, including Shirley MacLaine, Dean Martin, and even Elvis. In California she shared a music teacher with Harpo Marx, whom she revealed was actually quite a talkerand an excellent harpist!

    Marjorie cant even count the hundreds of students she has taught over the years, but has loved teaching every one of them and has even produced several prodigies, including Lillian Young. Currently, she has 12 piano students and about six harp students. To prepare for her harp pupils, the harps cat gut strings must be tuned for about 10 to 15 minutes each day. One of her students brings her own instrument, though she doesnt expect that of her young students; a harp weighs approximately 80 lbs. and is about 6 ft. x 4 ft. in size. She has an amplifier, but has yet to buy one of the more modern electric harps. I counted seven standing harps downstairs, each one more beautiful than the next, and she had at least one more upstairs. This helps when her sister (also a harpist) comes to visit from California, so she doesnt need to bring her own harp on the plane.

    Marjories favorite piece of music (and much to my delight, she agreed to play it for me!) is La Source, by Alphonse Hasselmans. La Source translates to the brook. As I listened intently and watched her skilled fingers gently plucking at the 46 strings (while I happily ate my warm gingerbread cake), I imagined myself out in the forest, walking alongside a pretty bubbling brook that softly tumbled over the pebbles and through the fern-covered banks a moment I just didnt want to end.


Favorite restaurant: Metropolitan Caf
Favorite music: classical piano epsecially Beethoven, Chopin, and Bach
Favorite movie: Gone With the Wind
Pet peeve: SUVs, because of their environmental impact
Three people you would like to have dinner with: my husband and two sonsand their wives

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12 Sep 2016

By Teja Anderson