When Kate Schimmoeller starts piano lessons in January, she’ll have a leg up over other beginning-level students.
The 8-year-old already knows how to play one instrument: the harp.
Kate was among those who took advantage of a harp lesson Monday night during First Night Akron.
“It was a little easier than I thought,” the Richfield girl said after her lesson, which included the whole class playing a song together at the end.
The harp workshop in Greystone Hall was among the new activities offered at the 17th-annual First Night Akron, a visual and performing arts festival that brings the community downtown to welcome the new year. The First Night concept was born in Boston in 1976 and has spread to 67 other cities across the United States.
Other activities that premiered Monday included the Air Aquarium in the John S. Knight Center that allowed revelers to enter the belly of an inflatable whale, and glide 50 remote-control fish and shark balloons through the air. Also new this year was a dance in Greystone Hall featuring music from the 1940s up to Lady Gaga, and performances by comic hypnotist Michael Oddo at the Akron Civic Theatre.
Many classics were among the 100 exhibits, performances, crafts and workshops offered at venues throughout downtown. This included First Night weddings, with couples ringing in the new year by tying or retying the knot by renewing their vows. The ceremony was shortly after 9 p.m. on the grand staircase of the Akron Civic Theater.
Holly Pratt of Holly’s Harps, a program of the Cincinnati arts organization Lyrica Inc., set up 30 children’s harps and introduced the audience of young and old to playing the string instrument. She started by explaining the strings and the parts of the harp. She then had them practice strumming the strings.
“It hurts a little,” Kate said as she plucked strings on her small harp.
“Pull gently,” Pratt suggested.
Pratt then demonstrated how to play a succession of strings to create a song. The students copied her movements, and the sound of harps filled the auditorium.
“Wow! Good for you,” Pratt told her students with a big smile.
“Would you like to take a bow?” she asked them, and demonstrated how a gentleman and lady would bow and curtsey.
Donna Schimmoeller said the family made the harp lesson its initial stop at First Night, because they wanted to see the historic Greystone Hall and were curious about learning to play the instrument.
“This is a beautiful place,” she said. “We thought this was a perfect first stop.”