Harpo's harping

I was somewhat surprised to read in the review of ``Harpo Speaks'' (Aug. 27), that ``Harpo learned to play the harp (with no formal instruction). . . .'' While it may be that he had not actually sat in a music studio for harp lessons, he learned how to play the instrument from a world-famed concert harpist, Mildred Dilling, ``queen'' of the harp world at that time. In a conversation with Miss Dilling several years ago, she reminisced how Harpo's career with the harp began. She subsequently spent a great deal of time dictating her reminiscences to my husband, with the idea of a future book on her own singular career. Here are some excerpts from those notes:

``One day while I was trying a harp in a New York music store, playing snatches of something or other, a youngish man standing by inquired: `Lady, learn me that!' It was Harpo Marx, although I did not know him until the store manager had introduced us.

``I said, `I will be glad to teach you, yes,' whereupon we started our first lesson.

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``I quickly discovered that Harpo was allergic to the printed page.''

Miss Dilling said she never succeeded in teaching him to read music, but taught him a measure at a time, and he, having a phenomenal memory, learned the music by rote.

When he was in New York, where Miss Dilling lived while not on concert tours in the United States and abroad, he came for lessons nightly except Tuesdays when the famed Thanatopsis Inside Straight and Literary Club met.

The American Harp Journal (Winter 1981 issue) contains a photo of the eminent concert harpist and her most famous pupil, which was taken at a joint concert several years ago.

Formal training it might not have been. Extraordinary, it certainly was! Eileen Detlefsen Bellevue, Ohio

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published and none individually acknowledged. All are subject to condensation. Please address letters to ``readers write.''

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