Olin Berry King
1934 – 2012
Mr. Olin King was a focused creative force and a legendary entrepreneur of vision and drive, but he was also a remarkably thoughtful philanthropist. His individual donations, as well as those of his wife, Shelbie, who served on the HSO Board of Trustees and remains a loyal Emerita Trustee, have helped sustain and nurture the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra over a period of many years. However, The Olin B. King Foundation, which he created in his lifetime and which survives his death, has also chosen to contribute to the HSO continuously and with notable generosity.
In January of this year, I received notice from The Olin B. King Foundation of a precedent-setting gift to the HSO. The wish of the Foundation was to cover the entire annual salary of one of the very talented core musicians of the HSO, specifically Katherine Newman, Principal Harp. To my knowledge, no donor, organization, or foundation has previously given with this intent, but it is a great financial boon to the HSO. Of course, the HSO Board of Trustees and staff were very pleased to have a valued member of the orchestra honored in this way, but for Katherine herself, it was a positive but overwhelming shock to have such a significant gift bestowed upon the HSO on her behalf. Her gratitude knows no bounds.
And why Katherine? Therein lies a tale of remarkable artistry and incredible coincidence involving golden sister harps, made by the same artisan at the same time on the same workbench in 1953, at the premier harp manufacturing company in the world, Lyon & Healy in Chicago. Mr. and Mrs. King ended up with serial number 4507 and Katherine Newman with serial number 4508. The amazing story of how these two beautiful harps came to the same town and are associated with the same musical organization is best told in Katherine’s own words. The story was originally published in the spring 2006 HSO program, and it is now available in its entirety at www.hso.org.
Once the sisterhood of the harps was discovered by a technician brought from Florida to Huntsville to maintain several harps in the area, the Kings and Mrs. Newman also became related in a sense. And through the years, Katherine had multiple opportunities to play one harp or the other for the Kings on many occasions, including with the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra with Mr. and Mrs. King in the audience. Finally, Katherine was asked by his family to play at Mr. King’s funeral.
That the Trustees of The Olin B. King Foundation have chosen to remember Mr. King with this extraordinary donation and to honor both Katherine Newman and the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra in this way is not only truly remarkable but also thoughtful in the way that Mr. King’s own personal philanthropy was thoughtful – giving in a deliberate way to fill a specific need. I am touched by this gift and remain particularly grateful to the King Family for their years of kind thoughts and actions toward the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra.
President and CEO
Huntsville Symphony Orchestra
A Tale of Two Harps
By Katherine Newman, HSO Principal Harp
Once upon a time, there were two golden harps that, much like twin sister, were separated at birth. This is the story of the journey to their reunion.
They were “born” in October of 1953 – crafted in Chicago by the world’s premier harp manufacturing company, Lyon & Healy. The harps received their unique markings, much like thoroughbreds and violins: serial number 4507-23 and 4508-23. Rather than giving their instruments names like Daphne or Aurora after the Greek goddesses, the manufacturer keeps things very bare-bones with simple numbers. Those in the harp world know that the number 23 indicates a certain model of Lyon & Healy harp, while the first group of four numbers is the clue to the chance discover fifty years later that they were built as a pair.
Although no two Lyon & Healy harps are alike, crafted by hand as they are, “sister harps” possess greater similarities than any other two randomly-selected instruments. They are built side-by-side by the same artisan on the same workbench, together through each painstaking step, from start to finish.
“Sister harps” separated
Harp 4507 was “adopted” in 1953 as a newborn by Veda Proctor of Huntsville, the future Mrs. Roy Kranert. Roy was a string bass player who joined forces a year later with several other area musicians to form an orchestra in Huntsville. Soon after, Miss Proctor was playing Lyon & Healy harp 4507 in the Huntsville Civic Orchestra.
While 4507 was enjoying its musical life in Huntsville, 4508 had moved to New York City, “adopted” by Curtis Institute graduate and former Philadelphia Orchestra harpist Marjorie Tyre. Recently named to a position with the Metropolitan Opera, Miss Tyre decided she preferred the ornate appearance of the gold-leaf Lyon & Healy 23 that beautifully complemented the Rocco-style décor of the opera house. This became her prized harp and she used in exclusively for the next thirty-five years.
Marjorie Tyre’s love of the harp was exceeded only by her love for Maltby Sykes, a prominent artist who studied with muralist Diego Rivera in Mexico. In the mid-1960s, she abandoned her New York City career and the Metropolitan Opera to marry Sykes and move south the Auburn, Alabama, where he was artist-in-residence at the university. At this time, Mrs. Kranert played less frequently and Miss Tyre was soon in demand by orchestras throughout the southeast, including the HSO.
Tyre students form “sisterhood”
In 1968, I enrolled at Auburn University as a harp major, specifically to study with Miss Tyre, as I was asked to call her – she preferred her professional name. It was immediately evident to me that when I went to her home for harp lessons, I was not going to be playing on her 23. No one else played that harp! On the rare occasion when she had no choice but to let me play her harp, it was a Stradivarius experience for me.
Two years later, another harp student, Caroline Brown, enrolled at Auburn also to study with Miss Tyre. Within thirty minutes of our first meeting, Caroline and I each found the sister neither of us had! We took repertoire and pedagogy classes together, and played in the Tyre Harp Ensemble, a group of four to six harpists playing original compositions and transcriptions. Our love of this unique ensemble experience stayed with both of us for over thirty years until Caroline and I eventually reunited to from Duo D’Oro in 2003. Now we regularly perform compositions form our harp ensemble days at Auburn, as well as some of our own arrangements. We have appeared in performances in the Washington, D.C. area where Caroline resides, and elsewhere in the southeast.
Harps in Huntsville
Miss Tyre continued commuting to Huntsville, serving as the HSO’s principal harpist. In 1976, the HSO presented a concert that required a second harp. Although I was pregnant with my third child and living in LaGrange, Georgia, I eagerly accepted Music Director Mar Pales’ invitation to play in Holst’s The Planets alongside Marjorie, as I was now allowed to call her. We performed in the recently-inaugurated Von Braun Civic Center, now known as the VBC, designed by project architect Lloyd Kranert, who, with his father Roy, was associated with the firm of SKT Architects. This concert set the scene for me to eventually succeed Marjorie as the HSO’s harpist upon her retirement.
In 1991, Veda Proctor Kranert’s harp 4507 was acquired by Mr. and Mrs. Olin B. King of Huntsville. Olin and Shelbie enjoy hosting musicales for special occasions in their beautiful antebellum home on Franklin Street. They recognized the exceptional condition of this harp, and knew it would require minimal restoration. When I had the pleasure of playing on this extraordinary instrument, I immediately noticed something very familiar about its sound. Little did I know why!
In 1998, I accepted the position of Principal Harp under Music Director Taavo Virkhaus, and became a Huntsville resident. I maintained contact with Marjorie Tyre in Auburn, as well as the long-distance friendship with my “sister” Caroline Brown Hudson in Washington, D.C. In 2002, I received the sad news that my teacher, mentor and friend Marjorie Tyre had passed away, and that I was to come to Auburn as soon as possible to pick up the 23, which she had bequeathed to me. There are no words to describe the astonishment, gratitude and reverence that washed over me upon receiving this news from Marjorie’s daughter.
“Sister harps” reunited
Shortly after acquiring this fabulous instrument, I invited harp technician Victor Roma to make the trip from Florida for the purpose of regulating several harps in the North Alabama area. “Regulate” is harp-talk for “do maintenance work.” Among several harps that had been delivered to me living room for regulation were the Vedra Kranert/Olin King 4507 and the Marjorie Tyre/Katherine Newman 4508. As Victor worked, he discovered the consecutive serial numbers of the two beautiful gold-leaf Lyon & Healy 23s, whereupon he declared to my amazement, “These two harps were built as a pair! They’re sisters!”
And so the orchestration of this journey has come full circle. You are attending a performance in the Concert Hall of the Von Braun Center, designed by Huntsville Symphony Orchestra subscriber and past HSO trustee Lloyd Kranert, who is sitting in the audience with you. Performing on the stage is the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra, of which Lloyd’s father, Roy, was a founding member and its first principal bassist. Roy married Veda Proctor, the HSO’s first harpist and the first owner of Lyon & Healy 4507.
Olin and Shelbie King, current owners of the lat Mrs. Kranert’s harp, are also in the audience, and the support of their family foundation helped to make tonight’s concert possible. When you look on stage, you will see the 4507 reunited with its “sister” harp 4508, played for many years in the HSO by its first owner, the legendary Marjorie Tyre. After intermission, when the HSO performs Aaron Copland’s masterpiece, you will see and hear two of Miss Tyre’s former students playing these exquisite instruments. I will be playing her 4508 which I now own, and my duo partner and “harp sister” Caroline Brown Hudson will play the 4507, now owned by the Kings.
I hope you take pleasure in this performance that includes two harpists coming full circle from their unforgettable experiences at Auburn University some thirty-five years ago, and two harps, built together over a half a century ago and reunited this week in their first performance together.
Newman, Katherine. “A Tale of Two Harps.” Huntsville Symphony Orchestra Program Guide. Spring 2006: 50, 57.