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Somers Harp Teacher’s Story is Music to the Ears

Alyssa Reit and her husband Peter are putting on a production of the Ugly Duckling at the Energy Movement Center (EMC) in Peekskill Oct. 6.

For more than three decades, Somers harp teacher Alyssa Reit has worked as an independent performer, composer and arranger. She has performed at various renowned venues and toured the US with a vocal group. 

As a music coach, she has learned that a number of factors bring students to her to master the harp. Nonetheless, Reit’s introduction to musical instruction began on the piano, which included tapping on cardboard keyboards at a Chicago after-school program.

"I thought this is really stupid, it doesn’t make any sound," she said. 

As a result, her mother signed her up for her first harp lessons, given by a harpist from the Chicago Symphony. Since Reit was only 6 years old at the time, she was too short to tune the instrument. Her mother had to help her – she would hit a key on the upstairs piano and run downstairs to hone the harp to the correct sound, Reit said.

Later Reit went on to study as a student of renowned harpist Marcel Grandjany. There she completed her bachelor's and master's degrees and found freelance jobs in New York City, working at hotels and various companies. 

"I never wanted a freelance orchestra job," Reit said. 

Feeling a little aimless when she was in her 30s, the musician connected with storyteller Laura Simms, who gave her the direction she was looking for.

"I worked with her on the story of the frog prince," Reit said, adding that turning toads to royalty gave her the idea to set fairytales to music.

Over the next 14 years, she worked with a group of actors and storytellers to put a string in the step of Frog Princes, Gingerbread men and all those of their ilk.  

"It was very satisfying," she said of The Singing Harp and the five shows that were done in the United Kingdom.

Reit is currently working on a new chapter in her creative travels. She teaches in the pre-college division of the Manhattan School of Music and is on the faculty of the Music Conservatory of Westchester. She also privately teaches 10-20 students at her home studio in Somers.

Her students vary from children whose parents are letting them learn how to play an instrument to a retired doctor who finally found the time to pursue a new passion. 

"His daughter used to play and he always loved the opera," she said. 

Reit is the founder, artistic director and resident composer of Singing Harp, an arts troupe which presents fairy tales, myths, and classic stories in dramatic and musical forms.

No matter who she is coaching, her job is to crack the individual code that converts an interest into an aptitude.

"It’s like a puzzle to solve," she said. "What’s going and what do I have to do to get this person to the next step?"

The method she uses is called compositional thinking—she teaches her students about what the composer might have been thinking and where the music was going, she said.

For her younger students, she incorporates the solos into a larger story.

"The idea is for the kids to feel part of something that is bigger than themselves," Reit said. "They have to play together, listen together and understand that it’s not only about their piece, it’s about being part of a whole."

Look for Reit and her husband Peter in Peekskill for a production of the Ugly Duckling at the Energy Movement Center (EMC) at 1 p.m. Oct. 6. The EMC is located at 925 South St. in Peekskill.

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