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I just got a call from Dennis Lang (tenor at St. James, voice teacher at the Music Settlement) saying that Cleveland harpist Jocelyn Chang
had died today, apparently of a stroke. She’d been having health issues
(lung cancer, for the past 2 years). I’ve been out of the loop; the
last time I saw Jocelyn was last April when I coached her student Kellen
Lowrie in Angel weep me home, the piece I’d written for her as part of the Cleveland Composer Guild Junior Project. She looked fine then.
I met Jocelyn in grad school at Cleveland State. She was a member of
the Cleveland Chamber Symphony (along with her bud, violist Patricia
Noonan, another friend) and she was totally dedicated to new music. She
was also a proponent of the Dilling Harp,
which is a single-action harp in Eb with levers on the top functioning
as the pedals would, invented by Mildred Dilling and made by Arsalaan
Fay. It lacks an octave on either end, which makes it much more
managable for a small person like Jocelyn. I wrote a short piece for
this (two actually, though she never played the other, possibly because
it wasn’t very good), and when she went to Europe to promote the
instrument, she played it in Bucharest and Sofia… still, 15 years later,
my only European performances. Jocelyn became “my voice of the harp”.
Besides that, I wrote the accompaniment of my setting of Annabel Lee for her. The Great Hunger
was written for the Coryton ensemble (harpist Xiao-Lei Salovara), but
Jocelyn and her partner Michael Leese played it. I’d been considering a
work for guitar and harp; if it gets written, I won’t be writing it for
Jocelyn somehow managed to be perfectly down-to-earth and still
somewhat reserved. She was an easy person to hang with. Chang was our
entree into Chinese culture; her degree recital (done years after she’d
done the rest of the work) was concluded with various Chinese pastries.
She and Michael performed on one of Fred Lautzenheiser’s new liturgical
music concerts, and afterwards we all went to Bo Loong, where she ordered various specialties for the table, including a whole fried chicken (and I ate the crispy head).
There are harpists who could outplay Jocelyn in terms of raw
technique. But what made her special was that, as an interpreter, she
had a composer’s mind, though as far as I know she had never composed
herself. She was extremely conscientious, and knew instinctively what I
was after, and what questions to ask when she wasn’t sure. Given that
her playing was fit for Heaven, I hope she ends up there. Pray for her
UPDATE: She’d had a series of strokes, and spent her last several
days in a hospice. When she became too sick to teach, she started
calling in to the Settlement saying she had the flu…which worked for 2
or 3 weeks. She lost her dad in April, she’s been taking care of her
mom… and I worry about Michael, given that they probably weren’t gigging
much recently, and that’s what kept a roof over their heads.
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