The harpist who strums up community in C-U


Daniel Zhou

Celtic Harpist Benji Davis sits next to their harp at the Urbana Farmers Market on Oct. 15.

By Piotr Fedczuk, Staff Writer

There are 47 strings strung on the curved wooden frame of a harp. Even a breeze could make a sound, but only a harpist could create a melody.

At Urbana’s Market at the Square, vendors sell meat, bread, fruit, soap and art, while one person plays the harp for anyone who wants to listen.

In an industry filled with older musicians, Benji Davis, a 20-year-old Celtic harpist from Dallas, stands out.

“(The harpists in Dallas) felt like, twice my age, but it was much more than twice my age,” Davis said.

Davis said many of the harpists they know are older musicians who decided to pick up harp at 50 or 60 years old. There are a lot of barriers of entry for young harpists. Purchasing a harp and paying for lessons are expensive, and parents invest thousands of dollars into their children’s interest.

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On most Saturdays, Davis puts an open instrument carrier on the side while performing to collect tips from the community.

“Everyone here is so nice and so generous,” Davis said. “A lot of people have been trying to book me for gigs outside of the farmer’s market.”

Davis has found a community in the Lincoln Square Mall parking lot, filled with customers and vendors every Saturday between 7 a.m. and noon. However, Davis is also looking to get into Urbana’s harp community.

For the opportunity to meet a local harpist, Davis is considering going to a performance by the American Harp Society at the Champaign Public Library in December.

Beginning their musical career with piano and accordion, Davis made the switch to harp because they could “play the melody and accompany (themself) at the same time.”

“I think it’s just such a beautiful sound,” they added.

However, Davis decided against pursuing music for the rest of their life. “I don’t feel very excited about doing (music) for a living,” they said.

Late into high school, Davis took interest in theater and later took a costume design class under an encouraging teacher.

“He was just a great role model,” Davis said.

Enjoying the class and the process of creatively expressing themself, Davis worked for Station Theater in Dallas during their production of “Dream Hou$e.” In the future, they hope to produce costumes for operas.

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