I asked Fran (Eleanor) McGaughey to tell us a little about herself and how she comes to write her music. We think you’ll find her story delightful. And from the heart.
“I came to composing and arranging harp music from several directions.
In 1935, I was born into a home with a mother who played classical music and in the little West Texas churches where my father was the “preacher.” We were poor as church mice. Perhaps we were church mice. I clearly remember one Mother’s Day when at the ripe old age of 4 as I sang Mother Machree
as my mother accompanied me on the piano during a church service. I participated on my father’s radio preaching by singing a solo or two.
I also sang solos and danced as I sang in my grade schools from the first grade on. Somehow, my parents were able to afford piano and singing lessons for me. I had an amazing music teacher in Jr. High who allowed me to star in two amazing musicals in which I was the star singer/actress. Tickets were sold as these were a big productions, Carmen and Cinderella, for the community in a downtown auditorium. My parents were beaming.
My first college degree was still in my parent’s “directed” pathway. I enjoyed a few music courses for any “elective” courses I could muster. The head of the music department came to me and urged me to major in music, saying that I had more talent than any of the music majors. Ahah! I was thrilled. However, that idea was not in my parents’ plans so it did not happen. Other alternative choices were also nixed. I graduated with their plans for my continued church work. I had two grad school acceptances intact ready for the taking. Instead, I chose to be married and went back to school so I could teach English. There was no women’s lib back in those times….at least not for me.
In later years, I continued taking piano lessons. I directed a Jr. High Choir in my church. I always sang in the church choirs. I had fun with my music….but that was not enough for me.
I finally enrolled in the School of Music at West Chester University and gained a degree in 1985 in Classical Guitar Performance. I studied piano, harpsichord and voice and had some courses in music composition. As an adult student, I knew the professors personally and became immersed in several music organizations. However, during my senior year I developed tendonitis in my left hand and after graduation discovered that I had to give up the guitar.
I proceeded from opera workshop into costuming with several organizations. One day, my husband observed that I needed to get back into music. Yes! Well—he built me a hammered dulcimer and found me plucking it. He said that I needed a harp. I never thought that expensive idea would be possible, but he built me a harp. He commented that “It was like putting a duck in front of a pond.”
Soon after that, he placed a little Apple computer in my lap. I gingerly held it because I was afraid that I might break it. It was not long until I learned how to use it….through the back door. I found an Encore music program but that program soon dissolved. I moved to Sibelius. Through the influence of other musicians, I moved to Finale. I have a special computer with an M-Audio Keystation61 setup with a big screen Apple computer intended for my harp music. Producing the music I “create” in my head would be too cumbersome without these technologies.
Years ago, I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. I survived that and through volunteer work in a couple of breast cancer organizations, I met several special friends. I have been with them on their journeys as they completed their last hours with cancer. Harp music is comforting for difficult times. Life experiences have greatly influenced my music.
Initially, ideas come quickly but as I sit in my swivel chair and turn back and forth from harp to computer, my music “composes, decomposes and recomposes”…several times. Mistakes become opportunities. Parts fly back and forth. I try to make these parts as melodic as possible but do not always succeed. However, the total replay usually sounds okay. Being retired and having time to use as I please, this setup became my “happy trap.”
I became involved with Janet Witman as my first harp teacher. We had a good time with the Brandywine Harp Orchestra. We had rehearsals here in our home, for we had the space with great acoustics. I set all of the music for this group.
As of late, I have been taking lessons with Anne Sullivan, another fine teacher online, to broaden my playing. I need all of the expert help I can get.
My husband Dave (with his panpipes) and I have joined forces with Jupie Seaholm. We formed a small group named Serendipity. Jupie has a master’s certification from Bedside Harp Therapy. We are all of the same bent. We are not the world’s greatest harpists, but play together musically. We work hard together and enjoy sharing with dying people in a couple of Hospice Units. We also play at the annual Hospice Remembrance Service as the hundreds of names of the deceased from the current year are quietly read. We are very dedicated to our endeavor. The Hospice people show appreciation for what we are able to offer. This is why I try to write and arrange music that I consider to be soothing or cheerful to the spirit. Some of my original music has been written for a special person with a special need.
Mary Radspinner and her crew have been amazing in what she offers to our harp world. Her publishing my music is simply icing on the cake!
Life is good.