Emily Oppenheimer, 1922–2014

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Surrounded by her beloved family, Emily Oppenheimer passed away on March 3, following a brief illness. She was 92 years old.

Emily was a harpist, wife, mother, grandmother, and teacher. She began playing the harp after her father went to a ballet performance and loved the harp so much he decided his daughter needed to play it. Emily attended Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., and was a pupil of Marcel Grandjany and Eileen Malone. She was the harpist for the Norwalk Symphony and the Bridgeport Symphony for many years, as well as playing for many religious services and weddings. Emily also played in the pit for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. She participated in the chamber music series at the Silvermine Guild, playing with Isaac Stern and Julius Baker.

Emily taught harp at the Juilliard School of Music pre-college division for 28 years. She also taught at the Westport School of Music, University of Bridgeport, and privately in her home. She was an active member of the American Harp Society, serving as second vice-president of the Connecticut chapter and New England regional director. Throughout her long life, she shared her love of music and the harp with young and old alike.

Emily moved to Norwalk, Conn., in 1950. She and her gem-of-a-husband, Philip, built a home in Village Creek and brought up their children in this waterfront community. Although an elegant and “old-school” lady of excellence and tradition, she was also a very curious and forward-thinking woman ahead of her time—a trailblazer. She loved and accepted people from all walks of life, and did not discriminate against those who were different from her. The New York Times even recognized Emily and her husband for their forward thinking in a 2010 article on the founding of Village Creek back in the 1950s. “They had more than just a standard subdivision in mind. What they established was a cooperative community of modernist houses and—even more uncharacteristic of the time—one welcoming to all races and religions.” What an inspiration she was to us all!

Emily loved her family above all else, and everyone knew it. Each year, she and her husband took the family to Taos, N.M., for a vacation together. A certified globetrotter, Emily was lucky enough to travel all over the world, and she fell into the habit of sending postcards to her students. I still have every one she ever sent me, in addition to the numerous handwritten letters of encouragement kissed with harps stamped in blue ink and “Thumbs Up” neatly displayed—tell-tale signs that she was always thinking of and helping her students.

Emily was one of the most remarkable, kind, and intelligent human beings that I have ever met. She was also a spectacular musician; music permeated her being. Her spirit lives on in so many of us. Although Emily would often express gratitude for the life she led, I always felt that we were the lucky ones to have had her. She is sorely missed by me—one of her many students and admirers—and by countless others. She did so much for so many of her students. In my case, it was much more than just opening the doors to New York City and imparting her knowledge of that magnificent creature we call the harp; she taught me to embrace life, because it is far too short and precious to waste, even for a New York minute.

Emily is survived by her husband of 71 years, Philip Oppenheimer, Ph.D.; her brother, Dr. Albert Lowenfels; her four children, Louise Flax, Ellen Oppenheimer, Carl Oppenheimer, and Doris Ruth Barton, and her five grandchildren. •

— Grace Cloutier

 

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