Rembering Bob Litterell

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Bob D. Litterell
September 10, 1946–Jan. 30, 2013

On January 30, Denver harpist Bob Litterell died peacefully in his sleep after a two-year battle with a malignant brain tumor. Bob touched many lives as a harpist, arranger, composer, and, what many in the harp world did not know, as an avid enthusiast for all things having to do with Egyptology and Egyptian culture.

Born in La Junta, Colorado, Bob began his musical studies in violin at age seven. Although he played violin even into his college years, he became fascinated with the harp and began harp lessons as a teenager before college. After high school, Bob attended Wichita State University where he graduated from the harp studio of Mary Bickford and was the harpist with the Wichita State University Orchestra. After graduation, Bob spent time in California where he studied privately with Susann McDonald and served as solo harpist with the Kern Philharmonic.

Eventually, Bob made Denver his home and, for a number of years, spent six nights a week playing harp at the very popular downtown Denver restaurant, Café Giovanni. Later in his life, Bob worked for United Healthcare imputing patient records and was touted by the company’s as the best and fastest working computer employee, while he remained an active performer on his instrument, established the Litterell Harp Quintet, a flute and harp duo, and other chamber combinations.

Bob’s interest in finding rare, forgotten and, in some cases, unknown harp music took him on trips worldwide to conduct research in archives and library collections. The result of such work took the form of new editions of harp compositions taken from either the composer’s autograph or an early edition, like Parish Alvars’ Op. 91 Concertino in D Minor for Two Harps and the Eichner’s Concerto for Harp in C Major (Op. 6). In the interest of promoting more performances of harp concerti, Bob took on a number of projects to convert orchestral scores to the forces of string quartet, so the harp performer could program this repertoire more easily. In like manner, he made arrangements of Gustav Holst’s Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda and portions of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake into chamber arrangements for flute, string quartet and harp. His trips to Egypt resulted in the discovery of unknown works written for the harp by Egyptian composers, and he enjoyed his time visiting Cairo Conservatory to lecture and coach.

In 1999, Bob was thrilled to be accepted to perform at the Seventh World Harp Congress in Prague. In the Rudolfinum’s Dvořák Hall, Bob and Don Hilsberg performed the Parish AlvarsConcertino for Two Harps and Orchestra with the Radio Prague Symphony to a full house which included several of us from the Mile High Chapter of AHS who cheered them on enthusiastically that evening. The following years saw Bob performing with area groups like the Evergreen Chamber Orchestra where he performed the Belgian Emile Detour’s Concertino in Jazz on his new Camac Big Blue Electric harp.

Bob’s interest in rarities extended to harps, as well as harp music. In 1997, he bought the Special Style 11 from the estate of harpist Ed Vito and had the instrument completely restored. He did the same for a beautiful Wurlitzer Stark Model DDX. It was always fun to go to Bob’s house to see his newest objet d’art, project on his computer, or instrument that he discovered and had to have. People were understandably attracted to his gold harps, and those of us in the know always waited for the inevitable event when someone would approach one of the instruments with out-stretched hand to hear Bob say, “Don’t touch the gold!” while we rolled with laughter.

Bob loved to entertain, whether it was the Egyptian Study Society for which he was Treasurer or the Mile High Chapter of AHS where he served that same function for many years while
hosting countless Potlucks, student evaluations, board meetings, or just “get togethers.” While his closer friends began to notice some cognitive changes in Bob’s personality in late 2010, we were shocked to learn that he had developed a fist-sized brain tumor which was discovered during an emergency operation in late December 2011 after he collapsed in his home. He was fearless in his determination to get well and play again and, for two years, he accomplished that goal. He began to perform again and harpist friend Catherine Rands came over to work on harp duet literature every other Friday afternoon to rekindle their harp duo. Sadly, on the two-year anniversary of his operation, an MRI disclosed that the tumor had begun to grow back. Three weeks later, Bob died in his sleep. On January 27th, three days before his death, a small group of us from the Mile High Chapter got together to have a Potluck lunch and to read over harp music for our biannual harp concert that Bob loved so much to play. He brought his special red velvet cake that he liked to bake and played every work put on his stand. We selected several for the concert that he brought himself and he was well pleased. This October, Bob will be in our minds and hearts as we play our multi-harp concert that will be dedicated to Bob Litterell, our good friend and great spirit.

—Suzanne L. Moulton-Gertig

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