Remembering Suzann Davids (1930—2019)

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When Suzann Davids turned 80 years old, current and former students and their families came to Indiana from as far away as Colorado, Texas, Maryland, and everywhere in between to celebrate the occasion. Although Suzann was a fine performer, her real love was teaching. She dedicated herself to helping each of her students become the best harpists they could be. Although she was not quite finished teaching at that point, this party was evidence of just how many lives Suzann had touched in over fifty years of teaching. 

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“I met Suzann Davids, or Mrs. D., as we called her, on the campus of Colorado State University in 1975 and she remained my friend and teaching example all my life. Aside from shaping my harp playing, encouraging me to attend graduate school at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and insisting that I go to Camden, Maine to study with Alice Chalifoux, Mrs. D taught me that playing in an ensemble was much more fun and a lot less scary than playing solo. I still read her markings on my music; they appear throughout my orchestral library and on my Salzedo Harp Duo scores, often with a funny message, ‘Thumbs up!’ 

Mrs. D. taught by example: from learning how to build a library, mark music, move harps, negotiate for engagements, and cultivate camaraderie to countless other tasks, I continue to hear her guiding voice. I attribute Mrs. D.’s constant attention and devotion during those college years and beyond to steering my life and I will be forever grateful to her.”

—Jody Guinn

“Suzann Davids created a passion and love of the harp within me when I began my studies with her in 1978 at the University of Denver. She was a nurturer, fine musician, and taught the Salzedo technique with precision. Through her encouragement, gentle instruction, and great stories of her many harp experiences, she inspired me to continue with that passion and to pass it on to my own students to this very day.”

—Lorelei Barton

“I wouldn’t be the harpist and musician I am today if it wasn’t for Mrs. D’s solid support for a guy from Wyoming that wanted to play the harp. She had the utmost faith in the ability of her students as she pushed us to succeed in every aspect of a musician’s career. It is through her that I learned the necessary skills to succeed in an otherwise tough and demanding industry.”

—Don Hilsberg

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Suzann was born and raised in Elkhart, Indiana and was an accomplished pianist by the time she finished high school. Her school orchestra director that approached her, knowing her abilities on the piano, and asked her if she wouldn’t be able to play some harp parts with the orchestra (her school owned a pedal harp). Suzann will be the first to admit years later that although “I more or less covered the parts, it was pretty awful!” However, it piqued her interest in the harp, and when she went to the Oberlin Conservatory of Music as a piano major, she also studied harp with Lucy Lewis and graduated with a minor in harp. From Oberlin Suzann went to the University of Iowa with a graduate assistantship, teaching piano, harp, and theory while obtaining a master’s degree. She studied with Carlos Salzedo in Camden, Maine during the summers to prepare for her recitals. 

Salzedo asked Suzann to be part of his harp ensemble, the “Angelaires,” but she declined, instead choosing to marry and settle down. She and Donald made their home in Denver, Colo., where she began to make her mark as a harpist and harp teacher. By the time they left Denver 20 years later Suzann had between 30 and 40 students and taught at Colorado State University, the University of Northern Colorado, and the University of Denver. They also raised three children during those years. 

Suzann and Donald returned to her hometown of Elkhart in order to assume ownership of her father’s land title company. It wasn’t long before Suzann was teaching at several universities, including Notre Dame and Indiana University–South Bend. In addition to her music career, Suzann earned her Juris Doctorate from Valparaiso Law School, graduating on her 65th birthday. 

Many of Suzann’s students continued into careers as professional harpists. All of them found a love for the instrument and learned skills which contributed to their success in many other areas of life. 

—Debbie Holzworth, daughter

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