At the age of 18, Madeline Rose Link has already compiled a list of accomplishments that would be the envy of someone twice her age:
- Honors student from elementary through high school
- World traveler (England, Spain, China, Africa, Canada)
- Professional musician
- Model UN participant for four years
- Participant in the University of Notre Dame’s Pre-College Leadership Seminar
- Full four-year scholarship to Notre Dame University
- Participation in a highly exclusive service-animal training program
- Accomplished public speaker and advocate
Although legally blind, Maddie possesses a very limited degree of vision. Nevertheless, she’s obviously not one to wallow in self-pity (with her schedule, she wouldn’t have the time, anyway!). Instead, she treats her situation as an inconvenience, not a handicap.
For example, at the age of 12, she went on safari in northeastern Tanzania. In addition to the usual activities, she learned and practiced the art of traditional beading, as well as the proper use of the spear and bow-and-arrow with Maasai tribesmen. “Of course, somebody had to help me aim!” she laughed. She also blogged about her two-week experience on africa.com.
Although legally blind, Maddie possesses a very limited degree of vision. Nevertheless, she’s obviously not one to wallow in self-pity.
When she was 14, she was one of just a dozen U. S. students under the age of 18 to enter the Mira Guide Dog Program. After spending a month in Quebec for intensive evaluation and training sessions, she returned with “Newton” (“We called him that because he’s smart like the scientist and sweet like the cookie.”), a Bernese Mountain dog/Labrador mix who’s become a constant companion.
And throughout her four years at Allentown Central Catholic High School, Maddie participated in the Model UN Conference held at Lehigh University, and medaled twice. “In my sophomore year, I represented Greece, and sat on the environmental committee; as senior, I represented France, and encouraged other countries in the EU to work with my group to get equal rights for men and women in the workplace,” she said.
But perhaps her highest profile in the Valley is as an accomplished harpist, with a slew of gigs ranging from private parties to the Musikfest stage.
“I like that sound!”
Her interest in the harp was ignited purely by chance. “When I was in fourth grade, my best friend got a digital piano. We were experimenting with the different sounds it could make, and stumbled across the harp. I really liked the sound. And for some reason, I thought you played it like a violin,” she said.
She learned otherwise when she began formal studies with then-local teacher Joanna Mell, who stressed proper playing technique, the basics of chords and just getting the “feel” of the harp.
After Mell moved to California, Maddie hooked up with Ellen Tepper, a harpist and harp teacher in Glenside, Pa. Tepper built on Mell’s lessons and expanded Maddie’s repertoire, which now spans from the Middle Ages to modern songs. “I often let her pick the ones she wanted to learn, and I introduced others that would help her learn different playing techniques,” Tepper said.
Maddie first studied the Celtic harp, a triangular “lever” harp common in Brittany, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and she learned to play the music in the old Celtic tradition—completely by ear.
Even when those Irish tunes were finally written out, they were little more than melody lines – giving players plenty of room to create their own embellishments. That freedom is important because, as Tepper explained, “Maddie has an enormous talent for arranging and composition. After teaching her a ‘bag of tricks’ for creating arrangements, I found that I could give her a simple tune, and she’d come back in two weeks with everything else filled in – interludes, chords, deceptive cadences, and more. It was a thorough composition.”
And as Maddie’s musical sophistication grew, she also learned to play a “pedal” harp, which is suited to a wider range of music styles.
Venues large & small
It’s become more than just a hobby for her, as evidenced by her numerous gigs throughout the Valley.
She’s appeared on Musikfest’s main stage; bridal fairs at the Hotel Bethlehem; many Diocesan events, including the Bishop’s Christmas party and a garden party at his home; WFMZ’s “Music Monday” feature; several weddings and receptions; the Catholic Charities gala; Allentown’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations; McCarthy’s Red Stag pub; the Bach Choir of Bethlehem’s family concert, and many more.
“The harp is a national symbol of Ireland,” said Neville Gardner, owner of McCarthy’s Red Stag and Donegal Square, “and Turlough O’Carolan, a blind harpist who lived in the 17th and 18th centuries, was its most famous player.
“Joanna Mell had played for us many times and, when she left the area, we were looking for a harpist to replace her. We learned about Maddie, and her parallels to O’Carolan made her seem special to us.
“We book her as often as we can,” he continued. “She plays for us on holidays, on some of our Sunday morning ‘trad brunches,’ and Sunday afternoons. She’s always well-received; people really appreciate her music, her talent and her abilities.”
On the road – again!
Maddie’s latest adventure will soon take her to the Notre Dame campus, where she plans to major in medieval studies (and maybe a second major in Greek and Roman civilizations). She’s particularly fascinated by the Mediterranean region; it’s the birthplace of the world’s major religions, and their interactions have influenced history and politics for centuries.
She’s uncertain about continuing her harp studies – but she will certainly keep playing. In fact she’s already contacted a musician in South Bend who wants to establish a medieval music ensemble – a perfect tie-in with her planned major.
“It’s been an amazing nine years,” she said. I’ve had many wonderful experiences, and met many great people. And I’ve learned to focus on the things that you can do, and not to dwell on the things you can’t change.”
(Learn more about Maddie on her “Madeline Rose Link, Harp” Facebook page)
PEDAL HARP? LEVER HARP? WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
You can think of the strings on the harp as the white keys on the piano. They are A, B, C, D, E, F, G.
The black keys on the piano are sharps and flats of these notes. So how do you hear a B flat or a C sharp on the harp? Here’s where pedals or levers come in.
Pedal harps have seven pedals, one for each letter in the musical alphabet. Set the B pedal up, and all the B strings turn to B flat. Set the C pedal down and all the C strings turn sharp. Using your feet means that you don’t have to take either hand off the strings.
Levers do the same thing as pedals, but instead of having one pedal per note, you have one lever for each individual string. If you want C sharp, and you have 4 C strings, you have to flip up to 4 levers.
This is why you can’t play the original classical repertoire on a lever harp – too many changes to sharps or flats in the middle of the song.