“There were times when I would lose my balance going down the steps and, if anything were to ever happen to her…” Ansley pauses and sheepishly smiles, “She has been with me quite a while.”
Speaking of her cherished pedal harp, the professional harpist refers to her instrument as “Victoria” and mentioned the difficulty at times, in transporting it.
Ansley performs beautiful music for wedding ceremonies, wedding receptions, dinners, banquets, and private parties and she is very serious about her profession.
Her father Robert Reagan, a software developer, prodded his daughter to play the harp over taking horse-riding lessons, at age 14. He wanted her to look at the big picture and what learning to play the harp could do for her in the long run. When he mentioned possibly being able to play at weddings, Ansley was hooked.
Robert and his son Rob both played the piano. Teresa, Ansley’s mother, is a college access advisor at Central High School. She did not play an instrument but she sang and, the family was active at Ridgedale Baptist Church.
“I had played the piano and flute before I took harp lessons so I knew how to read music. It was a good fit right from the beginning. I played the lever harp for about five years until we found a pedal harp in the classifieds,” Ansley says.
“Dad and I would play duets together – Pachelbel's Canon is the best song we play – we harmonize and it’s just beautiful. My mom wants us to play duets for Christmas this year so I am looking for music right now,” she conveys.
Now 28 years old, Ansley has been playing at weddings for the last 12 years. She played at weddings on the side while she worked full-time. First working in sales, it was not what she expected it to be and eventually she moved onto Life Care Center in Collegedale where she was marketing director.
Ansley then transferred to the corporate office in Cleveland and was their events coordinator until she was laid off a year ago.
“I always wanted to play my music. I have done weddings for years, playing on the side. Life Care took up so much time with the conferences being on weekends so I had to get out of the wedding industry and I just hated that,” she expressed.
Competing in the Miss America system that provides winners and runner ups with scholarship money, Ansley spent three years vying for the Miss Tennessee title.
Ansley met her husband Shane when she was 19 and attending Lee College. “We started dating and were college sweethearts for years before I ever did the pageant stuff,” Ansley says.
“Shane was a trooper through it all,” Ansley says. “There was a pageant in Jackson, Tn. and we got all the way there and I realized I left all my competition clothes and he had to drive all the way back and get them,” She revealed.
“We have so much stuff to take, with the harp, stool and clothes - you are there for a whole week with all kinds of luncheons. He was so sweet to support me like that,” Ansley maintains.
Ansley was the third runner up in 2005 and was first runner up the two years that followed, allowing her to participate in the Miss National Sweetheart Pageant as well as walking away with $22,000 in scholarship money.
The Sweetheart competition was held in Hoopeston, IL. “It’s a trip,” Ansley says.
“It’s out in the middle of a corn field in a one red light town. Everybody in town gets involved in the pageant. It is the most charming place - sort of like Mayberry. You feel like you lose 20 years when you get there. I loved it!” Ansley exclaimed.
“I went two years in a row, it was so much fun. In the parade, we rode in Corvettes – if you’re not fast enough, you end up getting in the really old ones!” Ansley laughs.
You have to be single while you are competing so Ansley and Shane decided to wait to get married until she competed in her third competition.
“The night Shane proposed, he took me to Macaroni Grill and then to Baskin Robbins. After that we went on top of Lookout Mountain by the Incline to an area that is just grass. He blindfolded me, carried me down there, he had a blanket spread out with wine and roses - it was so sweet. I was thinking the whole time, ‘A cop is gonna tell us to leave, this is my proposal and a cop’s gonna ruin it’,” Ansley laughs. “After it was over and I had said yes, I saw two people walking towards us and I thought ‘Oh this is it – someone is going to tell us to leave and ruin this moment! It was my parents that Shane had called and told to meet us,” she says.
Winning the scholarship money helped Ansley afford to take a trip to Italy. “Lee (University) requires a cross-cultural experience, so I was able to go to Italy for 11 days. It was a wonderful experience.” Ansley said.
“When my husband did it, he opted to save money and did his cross-cultural experience here and we went to a Korean church for a few weeks,” Ansley laughs, “It was interesting but It was not nearly as fun!”
Shane is now a financial advisor with UBS. “After I was laid off with Life Care, Shane and I prayed about our situation and if I would be able to pursue my own business with performing. We were at a place where I was able to, so Dad built my website,” Ansley says. “It is a dream come true to be able to do this.”
Ansley performs at bridal showers and bridal teas. She has played at a funeral before and open houses. “Basically any kind of event, where someone wants that little extra something to set their occasion apart, the harp is a nice touch. It’s beautiful to look at, the sound it gives just changes the atmosphere – it adds to the ambiance wherever it is. There is just something magical about it,” Ansley gushes.
“A pedal harp is the prettiest harp and you can play more things – every pedal is connected to an octave. I could make all the c’s sharp, natural or flat with the pedal. And I can do that for all the octaves,” Ansley maintains.
“Showtunes are my favorite to play along with Broadway or hymns. Arioso is a classical piece by Bach, it is beautiful. Pachelbel’s Canon is a good substitute if a bride doesn’t want The Wedding March,” Ansley says.
After years of performing for weddings and also having her own wedding; Ansley understands the importance of the day. She is willing to make whatever sacrifice is necessary to ensure her client’s satisfaction.
Playing the harp requires dedication as well as dealing with certain disadvantages.
“You use the sides of your fingers and you have to keep your fingers conditioned or you lose your callouses. And then it hurts to build them back up. If you don’t keep it up – it will just blister and then you have to start all over in obtaining that condition,” Ansley says.
Then there is transporting the 75-pound harp to the events. Usually, if Shane can help, he will do it for her but there are times when she has to do it.
Ansley also has to be very careful with her hands. “Growing up, I would be cleaning the kitchen and my dad would walk over and take away the knife that I was washing and say, ‘Ansley can’t have knives - gotta protect those fingers!’ Even now, just before a wedding, I will think, ‘Lord, don’t let me cut my fingers’. You have to be very careful,” Ansley insists.
“My poor grandmother accidently slammed my three fingers in her mini-van the day before I had a wedding. I ended up doing it anyway – you just have to play through it,” Ansley maintains.
Her professionalism and dependability are what attracts clients as much as her talent. During one outdoor wedding, Ansley felt stinging and itching on her back and kept playing through. Afterward, she learned that she had over 11 places where mosquitos had bitten her.
“When playing at outdoor weddings; if a bee or mosquitos sting me, I have to be professional – it’s the most important day of that bride’s life up to that moment. The fact that they invite me to be a part of that day is an honor for me to be a part of that. I know how imperative it is,” Ansley asserts.
The soloist has also performed at local churches, especially at Christmas time. One of her future goals is to be able to teach.
“Playing the harp is my identity. If I lost that - I would feel very lost. I am living my dream.”
Ansley can be reached at: