Lysa Rytting watches and listens carefully as she sits beside her student, whose hands move gracefully across long strings, making heavenly music on a harp. Five other harps, ranging in size and style, surround them.
Six harps sit in a small room to the left of the front entry in Rytting’s home, beckoning to be played. The harp room, Rytting’s favorite room in her house, sees a variety of students throughout the day.
“One of my favorite things about teaching is watching young students come through this room and turn into musicians,” said Rytting, who has played the harp since she was 9 years old. “I love watching them grow up and become better and better as they try new and more difficult pieces.”
Before Rytting was born, music was infused within her family. Her parents met in the BYU Orchestra and both played in the Utah Symphony, specializing in the viola and flute. They inspired Rytting to become the musician she is today.
However, if not for Rytting’s persistence when she was a young girl, she may never have started playing the harp.
“We wanted our oldest daughter to play the harp, and we wanted Lysa to play something different,” mother Marcia Wight said of her daughter. “But Lysa was determined. She wanted the harp.”
After years of begging, Rytting finally persuaded her parents to let her play the instrument. She started taking formal lessons, beginning on a small troubadour-lever harp and moving to a larger pedal harp two years later.
It didn’t take long before Rytting started playing for weddings and doing sound recordings at the BYU Motion Picture Studio. At 18, she soloed with the Utah Symphony, something she dubs as her first big accomplishment with the harp.
“Lysa just really took off,” Wight said. “We never would have thought she would be where she is at today.”
Rytting never planned on making a career out of the harp, nor did she ever think she would one day be a professional. She considered majoring in music while in college but ultimately decided against it.
“I chose English instead because I wanted something where I could make a living if I really needed to,” Rytting said. “Music is always the lowest thing on the totem pole. It’s always the first thing to get cut, and I wanted something where I could have a secure income.”
However, her love and devotion for the harp never subsided as she attended college. Rytting went on a study abroad to Vienna, Austria, and dreamed of returning to Europe one day to study the harp.
“My teacher here (in Utah) said, ‘You have to go study with Susanna Mildonian. Write her a letter and see if she’ll take you,'” Rytting recalled. “I always loved (Mildonian’s) music but never dreamed of studying with her. My teacher just really encouraged me to go. So I did.”
Rytting received a Premier Prix in harp performance from the Royal Conservatory of Brussels, Belgium, where she studied for a year under Mildonian. Throughout this time and her time in Utah, Rytting learned several valuable lessons from studying music and playing the harp that have helped her in many aspects of her life.
“Growing up, one of the biggest things I learned from music was self-discipline and how to work,” Rytting said. “I learned you have to work when you don’t want to work.”
When Rytting got married and started to have children, she said she began to appreciate the flexibility and freedom the harp allowed.
“For me, harp was always the best way to make money. I could make a lot of money in a short amount of time, and that was especially valuable because I didn’t want to leave my kids,” Rytting said. “I could take on as much or as little as I wanted.”
Now, more than 40 years into her career, Rytting continues to teach harp lessons and has as many as 33 students at a time. Time spent with her students has taught her that the learning process never stops, which has ultimately helped her become a better harpist and teacher.
“I feel like I’m always learning how to be a better teacher and how to approach things with different students — how to teach one student one way and another student in another way,” Rytting said. “I’m always learning new music and learning from others so I can be a better teacher.”
Rytting has recorded three CDs and performed on dozens of others. She is also the second harpist with the Utah Symphony and works closely with several high-profile musicians throughout the state.
“Working with the Utah Symphony has truly been one of my greatest achievements,” Rytting said. “It’s really amazing to play with that level of musicians — they’re the best musicians in the state.”
Some of her fondest memories include playing and recording with world-class artists such as Josh Groban, Kurt Bestor, David Archuletta, Idina Menzel, The King’s Singers, Barry Manilow and Jenny Oaks Baker.
Looking back through the years, Rytting has accomplished what some can only dream of. Her eyes sparkle, and a smile emerges on her face when she thinks back to a favorite memory nearly 10 years ago when she played at the Moab Music Festival.
“They have one concert (at the festival) where they take jet boats down the river and there’s this grotto that has amazing acoustics,” Rytting said. “We put the harp on a jet boat and went down the river and set up in the middle of these gorgeous red rocks.”
For Rytting, some days seem much busier than others. Her nearly 20 current students keep her busy throughout the week and her work with the Utah Symphony keeps her on her toes as she commutes to Salt Lake City.
“Some days I feel like I just want to quit,” Rytting said. “It can be really stressful, but at the end of the day it’s always been the most interesting thing and the most fun work that I could ever do.”