RIP Jocelyn Chang

I just got a call from Dennis Lang (tenor at St. James, voice teacher at the Music Settlement) saying that Cleveland harpist Jocelyn Chang had died today, apparently of a stroke. She’d been having health issues (lung cancer, for the past 2 years). I’ve been out of the loop; the last time I saw Jocelyn was last April when I coached her student Kellen Lowrie in Angel weep me home, the piece I’d written for her as part of the Cleveland Composer Guild Junior Project. She looked fine then.

I met Jocelyn in grad school at Cleveland State. She was a member of the Cleveland Chamber Symphony (along with her bud, violist Patricia Noonan, another friend) and she was totally dedicated to new music. She was also a proponent of the Dilling Harp, which is a single-action harp in Eb with levers on the top functioning as the pedals would, invented by Mildred Dilling and made by Arsalaan Fay. It lacks an octave on either end, which makes it much more managable for a small person like Jocelyn. I wrote a short piece for this (two actually, though she never played the other, possibly because it wasn’t very good), and when she went to Europe to promote the instrument, she played it in Bucharest and Sofia… still, 15 years later, my only European performances. Jocelyn became “my voice of the harp”. Besides that, I wrote the accompaniment of my setting of Annabel Lee for her. The Great Hunger was written for the Coryton ensemble (harpist Xiao-Lei Salovara), but Jocelyn and her partner Michael Leese played it. I’d been considering a work for guitar and harp; if it gets written, I won’t be writing it for Dilling harp.

Jocelyn somehow managed to be perfectly down-to-earth and still somewhat reserved. She was an easy person to hang with. Chang was our entree into Chinese culture; her degree recital (done years after she’d done the rest of the work) was concluded with various Chinese pastries. She and Michael performed on one of Fred Lautzenheiser’s new liturgical music concerts, and afterwards we all went to Bo Loong, where she ordered various specialties for the table, including a whole fried chicken (and I ate the crispy head).

There are harpists who could outplay Jocelyn in terms of raw technique. But what made her special was that, as an interpreter, she had a composer’s mind, though as far as I know she had never composed herself. She was extremely conscientious, and knew instinctively what I was after, and what questions to ask when she wasn’t sure. Given that her playing was fit for Heaven, I hope she ends up there. Pray for her soul.

UPDATE: She’d had a series of strokes, and spent her last several days in a hospice. When she became too sick to teach, she started calling in to the Settlement saying she had the flu…which worked for 2 or 3 weeks. She lost her dad in April, she’s been taking care of her mom… and I worry about Michael, given that they probably weren’t gigging much recently, and that’s what kept a roof over their heads.

UPDATE 11/24: Obituary by Don Rosenberg.

UPDATE 11/30: obit here.
I saw Michael at a sort of memorial dinner a bunch of us had at Bo Loong Sunday night, and he seems to be holding up pretty well, considering.


18 Responses to RIP Jocelyn Chang

  1. Luke S. says:

    Jocelyn will be missed by many in the greater Cleveland area. I loved that she always told it how it was but respected everyone she knew enough not to cause strife. Her and Michael became friends of mine several years ago while I attended CSU. We also performed together with the Chagrin Falls Studio Orchestra and the Cleveland Philharmonic on a couple concerts. My heart goes out to Michael as I know Jocelyn and he were road buddies, performance buddies, house mates, and soul mates. Like many others I’m sure, one of my dreams was to compose a trio to include myself into their rich musical talet. I am saddened that she passed without knowing that she was ill. Michael if you read this please know that your network of musician friends will be there in heart, mind and spirit through the process of grieving your very beloved partner and friend. Here is to another good friend lost.

  2. Penny says:

    Jocelyn touched my life like nobody else. I was a student and became a friend. And even though I stopped playing because of a hand injury and we didn’t see each other as much because of our busy lives, the loving friendship was there every time I saw her. She saw me through so much, especially the passing of my parents, and played at each of their memorials, even sneaking in “Yellow Rose of Texas” for my mother, even though we’ve been told by the minister that the tune couldn’t be played. (My mom was a Texas native who got yellow roses from my dad every birthday.) With her generous spirit, she cared about compassion and peace–at my request she and Michael played a Hiroshima day/antiwar event. In our ways we were both peaceniks and gentle (I hope) rebels. I wish I had known so I could have shown so much more love. So, Michael, you have it. Call on me if you need anything, please. Left my number at your door. Just walk over or call.

    All you who loved Jocelyn, please keep me in the loop. I hope we can all come together to honor her with music.

  3. Evie says:

    I am stunned to hear of this unexpected loss. I last saw Jocelyn early October when she spent 2 hours coaching Kellen and I (her accompanist) for senior solo audition at CHHS. Her musical insight and comments were enlightening and given with love and respect.
    She was layered up for winter and we enjoyed some pleasant conversation as I drove her home.
    She was a gracious soul and the musical community has lost a gifted teacher and friend. This is very sad.

  4. MARGE says:

    So saddened to hear about Jocelyn’s passing. What a great musician, equally at home on the page and off. I remember the sparkle in her eyes — showing her great enthusiasm and her keen awareness. You could tell from listening to her and watching her play, every time, that she knew exactly how she fit in to the music around her.

  5. Arsalaan Fay says:

    I am shocked and saddened to hear of Jocelyn’s passing. I haven’t been the loop for 10 years, while I took care of my mother. Jocelyn was essential in keeping me building the Dilling Harp. I have returned to buildings harps, but it won’t be the same without her support, and friendship. The harp world has lost a champion.
    Arsalaan Fay

  6. Marleen Kassel says:

    I studied Chinese with Jocelyn at Case Western Reserve University some 40 years ago. Her Uncle Peter was our teacher for the first year or so. We kept in touch off and on over the years. I last spoke to her about 3 years ago. I am so saddened to hear this news. She was so young.

  7. Jen says:

    Our daughter has studied the harp with Jocelyn for eight years. Jocelyn had a profound impact on our daughter as well as our whole family. We will miss Jocelyn greatly and are honored that we had the opportunity to know her. We will miss her very much. She has been like a member of our famly. Our prayers remain with Michael and Jocelyn’s family.

  8. Debbie May-Johnson says:

    Our entire family is saddened with the loss of Jocelyn. Our daurghter, Hayley, studied harp with her since elementary school (she is now a sophomore in high school). She was a unique teacher, as I obserbed at each of my daughter’s lessons; patient, encouraging and brought out the very best in our daughter. She always made her feel special and talented. Our thoughts and prayers are with Michael and Jocelyn’s family at this very sad time.

    • alice says:

      Hi Debbie. I’m a former student of Jocelyn and have been reaching out to her students. Would you please email me; I don’t believe I have Hayley on the list I’m working from.

      alice [dot] allen [at] gmail [dot] com

  9. Jocelyn was an incredibly generous human being and a great musician, always dedicated to supporting new music and composers. We will miss her very, very much.

  10. […] area composer Jeffrey Quick wrote a nice appreciation, noting that she “was totally dedicated to new music” and that […]

  11. Leslie Moynihan says:

    I am completely saddened by this news about Jocelyn.
    My heart goes out to you Michael. I was not aware of this site until I stumbled upon it. I already created a page on so that I could vent my feelings. If anyone is interested, please join me there. If you have info to add, please email me and I will put it on the site. My email is Here is the web page that I started. Jocelyn was one of a kind.

  12. Leslie Moynihan says:


    I took the liberty of copying and pasting your story onto the site because I feel that although your story is a personal account of knowing Jocelyn – it really illustrates the type of person that she was. Thank-you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. All the best. Leslie Moynihan

  13. Sharon Norris says:

    Our daughter Alexa took lesson from Jocelyn for six years before she went away to college in 2009. She was a friend, a teacher, and truly an inspiration for our family. We are so very, very sad not only ourselves but for the many families and students lives she touched. We have so many wonderful memories of The Beck Center, Harp Ensemble Concerts, and events that we were lucky enough to attend with our daughter. Michael- our hearts are with you. You have always been an integral part of Jocelyn’s extended harp family. It has been an honor to know and work with you both.

    Sharon, Dan and Alexa Norris

  14. the brown bard says:

    How terrible! I just come home for a week and find out Jocelyn, one of the warmest spirits in Cleveland has joined the realm of angels. I’m very sad I did not have the chance to update her on my own work as a harpist….she always had this magical way of encouraging you to find your own unique journey.

  15. Penny says:

    the Jocelyn Chang Memorial Concert will be held on Sunday, January 23rd at Cleveland State University’s Waetjen Auditorium at 2:00 p.m. All are welcomed and encouraged to attend. Please feel free to spread the word about this event, as there were so many who knew and loved Jocelyn.

    The organizers are currently creating a slideshow of photos of Jocelyn. If you have any photos you would care to share, please feel free to email them to Alice Moore Allen alice_allen **[at]** sbcglobal **[dot]** net as jpg or tif files.

  16. Leiyah S. says:

    Jocelyn was a dear cousin to me. I still remember the time she and Michael performed several impromptu pieces at my uncle and aunt’s house in Cleveland. She was such a soulful musician, both her and Michael for that matter. They just came up with the music on the fly between the two of them. There was this like heart connection between them. Instead of the cliche that they can finish each other’s sentence, they could finish each other’s music. I so admire her talents and passion. I had hoped she would help me compose some music for yoga classes I teach. I wish I had followed through with that wish sooner…She will always be loved and dearly missed by her families.

  17. Kathleen Townsend says:

    My memories of Jocelyn go back to third grade at Garfield Elementary and Emerson Jr. High in Lakewood. We lost touch for the most part when my family moved to Colorado and I then moved to California. Her mother Mollie was my mom’s dearest friend. The last time I saw her was in Dec. of 1972 when she played the harp at my mother’s funeral. We were best of friends for those 4 yrs. I wish I’d been able toto keep in touch. I’m so saddened by her passing almost a year ago now.

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