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: ClevelandClassical.com 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.