Tessa Baxter Cropped

YSA Musician Shines with Unusual Instrument

Tessa Turk-Baxter and her chorded zither, or autoharp. Photo by Allison Beckert.

Tessa Turk-Baxter and her chorded zither, or autoharp. Photo by Allison Beckert.

Like other young single adults in the Valley, Tessa Turk-Baxter has her share of stress and uses music to unwind. But Tessa doesn’t just listen to music. Instead, she makes it, and on an instrument few people have encountered: the autoharp, also known as the chorded zither.

Tessa, who is also the Ward Music Chairperson of the Eden Park YSA, stole the show at this last year’s variety show with a surprise performance on her autoharp— a highly unusual instrument in any circumstance, let alone in a church context. She performed two pieces, enjoying a rare opportunity to share her talent.

“I don’t play to perform,” she says. “I use it as a kind of self-care. I play to sing off-key and feel accomplished at the end of the day.”

Uncommon instruments like the autoharp are often chosen by their players for unique reasons. For Tessa, it was a childhood memory of visiting her grandparents. She recalls first playing a “music maker” with paper guides that could be inserted to guide little hands to each note. After her grandparents’ passing, this was what she’d hoped to inherit.

Unfortunately the “music maker” was nowhere to be found. Instead she came up with an old, slightly moldy instrument that looked nothing like the memory she cherished.

“It was awful,” she says. “I strummed it and it sounded like a horror movie.” Assuming the strange-looking thing was broken, poorly tuned, or damaged by the humidity of that Georgia basement, she added the instrument to the donation pile.

Later, one of her uncles found another harp— this one in perfect condition in its original box—which he promptly gave to her. Tessa reflects on that as fate.

“It seemed to me like my grandmother had every intention of learning to play,” she says, “though I have to guess she never did since this one was still in its box. We had a piano too, but no one ever learned to play and keep at it. It’s kind of a family legacy, but I wanted to really go through with it.”

Learning a new instrument, or keeping up a talent with one, is an accomplishment. Tessa proudly compares it to speaking a second language and sees it as a way to make use of the time she has at this point in her life. Designating time to play, learn new techniques, and appreciating a cultivated talent strengthen character and impart joy. Tessa, like many young adults learning new skills, finds lessons and pointers online, much of it in the form of videos, practice sheets, and guides. These contain musical exercises and advice on care of the instrument. Instruction is available anywhere at a moment’s notice.

While Tessa is building skill and confidence working with the Eden Park Ward choir, her clear appreciation for music and the benefits of practicing with joy show clearly in her smile and quiet enthusiasm for her unique passion. She, along with the other talented members serving the young single adult stakes of the Valley, has a powerful testimony to share about making a joyful noise.

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