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Pulling Strings

The Legacy of Melville A. Clark

Linda Kaiser with a foreword by Dennis J. Connors

Publication Year: 2010

In Pulling Strings, Kaiser explores the extraordinary career of Melville A. Clark (1883–1953), a musician, inventor, entrepreneur, community leader, and collector whose colorful story is largely unknown. Beginning with an account of Clark’s musical family, Kaiser chronicles the founding in 1859 of the Clark Music Company, of which Melville Clark became president in 1919. Originally just a tinkers shed, the business ultimately moved into a six-story building in the center of Syracuse. The music company celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2010. Clark also combined his talents as a gifted musician and astute entrepreneur to start the first Syracuse Symphony Orchestra. Kaiser recounts the development of the Clark Irish harp, the first portable harp manufactured in the United States, that could easily play accidentals. There were other Clark inventions, such as the first nylon strings for instruments. In addition, Clark designed balloons that the British used in 1918 to drop more than 1,250,000 pamphlets over Germany. Clark’s story unfolds in fascinating detail: a musical encounter with President Wilson, entertaining President F. D. Roosevelt, a visit to Buckingham Palace to present Princess Elizabeth with a music box, and the journey of a Clark Irish harp to Antarctica with Admiral Byrd.

Published by: Syracuse University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. ix-xii

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pp. xiii-xvi

TODAY WE ARE INUNDATED with images from television. The medium enters our homes twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. And the channel options presented by cable are staggering. There are probably people who have so many cable...

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pp. xvii-xviii

ON A SUMMER’S EVENING in 1891, a young lad, his father, and a harp arrived at the stage door of the Old Bastable Theatre in upstate New York. It was amateur night. The youngster was seven and could barely reach the strings, but by standing on his tiptoes he was able to pluck the high notes. His solo debut was a huge success...

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pp. xix-xx

I HAVE MANY GOOD PEOPLE to thank for getting this book to completion. In the beginning I gave an occasional lecture about the Clark harp, and made a few local TV appearances that led to three magazine articles, written to interest the folk harp world. It was a stroke of luck to be under the wing of a seasoned editor...

Clark Family Tree

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p. xxi-xxi

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1. Melville Clark: The Man and His Family

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pp. 1-13

IF IT TAKES A VILLAGE to raise a child, one might say it took three generations of four musical families to raise a musician extraordinaire. That person was Melville Clark. He was the second child born to George Waldo Clark and Lillian Becker...

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2.The House That Clark Built

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pp. 14-28

PICTURE A SMALL STORAGE SHED with a window and a working door on a back street in a small city. Inside the shed sits a young man with his tools laid out before him, tinkering with a musical instrument that resembles a square piano. He calls it a melodeon....

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3. The Clark Irish Harp

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pp. 29-53

THE HARP WAS TOO BIG and the boy was too small when five-year old Melville Clark began playing. He received his first lessons from his father, George W. Clark, a gifted musician and instrument maker. As a young boy Clark was featured on many musical programs in and around Syracuse...

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4. Birth of the Nylon Harp String

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pp. 54-61

WHEN MELVILLE CLARK drew his fingers across the strings of his concert harp on February 12, 1948, at a recital in the Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts, he was making musical history. He had realized the ambition of a lifetime, the dream of his father...

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5. Inventions and Ideas

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pp. 62-73

MELVILLEA . CLARK will go down in history as the designer and builder of the Clark Irish Harp. That single accomplishment might have been enough for most men, but Clark was energetic and ambitious. He spent his entire lifetime inventing a wide variety of new devices...


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p. 74-74

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6. The First Syracuse Symphony Orchestra

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pp. 75-95

THE CITY OF SYRACUSE, NEW YORK , experienced a cultural renaissance in the thirty years that followed the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. It was a good time and a good place for the Clark Music Company to be in business. In 1901 the Syracuse University Chorus, under the direction of Dr. Howard...

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7. Singing Troops and War Balloons

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pp. 96-104

AS A PATRIOTIC CITIZEN during World War I, Melville A. Clark was involved in various war-related projects. Not surprisingly, one of them involved music. The other involved balloons! Syracuse, not unlike most of the country’s communities in 1917, had small opportunity to forget that the United States...

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8. White House Connections

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pp. 105-112

FOR A MUSICIAN to be invited to play at the White House is a great honor. Melville Clark recalled his performances there for Presidents Wilson, Harding, and Roosevelt with clarity and pride. Clark’s first invitation to play at the White House came because of his association with John McCormack, one of the most...

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9. The Collections

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pp. 113-136

HUMAN BEINGS collect things. The small boy begins by filling his pockets and the little girl her secret treasure box. Some people outgrow the habit. Others, who fancy an item really worthwhile, continue to pick up better and better pieces until they have accumulated a considerable “collection.”...

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Final Note

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pp. 137-140

IF ONLY I could have met the man! I would love to have sat in Melville Clark’s studio while he tuned up his harp, asking him to talk about his life, his interests, and what was on the horizon for his next venture...


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pp. 141-162


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pp. 163-178

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 179-180


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pp. 181-185

E-ISBN-13: 9780815651161
E-ISBN-10: 0815651163
Print-ISBN-13: 9780815609506
Print-ISBN-10: 0815609507

Page Count: 186
Illustrations: 98 black and white illustrations
Publication Year: 2010

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Subject Headings

  • Clark, Melville.
  • Harpists -- United States -- Biography.
  • Harp makers -- United States -- Biography.
  • Inventors -- United States -- Biography.
  • Celtic harp -- United States -- History.
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