Harpist's mellow tone soothes apes at St. Paul zoo

Zoo harpist
In this Aug. 27, 2014 photo Terri Tacheny plays her harp as one of the gorillas stood nearby outside the Primate House at Como Zoo in in St. Paul, Minn.
Elizabeth Flores / AP

Harpist Terry Tacheny long enjoyed taking her young daughters to Como Zoo in St. Paul, Minnesota, except for the Primate House, where she thought the gorillas, orangutans and monkeys seemed a little lethargic.

Her solution: A little music.

Now Tacheny, 57, a zoo volunteer, plays once a month for an appreciative audience that ambles down to the barrier as soon as Tacheny begins setting up her beautifully carved wooden harp. She's been doing it for nearly a decade.

"I don't speak gorilla, but there's a gorilla purr that occurs when I begin to play. And that's their happy sound," Tacheny said.

As the shimmering sounds of Tacheny's harp drift through the leafy zoo, a male gorilla stares through the fence at the musician, then chews contentedly on vegetation. Families stop to snap pictures.

A therapeutic harpist, Tacheny plays for hospital patients to help them deal with pain and anxiety. She thought if the soothing sounds helped calm humans, it would work for the primates too.

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"I would love to see every zoo have a harpist. I think it benefits the animals," said Tacheny.

Tami Murphy, a zookeeper at Como, said Tacheny has played for all the animals at the zoo. Some animals appear ambivalent, Murphy said, but the harp music "seems to be a really calming thing for the apes to listen to."

Tacheny says she's never gotten a negative review from her ape audience.

"I've never had anything thrown at me," she said.