Harp players were few in number in Minnesota until Frances Gilman Miller Aspnes started giving private lessons to students in her south Minneapolis home and teaching at schools and colleges throughout the Upper Midwest.
In the 1950s and 1960s, she established the harp program at the MacPhail Center for Music in Minneapolis and traveled to schools such as St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., Macalester College in St. Paul, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, the University of Minnesota and Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn.
"Frances was a remarkable woman who inspired hundreds and hundreds of young people to learn to play the harp," said VocalEssence director Philip Brunelle. "She was truly Minnesota's first lady of harp."
Aspnes died of natural causes Wednesday at a relative's home in Delano. She was 95.
She learned to play the harp from her mother, Wilma, a musician who introduced her to the instrument as a preteen while leading the Interlachen Music Camp in Michigan. Aspnes aspired to be a forest ranger like her father, but the University of Minnesota did not allow women in its program at that time, so she studied botany and zoology and earned her teacher's certification. Frances Aspnes played the harp in the U's band, said her daughter, Lynne Aspnes, a professor of harp at Arizona State University in Tempe.
After graduation, Frances began teaching at local colleges, and at the request of a doctor drove weekly to Sioux Falls, S.D., to give lessons to his daughter. Those lessons gave rise to a harp music program in the Sioux Falls public schools, said Kathy Kienzle, principal harp for the Minnesota Orchestra.
While she made the rounds to schools during the week, some students from places as far away as Crookston, Rochester, northern Iowa and Willmar came to her Minneapolis home for lessons. In all, she taught hundreds of harpists for more than 60 years. She gave her last lesson in 2008.
"Teaching was everything for her," Lynne Aspnes said. "It inspired her."
Aspnes was the second harpist with the Minneapolis Symphony (now the Minnesota Orchestra) from 1948 to 1961. She was a charter member and past president of the Minnesota chapter of the American Harp Society. She was involved in local chapters in Eau Claire, Wis., and Sioux Falls, was the society's Midwest regional director, chairman of its national conferences twice, and a member of its Music Education committee.
She was a longtime member of Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis, where she taught Sunday school and performed regularly as the harpist with Thursday Musical and the Schubert Club. She also loved being outdoors, especially in the woods of northern Minnesota, her daughter said.
In addition to her daughter Lynne, she is survived by another daughter, Diana Moss of Denver; three sons, Sherman Clark Miller of Charlotte, N.C., Richard Aspnes of Denver and Gordon Aspnes of Minneapolis; 10 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held in May.