Building a dream

Former teacher to debut harpsichord she built with her brother

March 26, 2011 

Debby Graves will play a different tune Sunday. And after two years, she can check off one item from her bucket list: building a harpsichord -- an Italian harpsichord in Neapolitan style, to be exact.

Graves, organist for St. Andrew By-The-Sea United Methodist Church, will play the "Lenten Prayer" on the delicate instrument at the 9 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. services Sunday. During the prelude of each service, photos documenting the construction will be shown on the wall of the church.

In February 2009, Graves began building the harpsichord with the help of her older brother, Warren Graves, inside the church's music room. This week, the pair made last-minute finishes, then moved the 7-foot-long, 40-pound instrument into the sanctuary where it will be retuned.

After more than 33 years of teaching high school music and math at Burbank High School in California, Debby moved to Hilton Head Island to be near her brother, Warren. That's when she decided it was time to complete one of the tasks she had aimed for most of her life -- crafting a harpsichord.

More than 400 hours of work later -- including two trips to the Connecticut factory of Zuckermann Harpsichords International -- the pair recently completed their work. Construction of the $6,000 kit included hammering, sanding, covering the maple box and cherry wood legs with three layers of tung oil, then waxing and sanding with fine steel wool, and winding the strings to the 53 handcarved cherry wood keys. Two church members also helped. Charlie Hannah helped with the miles of molding, and Jeanie Blankenbaker assisted with the jacks, quills and keys.

The project also helped build a stronger relationship, bringing brother and sister -- each in their 60s -- closer. Warren left home for the U.S. Navy when Debby was 15 and they had not spent much time together as adults. "I learned to appreciate my sister a lot more," Warren said.

Debby echoed his sentiments: "I really didn't get to know him very well when we were growing up. We were not very close at all until I came to live here. It worked out really well."

The siblings had learned the art of carpentry from their father and their love of music from their mother. They recalled building birdhouses and bird feeders as children in their father's basement workshop and taking piano lessons and playing in their high school band.

Warren, a retired nuclear chemist, continued his musical background playing French horn in the U.S. Army National Guard Band. Nowadays, he and Debby belong to the handbell choir at St. Andrew. Warren also sings baritone in the Hilton Head Choral Society and in the church choir. Debby, who holds a master's degree in organ performance, also plays baritone horn, recorder, guitar and dulcimer. She became interested in building a harpsichord while taking a class at UCLA.

"I am always learning how to play different instruments," said Debby, who plans to take oboe lessons next.

Debby had played a harpsichord, which produces a different sound than a piano, in college and liked the new sound and challenges it presented.

"The harpsichord is the forerunner of the piano," Debby said. "The quills pluck the strings like on a violin, but in a much different way than when you use a bow. When the hammers (of a piano) hit the keys, it makes a different sound. A harpsichord can only make it one dynamic level.

"A piano can play loud and soft, a harpsichord does not. A harpsichord is harder to play because you are pushing a jack out of the instrument and it plucks the string. You have to press harder than on a piano."

For Warren, hearing Debby play the harpsichord brought back childhood memories.

"It was a great feeling to hear her play a piece on the harpsichord," Warren said. "When she was playing scales, it was one of the little things I remember from piano lessons as a child."


The Beaufort County Ministerial Alliance quarterly meeting begins at 9 a.m. today at the Grand Army Hall, New Castle Street, Beaufort. Licensed or ordained ministers living in the Beaufort County area are invited. The Rev. Dr. Sam Spain is president.

Details: The Rev. Carrie Allen, alliance secretary, 843-846-8050


Angel Food orders must be picked up from 9-10 a.m. today at St. John's Lutheran Church on Lady's Island.

Online orders may be placed at


New Hope Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Disciples Women Ministry's annual Spring Tea is at 3 p.m. today in the church Fellowship Hall.

Details: Geneva Cole, 843-524-7342

Willie McDuffie will preach his trial sermon at 4 p.m. Sunday. The public is invited. The church is at 67 Parris Island Gateway, Burton.

Details: Pastor Edward Cushingberry, 843-524-6520


Friendship Baptist Church will hold its Men's Day Program at 3 p.m. Sunday. Pastor Abraham Murray of Brick Baptist Church, St. Helena Island will speak. The church is at 36 Friendship Lane, Coosaw Island.

Details: 843-521-4419


An interdenominational worship service begins at 4 p.m. Sunday in commemoration of the Hardeeville Centennial at Abundant Life Tabernacle. The Rev. Richard Smith, pastor of Hardeeville and St. Luke United Methodist Churches, and the Rev. Renty Kitty, pastor of Pilgrim and St. Luke Baptist Churches, will deliver the sermonnettes. They will be joined by Worship Leader the Rev. Dr. John Washington, and other pastors, including the Rev. Dr. Michael Williams, the Rev. Eugene Lebby, the Rev. Dr. Dorothy Bates, the Rev. Fadetra Herrington, Apostle Paul Broussard, the Rev. Arnold Middleton and the Rev. Timothy Rich. The citywide chorus will lead traditional and contemporary hymns and anthems. To join the chorus, contact Mary Frances Glover at 843-784-2908 or JW Badger at 843-784-3487.

The church is at 1293 Plantation Drive, Hardeeville.


Kathy Folsom will speak at 10 a.m. Sunday at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Beaufort. Celebrating Women's History month, Folsom's presentation is titled "Wise Women, Fearless Girls." Folsom studies yoga therapeutics and is certified in yoga for seniors. The fellowship meets at 178 Sams Point Road, Lady's Island.

Details: 843-838-1399


Gillison Branch Baptist Church will host the Rock Spring Sunday School Convention Women in Red and Men in Black Service at 4 p.m. Sunday. Speaker will be Pastor Leonard Griffin of Historic Morris Street Baptist Church in Charleston. The church is at 4591 Calf Pen Bay Road, Pineland.

Details: 843-726-6143,


The Baptist Church of Beaufort will host the North Greenville University Concert Choir at 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. The 42-member choir is on its annual tour in South Carolina. The church is at 600 Charles St., Beaufort.

Details: 843-524-3197


Dr. Ron McDermott, psychologist and former Catholic priest, will speak about Richard Wright, at 10 a.m. Sunday at Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Lowcountry. The congregation meets at 110 Malphrus Road, Bluffton. Children's religious education is available during the service.

Details: 843-341-7970


Pine Level Baptist Church will hold a conference, "The Trial of Jesus," taught by Florida Circuit Court Judge A.C. Soud Jr., from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. April 2 at the church in Early Branch. Reservations are required by Monday. Child care is available upon request. Cost is $10 and includes lunch and materials. The church is at 2009 Pine Level Church Road in Early Branch between Hampton and Grays.

Details: 843-726-5074


Evangelist Mary Ann Holmes, minister at Beaufort New Church of Christ, will speak from noon-12:45 p.m. Wednesday at the Lunch Hour of Power in Helen Galloway's Memorial Chapel of Chisholm Galloway Home for Funerals, 808 Bladen St., Beaufort.

Details: 843-524-6634


Beth Israel, Beaufort's historic synagogue, invites the Jewish community of Beaufort and its environs to share the second seder of Passover, at 6 p.m. April 19 at Traditions, Parris Island. Music will be led by BenZion Bronshtein. Cost is $35 for members, $50 for guests, including the Passover celebration and full feast. All checks must be received by Thursday. Details:, 843-524-8007. The synagogue is at 401 Scott St., Beaufort.

Details: Sy Commanday, 843-379-4732


Friday Organ Concerts at Noon continue at noon Friday with organist David Enlow of New York in the Parish Church of St. Helena, 507 Newcastle St., Beaufort. Admission is free.

Future concerts and performers are: April 8, Julian Collings, organist, and Rebecca Hewes, cello, of London; April 15, Francois Olivier and Luc Stellakis of Paris; and April 29, John Weaver, organist, with Marianne Weaver, flute, of New York.

Details: 843-522-1712, ext. 214


"The Journey of the Jews: A Cultural Study," meets at 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Wednesday at Congregation Beth Yam. Rabbi Brad Bloom will lead the discussion on the emergence of Islam. Participants are invited to bring their lunch.

The 11th Annual Congregation Beth Yam Sisterhood Women's Seder begins at 11 a.m. April 7 in the Congregation's Social Hall. The program will be followed by a Passover luncheon. Reservations must be made by Friday. This special seder that is held about two weeks before the Passover holiday is in celebration of women, including the righteous women of the generation of the Exodus. A luncheon and music will follow the seder service. The synagogue's Judaica Shop will hold a Passover sale at the seder. Many new items including Matzah plates and Matzah covers will be available. To reserve a space at the Women's Seder table, send a check to Sisterhood, Congregation Beth Yam, 4501 Meeting St., Hilton Head SC 29926. The cost is $25 for members, $30 for guests. The synagogue is at 4501 Meeting St., Hilton Head Island.

Details: 843-689-2178


The 15th annual Christian Heritage Breakfast, to benefit the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, is at 7 a.m. April 20 at The Crowne Plaza Resort, Shipyard Plantation, Hilton Head Island. Tom Lehman will be the keynote speaker. Tickets will be mailed out after Friday, but can be ordered up to April 15. The breakfast is presented by the FCA and the Men of the Church. The breakfast requires advance reservations as no tickets will be sold at the door. Table sponsors are needed for adults from local high schools and colleges. Tickets are available by mail at $25 each or a table of 10 for $199. Make checks payable to "Christian Heritage Breakfast," P.O. Box 5192, Hilton Head Island, SC 29938.

Details: 843-271-6710


Bethel Word & Worship Deliverance Temple Bethel's Pastor's Aide Committee will hold a yard sale at 8 a.m. April 2 on the church grounds at 239 County Shed Road, Beaufort. Money raised will benefit Bethel's pastor. Donations may be dropped off at the church.

Details: Lisa Daise, 843-521-0720

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