Phyllis L. Ensher-Peters, 91, of Wyomissing, passed away on December 18, 2022 at Reading Hospital. She was preceded in death by her husband, S. Frank Peters, Jr. on January 29, 1998.
Born in West Bridgewater, MA, she was a daughter of the late Napoleon and Virginia (Essayan) Ensher. Virginia loved the piano and opera, but she particularly loved the harp. She hoped that its uniqueness would attract her daughter to study music. Phyllis started playing the harp at the age of nine with an instructor in Providence, RI. When she was fourteen, Phyllis attended a concert by Carlos Salzedo, an internationally known harp instructor and composer, and head of the harp department at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, PA. Afterwards, she attended a reception which her music teacher gave for him. During the reception, Mr. Salzedo asked to hear one of the younger students play, and Phyllis was chosen. Mr. Salzedo wanted Phyllis to apply to Curtis at that time, but her parents wanted her to complete her higher education before applying. A few years later, Mr. Salzedo invited Phyllis to study under him at his Harp Colony in Camden, ME, which was famous at the time as a place of study for harpists of both amateur and professional training. Phyllis went to Maine and spent four summers studying with Mr. Salzedo.
She began performing in public around her hometown in Massachusetts, and ultimately started playing with the Brockton Orchestral Society, the Boston Conservatory of Music, and Hunter College in New York. She graduated from Wheaton College with a Bachelor of Arts in Music in 1953, applied to the Curtis Institute of Music to study under Mr. Salzedo, and was accepted into their harp program. While there, she met her husband-to-be, Frank Peters. She graduated from Curtis in 1957.
In 1958, Phyllis became the principal solo harpist of the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. She held that position for 18 years. During that same period, she also served as a staff artist with the Canadian Broadcasting Company, performing regularly on national network television and radio.
Phyllis, Frank, and Ariana moved to Florida in 1976, where she was a member of the Florida Symphony Orchestra in Orlando, and the Brevard Symphony Orchestra in Melbourne. She was also the principal harpist of the Savannah Symphony Orchestra, in Savannah, GA. Additionally, she was a principal performer at Walt Disney World and numerous other entertainment centers in Orlando, Tampa, and St. Petersburg, FL.
The Peters family moved to Wyomissing, PA in 1986. Phyllis became the principal harpist of the Binghamton Symphony Orchestra, the Binghamton Pops, and the Tri-Cities Opera, in Binghamton, NY. She ultimately retired from her positions in Binghamton around 2012 but continued to play for weddings and other special occasions in the Wyomissing area for many years. She had many harp students and played frequently with the Reading Pops and the Reading Symphony Youth Orchestra.
Phyllis had a passion for passing on the legacy of knowledge she had gained through her years of performing that she passionately wanted to share. “I enjoy the sound; I enjoy the teaching, the performance. It’s all those things melded into one. When I play a piece, it doesn’t matter whether it’s classical, popular, Broadway, or any other genre. I always put something of myself in that music. It gives me a feeling of serenity.” In her “senior will” from Wheaton College, in 1953, she said “Phyllis Ensher drifts up, her harp under her arm, to Heaven, where she’s sure to find a good job. She leaves behind wonderful memories of her wonderful rendition of ‘Clair de Lune.’” Willis Rapp, conductor of the Reading Pops Orchestra, commented in a condolence message that "We will remember with great fondness Phyllis being with us to play her harp for the December 11 Vesper Service. She lived for her harp; how wonderful she could perform in the last week of her life."
Survivors include her daughter, Dr. Ariana L., married to Larry D. Patnode and stepson Alexander C. Patnode, Scottsdale, AZ, and three siblings: Beverly Albaugh, Adrienne Kachadourian, and Clive Ensher.
A memorial service will be held on Friday, March 31, 2023, at Atonement Lutheran Church, Wyomissing, with a reception to follow at Lundin Hall. Visitation will begin at 11:00 am with the service commencing at 11:30 am.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Reading Musical Foundation (readingmusicalfoundation.org), P.O. Box 14835, Reading, PA 19612.