How do you cheer up an unhappy ape? With a harp!
Terri Tacheny enjoyed taking her daughters to Como Zoo in St. Paul. But there was one problem. The gorillas, orangutans and monkeys often lacked energy, she thought.
So she came up with a solution. It's a little music. Now Tacheny plays the harp once a month for an appreciative animal audience. The listeners amble down to the barrier as soon as Tacheny begins to set up. She plays a beautifully carved wooden harp. For 10 years, she's volunteered to perform at the zoo.
"I don't speak gorilla. But there's a gorilla purr that occurs when I begin to play. And that's their happy sound," said Tacheny. She is 57 years old.
As the sounds of Tacheny's harp drift through the zoo, a male gorilla stares at her. Then he chews contentedly on vegetation. Families stop to snap pictures.
Tacheny's regular job is as a therapeutic harpist. She plays for hospital patients. It helps them deal with pain and anxiety. She thought if the music helped calm humans, it would work for the primates too.
"I would love to see every zoo have a harpist. I think it benefits the animals," Tacheny said.
Tami Murphy is a zookeeper at Como. She said Tacheny has played for all the animals. Some aren't interested, 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 bad response from the apes.
"I've never had anything thrown at me," she said.