“I grew up pretty poor and have always loved music but my family could never really afford for me to have an instrument. When I ended up homeless I faced a point where I was going to kill myself. I decided I wanted to make my life beautiful and go for big, crazy dreams. After hearing Loreena McKennitt I wanted to play the harp,” Lia Grimanis, founder of Up With Women, recently shared with me.
Considering Grimanis was a homeless teenager at the time, living on a dollar a day, to purchase a $30,000 instrument and enrol in music lessons was a big dream. She learned of a 25-string lap harp that was $1000 after speaking with composer and musician, Loreena McKennitt at Toronto’s Mariposa Folk Festival in 1989. Grimanis’ felt her dream was suddenly in arm’s grasp. She took her savings (Grimanis combined her welfare cheque of $300 with $700 she had saved before leaving home) and headed to Toronto’s Remenyi House of Music to purchase the lap harp. To fund voice, piano and harp lessons at the Royal Conservatory, Grimanis took up rickshaw running in minus 30-degree winter weather. Despite the cold she pounded the pavement in simple, airy running shoes and managed to save $10,000.
For Grimanis, the harp is a symbol of achieving a beautiful dream. While playing it, she is instantly soothed and feels harmony around her. This is a big step from her turbulent and violent childhood and early teenage years.
“Everything became music for me,” Grimanis shares with wonder. “I learned to weld as a means to build my own rickshaws and start my first company, and even the process of welding was harmonious.” Grimanis tearfully recalls standing in Bay subway station in Toronto and hearing and seeing all the different conversations of people swirl, becoming an organized whole. She credits this memory to helping her feel less alone in the world.
To this day, Grimanis continues to play harp as a hobby and now owns five of the heavenly stringed instruments. She upgraded from her 25-string lap harp after working in corporate IT sales. Now Grimanis helms Up With Women, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping formerly homeless women, mothers and children with developing and building a career and dream life.
“Music and my dream of owning a harp inspired me to run through brutal winters, start my first company and become a success,” Grimanis says. “Connecting to that passion has fuelled me to accomplish larger goals and inspire others. Music saved my life.”