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A World of Harmony offering zither, piano lessons

Debbie Center sits at her piano in her home while playing a zither. (Nick Longworth/ Enterprise)

By Nick Longworth

Many have wanted to learn an instrument, and maybe just as many have never found the right one.

But maybe all they needed was a zither.

Debbie Center, a former Coloradoan now living in Nevis, was fluent on the piano as the music director at Montessori pre-school in her town of Littleton.

Admittedly, many people she knew kept telling her to teach piano lessons. But since she didn’t have a music degree, she was hesitant.

She had a degree in interior design and a steady job in the industry, but she always wanted to stay close to her kids as well as stay near music.

It was at a local music store that she first saw a zither.

A string instrument that consists of many strings stretched across a thin, flat body, it’s played by strumming or plucking the strings, either with one’s fingers or a pick. Like a guitar, its body serves as a sound box. But unlike one, a zither has no neck.

Center thought about getting one for her daughter as a gift.

“All you do is slip the sheet music under the strings and then it’s like connect the dots. It tells you right where to play and when. I bought one for her and she started playing it right away,” said Center of her daughter who was only four years old at the time.

“Then I brought it to my mother’s nursing home, and everybody there started fighting over who would get to play it next.”

Then one night Debbie was awoken from her sleep with an idea that hadn’t occured to her before.

“Literally at two in the morning I awoke with the thought that ‘you are going to create a music program based on this thing.’ I could not wait for the next day to start figuring out how I was going to be able to do that,” Center said.

Center began teaching lessons on what they originally called “music makers” (a popular brand of zithers at the time). She saw people trying to get their kids involved into playing music at an early age, but knew firsthand that teaching piano at such a young age was typically not much fun for anyone involved.

But with a new instrument, she saw a new opportunity.

“Anybody can play (a zither) right away. I started putting lyrics to these classical pieces of music, and these lyrics were real educational. Then I started doing weekly classes, and by now my daughter Deanna was in kindergarten,” Center said. “A bunch of kindergarteners kept coming for the weekly class and it kept developing.”

Then the golden goose idea came.

Center organized and published her song adaptations and lessons, creating World of Harmony music to be able to distribute them.

“I started writing more and more lyrics. Little by little things evolved and I started teaching to more people,” Center said.

“Finally I ended up printing off and binding up pieces of sheet music for kids in the class. Then about four and a half years ago I came up with the idea of binding this sheet music into books.”

She created zither sheet music on all different topics including Passover, Chinese New Year, Mardi Gras and other cultural things including a collection of Grateful Dead songs.

“I’m really big into languages and foreign cultures. I’m really trying to prevent prejudice before it gets a chance to start. I’m teaching children a lot about languages and cultures through the music a lot of times.”

She sells the music she has composed through her website, eBay and through Amazon. To date she has sold just under 6,000 copies in four years in 32 different countries.

Debbie and her husband Steve had vacationed in the area for many summers (Steve had visited throughout his childhood even).

So when Steve was offered a job last March, their daughter was accepted to Bemidji State University for college, and the family moved to the area permanently.

A lot of Center’s inspiration can be found in the nature around her and the lake she lives on, 5th Crow Wing.

“When I am out on the lake I feel like I am in harmony. There’s just something so spiritual about being out on the water and enjoying nature. I want try to recreate the peaceful feeling through the music for other people that don’t get to.”

Heavily involved at the Headwaters Animal Shelter, she sells her books for $11.11, to which $1.11 gets donated.

Knowing the zither is unique instrument, Center urges anyone who might be interested in taking a lesson - but still remains skeptical - to simply contact her and give it a try.

“I will be adding on a full piano studio and would like to do teaching. I’m living in my favorite place on the planet and want to share the music with the community by creating new musicians,” Center said.

“I’ve met adults who always wanted to learn a new instrument and never thought they could; they can play this the very first time they sit down to try. I’ve had adults burst into tears because they’re so excited. It’s the coolest feeling sharing the gift of music with as many people as possible - whether it’s the zither or piano or both.

Center can be reached at as well as a Facebook page under the same name, and a YouTube channel under ‘PianoMam.’

She can also be reached at 218-652-4601.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

(218) 732-3364