The old witch with an autoharp

An autoharp

In the 1970s, I was just a small girl going to elementary school in eastern Pennsylvania. Each class level had about two teachers, with the students divided between the two. Other than “library time” when we all got in a line and made the procession to the library (to see the librarian), all classes were held in the same classroom. A separate art teacher came to our class with a cart full of art supplies, and the designated music teacher came with numerous instruments, like tambourines, triangles, egg shakers, recorders and kazoos. You can imagine the “music” we created with that lot of instruments, but it was so fun! I remember the music teacher even having us dance around the room as if following the Pied Piper.

It was probably around the beginning of October when a new music teacher arrived. Apparently the young pretty music teacher we usually had went away on maternity leave. Unlike the pretty teacher, this new one was old, gray-haired, and wrinkly, with lots of moles all over her face. She even had long hairs growing from the moles. Her smile was ghoulish, and her voice a bit screechy yet low. I think the whole class just stared with a wee bit of fright as soon as she entered the room. I did. I think we were all about six years old at the time.

This new music teacher had no cart of instruments, instead she brought with her only one for her own use. I had never seen such an instrument in my life at that time. It turned out to be an autoharp.

Before this scary woman taught us our first song she started to strum that thing. Rrrrrrum, Rrrrrrum, Rrrrrrrum. I remember finding it strangely eerie and feeling goose bumps on my arms. Here is a video of how it sounded. Creepy is definitely a good word to describe it.

After this teacher’s initial strumming she put the instrument down, was quiet for a moment, and then began to tell her story. “Good morning little children. My name is Ms. Mathilda. I want you all to know that I am a witch. Yes, a real witch.”

Our eyes opened wider with further fear, as she continued. “I only wear my hat and ride my broom on Halloween night. Now with Halloween fast approaching I’d like to teach you a song that I sing as I stir my special brew filled with mystery ingredients.”

The room was absolutely silent as she played the autoharp again. She strummed it two more times before starting the following song. Do any of you out there remember this song? Note that the lady in the video is far more pleasant than Ms. Mathilda was, and sings the song less ominously.

“Stirring and stirring and stirring the brew, ooooooow, ooooooow. Stirring and stirring and stirring the brew, oooooooow ooooooow. Tip toe. Tip toe. Tip toe. BOOOOOO!

“Now little children, sing with me.” Strum, stum, and then this witch started to sing again, but hardly a child lifted their voice above a whisper.


The above story is actually true, though I’m not sure of her exact name after all of these years. Can you imagine if such a teacher said such things in this day and age? I have to confess that on Halloween night for a few years I looked up at the sky and held my sister’s hand tightly as we trick or treated in the night.

5 thoughts on “The old witch with an autoharp

  1. Iggy October 31, 2017 / 7:43 pm

    I played the autoharp in 3rd grade music class. I always wanted one of my own. Never got one though. This post brought me back to that time. I don’t remember what my music teacher looked like, or what her name was. But I do remember we went to a different class for music.

    Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight October 31, 2017 / 7:51 pm

      Hi Iggy. Thanks for sharing. I’m sure you played nicer music pieces on the autoharp than the witch music teacher.

      When my family moved to New Jersey, the new school had a separate classroom for music. In fact, the school in New Jersey had better music instruction overall. I remember going to class and learning that all of the young students could read some music. I didn’t know how so I started to cry. The music teacher called my mother and they arranged for me to have extra tutoring. I have always loved music as far back as I can remember. I guess that’s why stories like this stayed in my memory.


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