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Classical 101

Dog Day: Being a Musician With a Service Dog

Hannah Anderson
Vanderbilt University harpist Hannah Anderson with Timmy, her service dog


If you think getting an 80-pound harp onstage for a band concert would be a challenge, try doing it with vertigo. Hannah Anderson, a harp performance major at Vanderbilt University, knows the struggle all too well. Luckily Timmy, her balance service dog, is there to lend a paw.

Hannah has been a harpist for fourteen years, but she’s only been a harpist with a service dog since last spring. She has Ménière’s Disease, an inner ear disorder that causes vertigo and makes balance a serious issue. Timmy, her dog, is a friendly yellow lab bursting with personality-- he loves loud, raucous brass fanfares while Debussy’s music makes him grumble and howl.


Still, Timmy is a perfect companion for Hannah. He learned to warn her if she is about to have episode of vertigo and makes sure she gets around safely. But he’s also a friend, Hannah says. Timmy serves as a bridge into the world of classical music that shows people how the genre is much more accessible than it seems. Anyone with some limitation like Hannah’s can look at her work and realize their goal isn’t as unattainable as they thought.


Conductors have also been remarkably open and accommodating to Hannah and Timmy. “The music world is incredibly inclusive,” she told me. “[In other fields], your limitations might have more effect on what you do and how people perceive you-- but in the music world, it really doesn’t matter as long as you can play the music.”

Click below to hear my full conversation with Hannah (and Timmy, of course).