Talented young harpist bags place at top music school despite life-changing disease

A harp player who was diagnosed with a life-changing disease at 17 thought her dreams of being a musician were over, but four years on she has defied the odds and is studying at Scotland’s top music school.

Friday, 27th December 2019, 9:46 am
Harpist Zoe Galbraith, 21, pictured with her mum, Gillian. Picture: Ian Jacobs

Zoe Galbraith, 21, from Penicuik was diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) while still a teenager and said this “unrelenting disease” shattered her “whole family’s lives”.

The neurological condition is long-term and affects the nervous and immune systems, with around 250,000 people diagnosed across the UK.

Mum Gillian said that Zoe had been a “real live wire” growing up, but at 16 everything started to change.

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She said: “It started with flu-like symptoms, but soon progressed to extreme fatigue.

“She was barely able to get out of her bed. And when she did, she didn’t have any energy. It was devastating to see the life drain out of our bright, bubbly girl.”

From a young age Zoe dreamed of becoming a famous musician, but she thought being diagnosed with ME had put an end to this future.

She said: “After my diagnosis I started to feel like a misfit. My friends were disappearing out of my life. They couldn’t see anything wrong with me. Gradually, they stopped asking me to go out with them. I didn’t see how I would ever be able to study music at university or live the sort of life I wanted.”

Zoe explained that her main issue was finding support which was appropriate for her as having ME at such a young age was so unusual and this limited her options.

But after a long search, she came across the charity Thistle which provided a lifestyle coaching course to help the teenager adjust to her new life which was “a turning point” for her.

She said that the charity helped her rediscover her passions and even helped find a lightweight harp so she was able to keep playing the music she loved.

The determined teenager fought back against the odds and managed to secure the grades to study at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow.

Zoe said: “I was so happy when I got my place. I’ve had times that were really bad but my life is completely different now. I’m studying and love my new lightweight harp.”