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Folk harpers vs. classical harpists

  • Audrey
    Audrey Nickel

    No...I'm not proposing a rumble! ;)

    Liam's question about a wire harp forum got me to wondering what the percentage of classical harpists to folk harpers is here?  (This is just pure, morbid, curiousity!).

    For purposes of definition, by "classical" I mean that your primary interest is in classical music, and that you either play the pedal harp or are playing lever with the goal of transitioning to pedal when it becomes feasible.  By "folk" (and there may be a better word) I mean that your primary interest is in folk/traditional music, that your primary instrument is one of the many varieties of smaller harps ("neo-Celtic" or "lever," wire-strung, cross-strung, triple, Paraquayan, etc.  Probably should put Gothic and therapy harps in there as well), and that you have no intention at this time of taking up the pedal harp.

    For myself, my primary instrument is a 26-string lever harp, and I am just beginning to learn wire harp (I plan to continue to play both, so I don't consider this a "transition," but rather simply learning a new instrument in addition to my current one).  My primary interest is in Irish traditional music (I'm going to include Carolan in this, even though his work is as much baroque as traditional), as well as traditional/folk music from other areas of the British Isles and from the U.S. and Canada.  I have no intention to take up the pedal harp, lovely instrument that it is, but hope someday to have a larger lever harp and perhaps...down the road...a historical replica of one of the famous wire harps.

    What about you?

    Audrey

    replies to "Folk harpers vs. classical harpists"
    • Tony
      Tony Morosco

      I think your classification system is a bit to narrow.

      Some harpists are equally comfortable in both genres. And others don't work in either. Pedal harp doesn't equal classical harpist. You can play folk music on the pedal harp as well. In fact much contemporary folk is fairly chromatic so more suited to pedal harp. Even the diatonic folk music can still be played on pedal harp.

      Also Jazz is best played on Pedal harp as is a lot of Pop music.

      Some folks defy any classification. Deborah Henson-Conant, for instance, started as a Jazz harpist but these days she goes beyond any simple classification and she plays everything from Celtic to Jazz/Classical fusion, all with her own sense of style.

      Personally I wouldn't be able to say what kind of a harpist I am. I started wanting to play Celtic, but studied with a Classical harpist who also played Jazz. I am just as likely to sit at my lever harp as at my pedal harp, and what I play at any given time depends on a lot of factors, but could just as likely be an old folk tune as a Jazz standard or a classical piece.

      I am just a harpist. I play what ever I want at any given time and don't concern myself too much about genres.

    • Liam
      Liam M

      Totally intriguing. I am still simply a plinker so the issue of classical vs folk is not an issue. I have even heard that concert harp players are harpists whereas folk harp players are harpers.  Hmmm.... What do we call those who are strictly Clarsach?

       

       

       

      But in reflection we all share a love of a divine instrument which is uniquely heavenly in it's sound.

    • Audrey
      Audrey Nickel

      By "clàrsach," do you mean wire harp?  Because, to be honest, "clàrsach" simply means "harp" in Scottish Gaelic (the Irish form is "cláirseach"), and to speakers of the language, "clàrsach/cláirseach" applies equally to wire-strung, lever, pedal, etc....they're all "cláirseacha" (I know the powers that be in the wire harp world like to think otherwise, but trust me...if you plunk a concert grand down in a Gaeltacht and ask anyone you see "cad é seo" (what is this?) they'll answer "is cláirseach í" (it's a harp)).

      Maybe my definition was a bit too narrow.  It's just that I often see here posts from people who plan to "move up" (I prefer the word "transition" myself) to pedal harp, and I wonder how many of us are more attracted to the folk instruments and their repertoire, and have no plan or desire to play the pedal harp?

      Audrey

    • Barbara
      Barbara Brundage

      What Tony said!

    • Barbara
      Barbara Brundage

      t's just that I often see here posts from people who plan to "move up" (I prefer the word "transition" myself) to pedal harp, and I wonder how many of us are more attracted to the folk instruments and their repertoire, and have no plan or desire to play the pedal harp?


      But that's what Tony is saying: what is the lever harp repertoire? It's whatever you want it to be. People play all sorts of music without pedals, you know. To imply that it's only suitable for folkies is doing it a disservice. You're still implying that you need pedals for anything else.

    • Audrey
      Audrey Nickel

      Well, I didn't mean to start an argument.  I guess I'm just not wording this well.  I'll just drop it...it was just curiosity anyway.

      Audrey

    • Barbara
      Barbara Brundage

      It might be better to focus on the music rather than the mechanism. Are you trying to find out how many people here are primarily interested in celtic music, or classical music, or historical music?

    • Liath
      Liath Hollins

      I agree that any type of music can be played on the lever harp - which is one reason that I'm very committed to it as an instrument. Thankfully, the idea that the lever harp is a 'beginners' instrument from which musicians 'progress' to pedal harp is dying away. I see lever harp and pedal harp as two distinct instruments, each with their own strengths.

      This is partly due to inspiring lever harpists such as Catriona McKay, Corrina Hewat and Savourna Stevenson, demonstrating the amazing range of things the lever harp can do. And also because of the general rise in the popularity of traditional and folk music - which generally is the main repertoire for lever harp.

      It's also due to the examination boards introducing complete gradings for lever harp, whereas previously, it was only possible to take lever harp in the lower grades, it then being assumed that the harpist would 'move up' to pedal harp in order to learn the classical repertoire demanded of the orchestral harpist.

      Though I do agree that any type of music can be played on any type of harp, and my repertoire is not terribly different from that of my pedal harpist friends, there is still a connection with lever harp and folk - partly because of the popular insistence that it is a 'Celtic' harp. (Don't get me started on that...)

      Like any type of music, 'folk' changes depending on the influences of the musicians that play it. These days, it is quite chromatic and new lever harps are being built to reflect this, such as the amazing Starfish McKay harp, which has one chromatic octave.

      But while I would love to play the pedal harp as a secondary instrument (mostly because I think it would be great for the weddings that are my mainstay), as a musician, I'm interested in the traditional repertoire and lever harp suits that very well.

    • Jennifer
      Jennifer Buehler

      I totally get what you're saying.  I'm a committed lever harp player.  I do play classical and extended harmonies on my lever harp but see myself more in the folk vein.  I think maybe it's because my target audience (family friendly, interactive) is what local folk musicians are playing to. 

      Once in a while I'm tempted by pedal simply because I'd like to play the harp parts in band.  Then I see my musical partner struggling with her troub on her dolly and I'm glad for my 20ish pound harp!

      Someday I'd love a bray harp

      Jennifer

    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      Currently I would consider myself a "harp enthusiast" as I only began self-teaching in the last month or so.  However, if I had to wrap parameters around it, I would say that thus far I'm preferring the idea of lever harp.

      Musically, I'm mostly interested in Christian music with some folk and wedding favorites peppered in there for spice.  I'm hoping to get good enough to duet with a friend of mine who plays hammer dulcimer.  I could probably tackle some classical stuff, but again would not see myself "transitioning" to another instrument to do so.

      Does that answer what you were trying to get at, Audrey?

    • Karen
      Karen Johns

           I am a folk harper. I do play a wide variety of music (including some classical), but in my opinion, when I think of a classical harpist, I think of a pedal harp. I understand perfectly what your request is, Audrey- and I think this is a good discussion thread. I was wondering myself how many play pedal (classical) vs. lever(folk) harps. Maybe there should even be separate forums for them.

    • Karen
      Karen Johns

           Your books on classical music for the lever harp prove that this genre is not limited to pedal harp, Barbara. That being said, however, I feel I need to say something on Audrey's behalf here. I don't believe she was implying that only lever (folk) harps should play folk music. Her question (correct me if I am wrong Audrey) was how many people play folk(lever) harp versus pedal/lever transitioning to pedal harp. I hope this post is not misunderstood too... 

    • Tony
      Tony Morosco

      I still think that it is not necessarily so cleanly divided. Even if we change from Folk harper vs. Classical harpist to Lever harp player vs. Pedal harp player you still have a whole lot of over lap.

      I know a whole lot of people who play both. Many of the top names in the harp community play both. Even if someone wants to play pedal harp that doesn't make the lever harp just a transitional instrument. There is some music that is better suited and even easier to play on a lever harp, and others that are better suited or easier to play on a pedal harp.

      To me it is a matter of which tool is best suited for the job at hand. Does playing a pedal harp automatically make you a pedal harpist even if you still play the lever harp? And what about other kinds of harps? Sylvia Woods may be thought of as a lever harpist, but she plays pedal harp and triple strung harp as well.

      Verlene Shermer is well known for lever harp but she is also a cross strung  harp player.

      Deborah Henson-Conanat first became known playing pedal harp, but these days she probably does at least 50/50 pedal and lever harp playing.

      Ray Pool, played Pedal harp at the Waldorf for many years, but is one of the most phenomenal lever harpists you will ever hear.

      The late Derek Bell, known worldwide as having been the Celtic harper for the Chieftains, but before that he was principle harpist for the North Ireland BBC Orchestra and continued to perform on Pedal harp throughout his career in his solo concerts.

      I don't mean to be argumentative, but I just don't see that playing pedal harp means in any way that a person has moved on from lever to pedal so much as expanded their arsenal to include pedal. The dichotomy of lever vs. pedal just doesn't fit every harpist. So many of the harpists I know who play on pedal harpist also play on lever that I would not be surprised if the majority of pedal harp players are also lever  harp players.

       

    • Karen
      Karen Johns

      Then to answer the question posed by Audrey one would simply say "I play both folk and pedal harp"-right? I don't mean to be argumentative either, but this is a simple question to me, as I think it was intended from the beginning. Now it seems to have turned into a big can of worms (or harp-strings, if you will). LOL

       

       

    • Liam
      Liam M

      And would thse worms be metal or nylon/gut?

    • Dawn
      Dawn Penland

      I play pedal harp.  I played pedal harp when I was 13 for a short while.  My aunts, mother and sister all play pedal harp.  I took up the harp last October at age 52.  I found my teacher first.  She rented me a lever harp that I fell in love with.  I had never had such a small huggable harp before.  The music that I played in the past was classical and popular.  I happened to find a pedal harp on Craigslist that I fell in love with so that's what I bought and that's my path now.  I loved my exposure to the lever harp and would have continued along that path if my pedal hap had not come into my life.

    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      Depends on what you're fishing for, Liam. LOL

      Okay, so if we call the lever harp players "harpers", and the pedal harp players "harpists", what should we call the ones who play both?  "harpies?"
      "snicker, snort" Sorry, couldn't help myself.

      Seriously, I think from what I've been reading on the forums so far, even though several folks play both variations of harp...they usually have one that they consider their "primary" harp.  Even some of the well-known artists previously mentioned, when you read about them, seem to portray preferences.  Would THAT not then (at least in part) determine if you were harper or harpist?

    • Jennifer
      Jennifer Buehler

      I think the point is some people don't ever want to play pedal harp and that some people get that you can play lever as a primary instrument or that you can play both lever and pedal and be happy but most (especially teachers) don't!!!  I'm one of the only lever harpists who plays publicly in my area and I've had so many people come up to me and say "I really wanted to play folk harp but all my teacher wanted me to play were these classical pieces"  Another friend said she used to take lessons but her teacher was always saying "When you get your pedal harp.."  Or my musical partner who thinks she's taking a step down to play primarily on lever harp. 

      Another thing that I see is that there is often a lack of flexibility in teaching to truly folk harp or even small harps.  I once saw a presenter say that she would never use a small harp in a therapy situation because of how crappy they sounded.  She then proceeded to play a small harp with pedal technique and using large intervals that are appropriate on a large harp but not a therapy harp!  Or another teacher who would only teach treble parts to a student with a lap harp.  Or that good technique is good technique no matter what harp you're playing.  Obviously you need to play differently on lighter strung harp or a wire harp, etc.

      Jennifer

       

    • Barbara
      Barbara Brundage

      Liam, these days I play the lever harp primarily, but I am by no means a harper--I don't do celtic at all, except when requested. Does that still make me a "harper"?


      Where would you put someone like Anne Marie O'Farrell, who plays the lever harp and does play Celtic music extremely well, but whose last album was an all Bach recording?


      Or someone like John Manno, who plays French Baroque music on a lever harp. Is he a harper, too?


      I still say that nowadays you can't classify people by their semitone mechanism. Not anymore. A mechanism is a mechanism, not a musical fence to rope people off into categories, although there are a great many people with harps (to avoid the harpist/harper thing) who still don't get that, regardless of which way they make their sharps and flats.

    • Barbara
      Barbara Brundage

      Oops, sorry, I meant Kim, not Liam.