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Why the harp?

  • Jerusha
    Jerusha Amado

    Harp is such an unusual instrument.  It is difficult to play and is expensive if it is a custom-made lever or is a semi or concert grand. It's certainly harder to transport than many other instruments.   In some cities a harp is not seen outside of an orchestra.  Teachers of the harp are not in abundance.  And harpists are outnumbered by students of other instruments such as the violin and piano.  What compelled you to study the harp?

    Jerusha

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    replies to "Why the harp?"
    • Victor
      Victor Ortega

      Great question.  I'd love to hear what other people have to say.  As for me, several things compelled me to study the harp:


      First, a love of its music.  I love many pieces written for the harp, although there's one in particular that I loved so much that I picked up its sheet music five years before starting to play the harp: The minstrel's adieu to his native land by John Thomas.  I originally intented to come up with an arrangement of it for the classical guitar, but I never got around to it and it seemed like a major undertaking anyway; when I decided to give up on the classical guitar, I was unwilling to let go of that piece of sheet music, which made me realize that I could only do it justice by playing it on an instrument that could express its feel well.  The harp is a very capable instrument, and many composers have taken advantage of its abilities in writing very good music for it.  On the flip side, I knew that the harp's flexibility would make it easier for me to play a variety of music, such as piano music.


      Second, a love of its sound.  I absolutely love the tone quality that the harp can put out.  It is so rich, so... umm... "delicious" (for lack of a better word).  I think it helps the harp that its strings are of good length for the pitches they produce (string instruments with fingerboards have compromises in this regard), and that (at least for many harps) it uses gut strings for the critical middle octaves.  I mean, I like the sound of the piano, but I love the sound of the harp.  I also love that, at least in my opinion, the harp is neither too loud nor too soft.


      The third factor that compelled me to play the harp--and this is a weird one--is that I had a suspicion that I would love playing it, love the "feel" of it.  And this I suspected from my experience with the classical guitar.  And so far, the suspicion has proven itself right.  I mean, it can be a struggle at times, but I like the feel of it overall.  I also like that our direct involvement with the strings allows us to further shape the sound that we produce, definitely much more than (say) the piano allows.


      And, okay, I'll come clean: another factor that influenced me is the fact that I love how the harp looks.  I think it's a gorgeous instrument, especially in concert grand form.  Music is art, and aesthetics is art, so I think it's okay.  :)

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    • Kelly
      Kelly R

      It's just something I always have loved even since I was a little girl (but never dreamed I'd actually do!) I guess the sound especially, and the looks.  I'm one of those people who like the ever-so-often comparison of harpists to angels.  I just feel so elegant playing the harp.  Although I play piano, and have far many years, in short, I just think I found my match in the harp.  I assume everyone on here has some somewhat similar reasons (i.e. the sound, the beauty, even the rarity), but it is neat to read of why others have chosen this unique and amazing!!!!! instrument :)

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    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      I started the harp because i was influenced by my father's nickname.  He acts as David from the Old Testement during the Holy Week Pegant and one of his nicknames is the harpist.  i was also influenced a bit by my cousin who also plays harp part-time.  its just that i used to be at her place a good number of times at i would watch her play and fell in love with the sound of it

      But now i'm happy with her.  i Love her like nothing else in the world.... altough i have to admit.... at times i do dream of giving it all up just to start studying violin.... i feel that that is where my heart beats at its best... but now my harp carreer has taken start too well to let go.... but its still Vivaldi's Presto from Summer which wakes me up at 5:30 am : )

       

       

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    • Tony
      Tony Morosco

      For me it all started with U2, in a very round about way.

      I have been playing some kind of instrument since I was about 6. Piano lessons, then in a marching band playing glockenspiel and later fife. Fife led to flute. Friends in to rock got me started on guitar.

      I was a big fan of U2 and one day I was in the record store and I saw a live record of a fundraiser benefit concert in Ireland featuring all sorts of Irish musicians, including U2. I bought the album because it had U2 doing some covers of Dylan songs.

      However also on the record were two groups I had never heard of. Clannad and The Chieftains. I ran out the next day and found a full album of each of them and fell in love with Irish music instantly.

      Listening to the Chieftains album I couldn't get past the one instrument that stood out and made me want to play it. The Irish Fiddle. I wanted to play the fiddle so bad.

      But the funny thing was that as I listed to both the Clannad and Chieftains albums I realized that the instrumental pieces featuring the harp were my favorites. Eventually I realized I was paying much more attention to the sound of the harp than the fiddle. I even started to have dreams I was playing the harp.

      So I saved up and bought a harp. The guy I bought it from said he knew a good harp teacher and gave me her name and number. It turned out she was primarily a Classical harpist, but I figured it was a better place to start than trying to learn on my own.

      She in turn not only indulged my desire to play Irish music, but turned me on to both Classical and Jazz music for the harp.

      The rest is history.

       

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    • Unknown
      Unknown User

       
      My answer has some of Tony's reasons and some of Victor's reasons, and some bizzare reasons of my own. I played in a flute/harp Celtic duo for a while (just for fun), on my keyless Irish flute, with a lever harp player. It was the first time I had ever been that near to a harp, and so I gained a basic understanding of the principle behind a lever harp.

      Here is the bizarre part; the part that got me to take up the instrument. Years later, in a different stage of my life that didn't include harps at all, I woke up in the middle of the night one night, thinking to myself: "Even if you had levers on every string, you still could not play in every key." Before that night, I had never given it much thought, and had just assumed that full levers were equivalent to full chromaticism. I spent the rest of the night working out different lever combinations for harps tuned to different keys, and thought about what would happen if you had some kind of double lever system. I am a mathematician by training and trade, and that kind of thing is not so weird to us, but to the man on the street, it probably sounds absolutely crazy. Anyway, I was obsessed with this harp thing, and wanted to play one, just to experience what it was like to have an instrument that wasn't fully chromatic. The next week, while these ideas were fresh in my mind, I went to the Colorado Irish Festival, and there was Kolacny music. I must have visited their booth 20 times in the day that I was there, and they were so patient and willing to answer questions, let me touch the harps, let me play a scale on one, etc. So I decided to rent one, just to have the experience of playing it. I had no intention of getting good at it (and I am proud to say that I have lived up to that goal -- I am not a good player), and I didn't intend to stay with the instrument. I just wanted to get this curiosity out of my system.

      Well one thing leads to another, doesn't it. Here's why I have stuck with it.
      1. I play oboe as a serious amateur, and Irish flute pretty well, and the harp is a nice contrast to a wind instrument. I like that I can sit down and play something with harmony all by myself, instead of needing others to fill in the chords.
      2. I like that I can tune the harp before I play, and not have to worry about it again. I am constantly uptight about intonation when I play oboe or flute.
      3. I like that I have made this committment to myself to just have fun with it and not push myself to be a fabulous player. This is really recreational playing -- playing for the love of it, instead of working towards some goal. Even though I am taking lessons, and working towards small goals, they are my own goals, and not some that came from a teacher or conductor or band member.
      4. Like Victor, I really like how it feels to play. I love having an instrument that I can encase with my arms. I totally love feeling the vibrations come and strike me in the gut. No wonder this is an instrument used in therapy -- feeling the sound in addition to hearing it touches me somehow that I can't explain.

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    • Victor
      Victor Ortega

      Hey Shannon: I am also a mathematician of sorts (I have a degree in Math/Computer Science and do computational programming), so I completely understand working out such things!  When I learned the geometric series in algebra class in high school, I worked out the math behind musical scales, and learned all about different temperaments and tunings.  I even got into piano tuning back then for a little bit to go beyond theory to something I could hold and feel.  I also come from a chromatic instrument (the classical guitar), and love that the harp is a diatonic instrument.  What's more, by using enharnonic equivalents in certain scales, we can even make the harp pentatonic!  All right, I'll stop there.  :)

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    • HarpGlo
      HarpGlo Jean

      As a child, on my way to an open field to fly my kite or just play, I would always pass by a home and pause a minute to stare at a huge gold pedal harp that was kept in the window.  I  thought, how beautiful that is, not giving it much thought after that, even as I pursued playing woodwind instruments instead.....Finally, six years ago, after a particularly stressful day at work, I happened to catch a PBS program put on by Huell Howser, who visits various places in California.  This particular one had him at the Sylvia Woods Harp Center and various harps were being shown, and played..and that was "it"...the "bug" was planted, along with occasional nightly dreams that I would have of me playing harp...Now, I've been playing for 14 months and I absolutely love it!..the sound is magnificent, and it brings great peace to my soul!  I can't help but think that I must've had an inkling that I was going to one day play that instrument, when I stopped to look at it as a child, some 40+ years ago..



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    • Jerusha
      Jerusha Amado

      Thank you, everyone, for responding.  These are wonderful stories!

      I remember wanting to play the organ when I was in elementary school.  My family had received a brochure in the mail from a music store that was selling small organs with two rows of keys, lots of tabs for sound effects (I think) and some pedals. There were a number of wood stains and styles available.  I recall really liking one with curvy legs in a French design.  My dad had promised to buy one for me but never did, and I had no money to buy an instrument of any kind.  I did get to play in a marimba band in the 6th grade where we played by ear.  I also tried a few lessons in flute while in college but quit before I could learn how to read music.  I never remember having a desire to play the harp during all of this time.

      Fast forward to my early 30's... my husband and I were returning from a concert and as we passed a music store, I looked over to see several Lyon and Healy Troubadours in the window.  I was enthralled with them and remarked to my husband, "Wouldn't it be great if I could play the harp!"  I don't know what he was thinking ,but he didn't say anything.  The next day I called the manager of the shop, and he arranged for me to pluck on a harp and also gave me the number of a teacher who later taught me lessons for many years.  I began renting one of the Troubadours and began dreaming about owning a Salzedo after seeing one in a brochure.  I just fell in love with its masculine, strong design.  There wasn't another harp like it.  I mentioned to my husband that I would love to own one, but it would have been very expensive for us to purchase it.  He finally agreed that he would buy one if I could prove that I could somehow make money by playing the harp.  I really didn't know how I was going to do that, but at any rate one day he had his poker buddies over for a game, and between hands I played on my lever harp for them, and they were so happy with what they heard that they threw coins down at my feet.  I looked over at my husband and said, "I've been paid!"  Within the month I had my Salzedo!  (Lyon and Healy happened to have one on hand at the time.)

      Jerusha

       

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    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      I fell in love with the harp when I was about 4 years old, and sat. on the Lap of the harpest at Williamsberg Inn (1967-68?) anyway she was so sweet to me and allowed me to touch this amzing instrument.  For years I alwasy dreamed of playing the harp but just knew it was way out of my price range.  Then this past April while at the Scottish games here in Charlotte (I have been going for years) I decided to go to the harp competition and observe.  It just seemed that it was meant to be, everything feel together, I met my Teacher who told me about the adult class at th e communitiy college.  (I had the thought that these peopel whould be playing lap harps) but I wa s amazed to see floor harps that were very beautiful including one htat was built by the player.  I started doing some research and relized these instruments were substatially less expensive and just as beautiful, I started playing in September, I bought my harp 3 weeks later, (I bought the Ravvenna 34) I am totally hooked.  I don't have any desire to learn the pedal harp (I have great respect for people who play that (my teacher is one) ) I just at least at this time am learning to play for the shear joy of playing the harp.  I have found that the harp community is very open to newbys and that the resources are amazing.  I love the way it sounds even when you play badly, I played the bflat Clarenet in school for a couple of years and it never was teh instrument that opened my soul.... I just love everything about the harp and even the learning expierence of the harp!   

      Funny thing is I thought to myself a goal to learn one song before christmas, well we are having a christmas recital and we will be playing 4 tunes and using both hands and I am amazed!  At 43 to take up this instrument I am really dilligent about practice, and memorizing the fingering , placement and my music.  So there is also soemthign to be said for taking this up later in life.

      Marcia

      Charlotte NC

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    • Tony
      Tony Morosco

      +++So there is also soemthign to be said for taking this up later in life.+++

      From observing several people who have taken the harp up later in life it has become my opinion that it is one of the best instruments for older people to take up. The range of music that can be played is great, and the fact that the harp sounds wonderful even when played simply means that you don't have to practice for years just to produce something that sounds pleasant to most people.

      I am constantly astounded by the number of people who don't begin until their 50's, 60's and even in their 70's with the occasional 80's. It is fairly rare to hear of someone just taking up the violin at 60, but not the harp so clearly there is something about the harp that both appeals to older people, and makes learning for an older person more practical.

      Personally I think it is great. Every one should make some kind of music and to see so many people who never did start no matter what the age is a wonderful thing.

       

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    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      How cool is that! No wonder we thought alike on this thread!

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    • Leigh
      Leigh Griffith

      +++Every one should make some kind of music and to see so many people who
      never did start no matter what the age is a wonderful thing.+++



      It has been my experience that the older people in our group (harp
      ensemble - currently 13 members) who started harping later in life (I
      got my harp at 40) have either been in choirs or choruses, or have
      played another instrument. We have only two members who have never
      played another instrument. Most have played piano and some have also
      played organ. I have played flute, piccolo and guitar as well as having
      sung in two different community choruses.



      For me, I wanted to learn the harp after attending a Boston Symphony
      concert at age 6, but my parents wouldn't let me. They also wouldn't
      let me take piano lessons even though we had a good piano and my older
      sister took lessons. I ended up with the flute and in high school added
      the piccolo, even though they weren't my first choice. I was also not
      allowed to take violin lessons - that was also reserved for my sister
      since she was older and "destined" to inherit both my mother's piano
      and my father's violin. To appease me somewhat, since I gravitated to
      stringed instruments, my parent bought a cheap guitar at Sears for my
      sister and I to share - but it was just to self teach, no lessons
      allowed.



      Fast forward to my late twenties when a friend came to visit with his
      29 string Stoney End. I fell in love! One of my parents reasons for not
      letting me take harp lessons was that I was too small. Here was a harp
      that I could reach all the strings on and even carry with no
      difficulty. It was still only a dream, though, until I bought my little
      22 string Eve in 1995. I am hoping to purchase a larger harp next
      summer if I can save up enough money.

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    • Jerusha
      Jerusha Amado

      Leigh,

      I would bet that there are a lot of stories out there from folks who had parents who didn't support their child's desire to learn an instrument or who impeded their progress.  I would probably be a better classical player now if I could have learned an instrument at a young age.  My dad spent most of his extra money on his own expensive hobby.  I remember in my early 20's being sad that I had never learned an instrument, but now that I play the harp, my life is so much more enriched!  I also was determined to follow through on any promises I would make to my son as far as learning a musical instrument was concerned, and I did.  He decided to start the piano in the 4th grade and has stayed with it, and I, in turn, purchased a good, quality upright for him and provided lessons.  I didn't want to make the same mistake that my dad made.

      I'm glad that you finally made your dream come true and that you're playing the harp!  What larger harp would you like to own?

      Jerusha

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    • Leigh
      Leigh Griffith

      Jerusha,



      Thank-you for sharing your experience!



      I'm sure there are quite a few people whose parents felt (feel) that
      learning a musical instrument is not as important as other things. In
      my case, music was encouraged and nurtured to a point - trips to the
      Symphony at least once a year, etc., but the "heirloom" instruments and
      formal instruction was for the eldest child only. Our school system
      provided two years of free 'band instrument' instruction in elementary
      school, which is all the flute instruction I had, even though I
      continued with it through high school.



      Because of this, I wanted my child to learn as many instruments as he
      wished, only to have him be totally uninterested! Go figure!



      I'm not sure what larger harp I want yet, I would like to be able to
      try different ones. So far the only ones I have had access to are my
      friend's Stoney End, a Dusty strings FH36S (too big), and a 31 string
      Jay Witcher student harp (not too awful big, but heavy).



      I know I'm not really 'built' to play the harp (I'm short, round, have
      short arms and fingers and an "ample" bosom!) I do love the sound,
      though, and enjoy our group very much.



      Leigh

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    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      My older sister had a childhood friend who played the harp, and when we would go to pick her up from their play dates I would always run inside and start plucking the strings on her harp. I thought it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. I told my mom I wanted to play when I was 6 years old, but she decided to wait because I'm pretty sure I told her a number of other things that I wanted to do, and she wasn't sure which ones were for real. LOL

      I took viola lessons when I was in the 4th grade and I was terrible--quit after a few months. I just wasn't enthralled with the viola like I was with the harp.

      So when I was 10, she asked me if I still wanted to play and I said yes.  We rented a Lyon and Healy folk harp and started lessons with the Suzuki program that was at the local university.


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    • Kay
      Kay Lister

      When I was very little I was exposed to piano. It seemed everyone and their grandmother had one.  I took lessons at age 6 for 6 or so years on my mothers old upright player piano.  After the player parts were removed for whatever reason, I would continue to remove the front panel of the piano and pluck the strings from inside.  What a neet sound it was.  I'm sure my first exposure to the harp was watching the old I Love Lucy shows and being intriged by the harpist in Ricky's band and the icing on the cake was when Harpo did his bit on the show.  Being from the good old eastern shore of Maryland. Harps were not and still are not easy to come by.  BUT after a LOT of years asking if anyone knew of someone who could teach me to play the harp, finally the answer was yes.  SO at the age of 47 I began harp lessons.  I after 2 months of renting from my instructor, drove 4+ hours to Virginia Harp Center (4 times) and finally made my decision. My T-Swan and I are a match made in heaven.  It has come fairly easy to me, I think, kind of like a sideways piano.  SO, 5 years later, I'm here to say you can teach an old dog new tricks.  It's a passion with me.  Don't really know why, just seems like the desire has always been there.  My current instructor, Rebecca Anstein Smith is a true inspiration. She is currently playing the Nutcracker with the BSO, She is a Master of music and with her busy schedule of performances, students, family, etc. she is just one of the nicest people I know.  She was fortunate enough to start playing as a child (my age now).  I am experiencing a dream I guess I always had.  Thanks Becky!

      Kay

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    • Amy
      Amy Walts

      I grew up in England surrounded by Celtic music and LOTS of Celtic harps. I'm a major history buff and at first I was fascinated at how easily the harp can evoke the romance of the past for people. It's timeless. Playing historical music made me feel a connection with the eras I most enjoyed, and I enjoyed having that effect on others, as well. It's completely addictive to play-- very sensual and tactile and satisfying. Admittedly, I also like that it's uncommon; I love when people get excited about something I love. And the harps not only draw one in with sound, but with their looks, too... oooh how I love the lines of a well-designed harp. I guess getting drawn into the world of the harp is like falling in love: one is immediately seduced by the sexy curves of the instrument, and then one falls in love with its deeper personality and substance...


      OK, OK... I'll quit while I'm ahead! LOL... my husband is rolling his eyes and says he doesn't like to think of the harps as competition, LOL...

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    • Pat
      Pat Eisenberger

      I've played one instrument or another since I was a child, and was a music major in college. But I married young and drifted away from music. In my thirties I got into writing music, and did the usual church choir bit. In my mid-forties I went to a Renassiance Festival (as I do every year) and - there is not better word for it - I fell under the "enchantment" of a harper. I could have sat and listened all day! The next week I went back to the festival and bought a small, 30 string harp. I had no choice - it was like I was under a spell. Within a year I had a L&H Prelude, and two years after that I bought my L&H Style 85GP.

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    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      Well I was encouoraged a little too much around the piano as a child - my mother had dreams that exceeded my talent.  So I spent most of elementary school & early highschool practicing 2-3 hours a day wuth lessons 3-4 nights and ensemble playing once or twice a week.   I said no more after grade nine.  Fortunately we had a family friend from wales who was both a briliant organist and harpist.   She gave me lots of playing tips for the piano that helped me but more importantly love welsh harp music which then intorduced to me to a lot of other celtic music.

      Flash forward 20 years and I know i want to do something musical again (as long as it had nothing to do wwiht the piano) but thought the harp sounded nice.  So with zero knowledge of the instrument, its quirks, or prices I bought my first harp (a 25 string Muma) anda found a teacher,  I now have a Prelude which I love, and hope to buy a style 100 inn another year or two. 

      I love the richness of the sound and they way you hold it makes it feel like a very intimite and personal instrument to me. -- That's why I want a 100.  I played every harp on display by all the makers at the WHC in Dublin last summer and the 100 just fit me best.

      Sarah

       

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    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      June 6th, 2005 I took shelter from the miserable rain in the Harping Building at the Kansas City Highland Games. There was a group harp lesson going one, with about 5 lap harps being used by the audience. I asked if I could join and since there were no lap harps left they gave me a L&H Troubadour V, 36 strings, light maple. Within five minutes I was completely convinced, hooked, in love (a mushy term, but about accurate.) I asked question after question and when the lesson was over they let me play for about an hour in a corner.

      Nine months later I bought a Blevinsong 36, which has turned out to be perfect in every respect--size (I can just fit it in my car), sound, weight (22 lbs.), looks (very streamlined and simple, which is me to a T). I began telephone 'lessons' with Cindy Blevins then, and eventually started learning from the woman who was teaching the harp lesson at the Games--Jennifer Leibnitz, who I think is the most generous and inspiring music professional I've ever met.

      I've played classical piano for many years--in fact, my profession is as a piano educator. But I quickly realized that the harp is my instrument. I'm enjoying the assimilating of the 'harp culture' and have worked hard and progressed quickly.

      I've taken on my first harp student in the last month and find it utterly fascinating. So much of what I teach on the piano can be applied here and yet it is not the same in many ways, and the skills required are different. As a piano teacher my forte (excuse the pun) is in solid early training, and I think that will be helpful in teaching the harp. My teacher said that, regretfully, few harp teachers will really focus on the beginning skill required in a correct posture, hand position, and approach to the harp, music, and practicing. I hope to change that with my students, as well as to introduce the Celtic harp to the awareness of this area (Midwest, rather rural, not very musically inclined.)

      Excuse the long post. This is a fascinating thread. I think that harpers and harpists are among the most interesting of people because it takes a unique person to recognize and determine to learn the harp.

      All the best!

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