harp is said to be one of the 3 oldest instruments that we know of.
The other two are the drum and the flute. Thought to have evolved from
plucking the hunter’s bow, some sort of harp is present in almost
every culture on earth. In Europe, the harp evolved into the Double
Action Pedal Harp that we see in the symphony. The invention of the
pedal harp very nearly eliminated the European folk harp tradition.
In the late 1960’s and early 70’s a few craftsman in California,
notably Robbie Robinson and Jay Witcher, started building their interpretations
of the “Irish” harps. At the same time, a few notable harpists
such as Alan Stivell, Sylvia Woods and Derek Bell, had released some
very popular recordings using the Celtic Harp. Many people heard this
music and said “I’ve always wanted to play the harp,”
so more harp builders came along to make the instruments. In the past
30 years there has been a tremendous folk harp revival.
There are many styles of folk harps throughout the world. Here in the
US, the majority of folk harps that are being produced are nylon or
gut strung lever harps. The contemporary lever harp has individual levers
that sharpen the note of each string. This allows the player to use
a variety of keys and to access accidentals or notes out of the key.
The Concert Grand Double Action Pedal Harp currently used in symphony
orchestras uses a set of seven pedals to sharpen or flatten each note
in the scale. This allows the harpist to play very complex chromatic
music on the harp. The Concert Grand Pedal Harp typically has a range
that goes 1 octave lower and 1 octave higher than most of today’s
While the enhanced chromatic possibilities of a pedal harp are appealing,
the imposing size, cost and complexity can be intimidating. This partially
explains the renewed interest in lever harps.
The smaller size and price of lever harps, when compared with pedal
harps, is surely attractive to many players. These harps are smaller
so they can be more lightly built and are often more responsive to the
player. The harp revival has created a whole new community of harpists,
composers and listeners. It is a fabulous group of people and we hope
you join in the fun!
Parts of a Harp
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