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About Harps
Three Cygnet model Thormahlen harpsThe harp is said to be one of the 3 oldest instruments known. 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 1960s and early 70s 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 began 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 sharp the note of each string. This allows the player to play in 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 make each note in the scale sharp or flat. 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 lever harps.
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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Thormahlen Harps | 1876 SW Brooklane Corvallis, Oregon 97333 | (541) 753-4334 | harps@thorharp.com