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Harps Going Through Changes

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My Geering cross-strung harp and Triplett Eclipse lever harp

I teach harp lessons in person here in Houston as well as online with students in all parts of the country, and I frequently get lots of questions from newer harpists about whether it is normal for harps to go out of tune more in the summer, break more strings in the summer, etc. The same questions frequently arise in the winter, too.

I try to reassure everyone that our harps change with changing weather/environmental conditions just like we do. Wood and metal strings expand and contract with temperature changes. If the air is too dry, the wood dries out, just like our skin does.

There is an old adage among harpists that, if you are comfortable, your harp will be too. While this may be somewhat of an oversimplification, it is largely true. You wouldn’t enjoy sitting in a cold draft or in the direct blast from a heater or fireplace. Not for long anyway! You wouldn’t appreciate having to sit in moist, drizzly heat or cold nor in air that is parched and dry. Neither will your harp!

Your tuning pins might tend to slip as the wood gets colder and/or drier because the wood is shrinking and looses its tight grip on the tuning pins. Gut strings will be much more susceptible to changes in temperature and humidity than nylon strings, and you will notice that your metal strings may actually go sharp if they get cold because the metal contracts.

I think that the best rule of thumb is to avoid taking your harp from one extreme to another too quickly. If it is hot, park your car in the shade, roll the windows down for a few minutes, and then get the A/C cranking before you load up your harp. I take everything else I will need and have it right beside the car so it can be loaded in immediately after the harp without having to make any more trips back into the house. Also, plan to arrive at your destination with plenty of time to allow the harp to acclimate to the new temperature before doing a lot of tuning.

If you arrive at a gig, and they want you to sit right under a huge A/C or heat or too close to a fireplace, speak up for yourself and ask that they allow you to set up somewhere else!

Of course, here in hellish Houston, temperatures inside a car can get over 125 degrees very quickly, even on a relatively cool day, so we cannot leave a harp in a car for any length of time most of the year. Leaving your harp in a very cold car is not advised either. I try to get from Point A to Point B, and unload the harp as quickly as possible!

Most of the best advice for taking care of your instrument is common sense. Be sure that the harp is not sitting in a window in full sun nor in the direct blast of an A/C vent or near an exterior door that gets opened and closed a lot. And run a humidifier, even if you live in a humid climate. Your A/C takes the humidity out of your indoor air!

If your harp is going through changes as the weather changes, be patient with it. At a workshop many years ago, I actually saw a young harpist crying, dramatically declaring that her harp hated her because it broke a string! I can assure you that it is nothing that personal. Tuning and replacing strings are all part of what we sign up for when we decide the play the harp!

Keeping conditions as constant as possible for your harp will go a long way toward minimizing tuning and string breakage and maximizing the overall well-being and longevity of your harp!

Take care of your harp, and it will take care of you!

My Favorite Harp Videos

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Sometimes I find myself spending way too much time cruising around on YouTube watching harp videos. I just love seeing and hearing all of the different kinds of harps that people have all around the world, watching how they play, finding new tunes I’d like to learn, and finding videos that are downright awe inspiring!

Here are a few videos that top my list of performances that just defy the imagination in terms of technique, expressiveness, and sheer beauty!

Xavier de Maistre is one of the finest harpists in the world today. I have played the harp for almost 40 years, and it still just boggles my mind that anyone can play The Moldau on the harp, much less do it this beautifully. I just LOVE watching him play. Everything in the world disappears when he starts playing. I love the little finger on his right hand, too!

Xavier de Maistre plays Clair de Lune. What more can I say?

Here is Canadian harpist, Josh Layne, playing his Fantasy on Greensleeves. I’ve always loved theme and variations; it is just fascinating to see what can be done with a simple tune. He is another brilliant young harpist.

Josh also has a great series of instructional videos called Harp Tuesday on YouTube. I believe there are 60 episodes now on a great variety of topics. They are all well worth watching.

Here is one episode on exercises (warmups, arpeggios, etc.).

I will end this post with one more mind boggling video. This is Sylvain Blassel playing Liszt’s Hugarian Rhapsodie–a piece which most sane harpists in the world would not even attempt! I just wish the video would show more of his feet. You know they are just going MAD on those pedals!

A few essentials

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Every new harp student needs a harp, a teacher, and the following three items to get started with high-quality, easy-to-use products!

You have found my website, so you have already found a teacher. If you don’t already have a harp, I can help you find one to rent, rent-to-own, or purchase. So you have the first two essentials covered!

Now, on to three other things that you will find invaluable as you play the harp.

First of all, harpists spend a lot of time tuning their harps (we hope!), so an accurate tuner that is easier to use is absolutely essential. While there are a lot of chromatic tuners out there, my dear friend, Harper Tasche, recently introduced me to the Snark tuner.

I bought one and was immediately impressed by how easy it is to use. The Snark is easy to read and locks on to pitches quickly for an accurate reading. You can clip it onto your harp somewhere and use the “vib” setting or change it to the “mic” setting and clip it to your music stand. It works well for all kinds of harps and is equally accurate using either setting.  There are other models of Snark tuners also, but this one is fully chromatic for all instruments.

The next thing you need is a comfortable, adjustable bench. Many people just use a standard dining room chair at the harp, and that’s fine if it is comfortable and the right height for you and your harp. However, people come in all shapes and sizes, and so do harps, so I really prefer having a well-padded, adjustable bench that I can use with any of my harps and that is portable. The best bench I’ve found so far is the On-Stage Stands KT7800+ Keyboard Bench.

Adjustable Bench

Another absolutely essential item is a sturdy, portable music stand. My favorite is the Peak Music Stand. It is easy to set up, fully adjustable, very portable, and comes with its own carrying bag. I have used rickety folding aluminum music stands before and had them get knocked over, but I can put a heavy, 3-ring binder full of music on this stand and not have to worry about it.

Peak Music Stand

These are the accessories I use myself, and I recommend them to my students. If you try any or all of them, please let me know what you think by leaving a comment below!

My new blog! My first post!

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I am changing my website over to WordPress for a free blog to save a little money in these tough times!  I hope that you all will enjoy this site just as much as my old website at http://www.thevirtualharp.com.

Please subscribe to my page and check back often for updates on topics of interest to harpists of any age! I will be adding more and more content as time goes on!

This was me performing at the Houston Highland Games a few years back!