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
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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