Happy St. Patrick’s Day (but it’s not just a Celtic Harp!)

As we finish basking in the glow of a Happy St. Patrick Day, I thought I would take this opportunity to clear up a few myths and misconceptions.

The harp is one of the earliest instruments known to man and it has grown and evolved over centuries. It is “native” to many different cultures and it comes in a wide variety of shapes and sizes!!

The harp that I play is technically known as a “lever harp” but is often also called a “Celtic harp” or “folk harp”.  The main difference between this and the “pedal harp” or “classical harp” is the mechanism that is used to create sharps and flats or “accidentals”. It is also a little bit smaller than a pedal harp but it is still a harp and it still sounds AMAZING! The main harp that I use (the black one on the website) comes from my good friends in Corvallis, Oregon, Dave and Sharon Thormahlen. www.thorharp.com My Ceili (pronounced Kay-lee) 34 Harp was custom designed and is strung with fluorocarbon strings for a bright sound. I also have a beautiful Bubinga 36S from Dusty Strings in Seattle, Washington.

Recently, I received this questions from a fellow harp player who is just starting their musical journey. “The Ceili is always described as ideal for Irish music…. In your experience, is the Ceili well-suited for many types of music as well as Irish?  Is it basically as versatile as your Dusty”? (Read into this question also… “as versatile as a pedal harp”?)

It is a good question and one I’m often asked. I always say I play the lever harp (both the Ceili and Dusty are lever harps) and add in an “also known as” when needed. I think this it is a good time to help people understand about the different types of harps but I never just call it a “Celtic harp”. I play every single genre of music on my harp!! Why limit it? My harp doesn’t know it should only play Celtic music!!!

Along with that, a pedal harp doesn’t have to be gold and doesn’t have to only play classical music. I hate to say that lever harps have limitations compared to pedal harps but they do make some forms of music more challenging. It boils down to the skills and desires of the harpist not just the mechanical aspects of the harp.

There is a wide world of harps and harpists out there with many different types, styles and cultural reference points. Who is to say where the journey might lead and what music might be created? While I think about this, I’m going to have some tea in my favorite mug.

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Here is a classic pedal harp (not gold in this case).

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A cross strung harp.

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A Paraguayan Harp

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And a few early references to harps…

Egyptian shepard

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