The harp is an ancient instrument renown for its potential healing properties. Many people know the story of David and Saul from the Bible. Saul was beset with troubles, some would say mentally disturbed, ill, tormented, and David would soothe him by playing the harp. The harp can have a remarkably calming effect, with a tonal quality that is otherworldly and enchanting.
Throughout history, the harp has been associated with heaven and heavenly things, and even thought of as a symbol of the angelic. This can be seen in legends and myths of the Celtic as well. The harp is of course on the coat of arms of Ireland as well as decorating the Guinness beer! Turning to the Hellenic myths, the Greek god, Hermes invented the harp, according to legend, and gave it to Apollo. Apollo became the god of music, amongst other things, and was always seen accompanied by the lyre.
The use of the harp is varied in today’s society. Harpists play for entertainment as well as for the harp’s unique soothing properties. In Cape Town, you may find a harpist who can specialise in drawing edgier sounds from her harp, or a harpist who specialises in using the harp therapeutically, such as a music therapist.
Contact me if you are looking for a harpist in Cape Town!
John Parry was an 18th century harpist who was not only an accomplished performer, but was also blind from birth. Born in 1710 in Wales, Parry found patrons who provided him with a triple harp. A triple harp has not only one row of strings but three, making for some incredibly complicated and intricate finger work. Parry divided his time between performing at his patron’s homes in Wales and London. He dazzled London’s cultural elite and his name has gone down eternally in music history.
A remarkable artist, Parry overcame a challenge so profound while pursuing a musical career in spite of his burden. As far away as my modern, 21st century Cape Town life may seem, the lesson to be taken from our 18th century Welsh bard is always clear to me: No matter what my circumstance, I can rise above. I don’t have to see my goal in order to achieve it, I only have to dream it.
While we don’t have a dedicated ‘Swing’ harpist here in Cape Town, take a ride back to the 1940s and meet Olivette Miller. She was a gorgeous and celebrated American harpist, performing swing on the harp in famed clubs with well-known artists. She was also married (approximately) six times!
Read more about Olivette Miller at http://vintageblackglamour.tumblr.com/post/66235450450/olivette-miller-celebrated-swing-harpist-circa
For those who are interested in the kind of machinery I am working with, I perform on a Lyon and Healy Chicago Concertino Extended (Natural).
Lyon and Healy is an American manufacturer of harps with their headquarters in Chicago. The company was begun in 1864 by George W. Lyon and Patrick J. Healy. (https://www.lyonhealy.com/)
This harp has a Sitka Spruce soundboard and Hard Maple body, creating a beautiful and reliable sound. It has a natural finish, furthering its angelic aesthetic (it also looks great at weddings!). It also has a gorgeous climbing vine detail up the sound board.
Harps aren’t made in Cape Town, or South Africa – getting such large and delicate instruments here can be quite a mission!
While travelling South America for the last three and a half weeks, I naturally spent a great portion of my travelling time searching for instruments and hopefully a locally made Peruvian harp. On Linares Street in La Paz, Bolivia, we were surrounded by instrument shops and were told that some may have harps. Unfortunately, none did.
Finally in a small town near Machu Picchu in Peru, upon visiting some Inca terraces, we happened upon a blind harpist using a locally made harp, singing as well. What a treat!
When in Arequipa (also in Peru) we found a number of quaint music shops with harps that they had made themselves, similar to the one in the picture. The worst part was realising I couldn’t get the harp back to Cape Town! While I wouldn’t use it for weddings, it would have loved to take it home and try out South American styles on it…