Harp Instrument Information

Looking nineteen,
And not a day older,
And the harp with a woman’s head
Leaned against her shoulder.
Her thin fingers, moving
In the thin, tall strings,
Were weav-weav-weaving
Wonderful things.

~ Edna St. Vincent Millay (from The Harp-Weaver)

Doesn’t this elegantly contoured, stringed instrument look like it has been carved out of pure fairytale fantasy? The mere mention of the word harp makes the mind conjure up pictures of a beautiful lady dressed in a long, billowing attire sitting by the huge gothic window of her parlor…. her eyes gazing out of the window, her gaze lost among the silhouettes of the distant mountains that are overcast by dark, thundering clouds…. a buoyant breeze tossing her gilded locks against her fair cheeks as she gently strums the strings of her exquisitely carved harp, playing a melody that is drunk with the intoxicating notes of ethereal melancholy…. And then there is also the famous fairy tale about Jack who climbs the magic beanstalk and steals the resident giant’s magical harp! So, you see, the connection between harps and fairytale fantasy is hard to ignore and this, coupled with the beautiful notes elicited by its strings when dexterous fingers nimbly play along them, make harps one of the most beautiful musical instruments in the world – both in terms of its visual appeal as well as its acoustic aesthetics. The following segment discloses some very interesting information about the harp which, I am sure, will amaze you.

Information on Harp Instrument
I’m sure all of you have seen a harp, whether in reality, on the television or Internet or pictures of it. At the first glance, it looks roughly like a right-angled triangle with curved sides mounted on a short, straight base. The ‘hypotenuse’ side of this triangle, i.e., the longest arm is usually straight or slanted but never curved, unlike the other two arms. When made to stand on its short base, vertical strings fill up the space inside this triangular frame and these are tightly stretched from end to end to produce musical vibration when strummed in the perpendicular direction by an instrumentalist’s fingers. Following are some more facts about harp:-

First things first, let’s take a quick look at the harp’s origins. The harp is one of the few musical instruments to have been originated in the prehistoric era and which still remains among us in more or less the same form in which it was first created.
More often than not, the roughly triangular frame of the harp is made of wood. The strings are stretched between the soundboard, which is the slightly slanted and uncurved arm of the entire triangular frame, and the curved, often elaborately carved, top.
Apart from the soundboard, a harp is made up of the base, column (the straight hypotenuse perpendicular to the base), neck (the lowest point in the curve of the topmost arm of the frame) and the tuning pins at the conjunction point of the strings and the upper arc.
There are primarily two major types of harps that are used for concerts, solo and symphony performances – pedal harps and lever harps. Pedal harps are the typical concert harps and usually have a number of pedals at the base which are used for changing notes and for switching keys. Lever harps, also known as folk harps and Celtic harps, are floor harps that do not have pedals. The former type of harps have around 41-47 strings while the latter may have just about 20-40 strings.
The harp, a major Irish musical instrument, is the political symbol of Ireland.
Harps are not confined to European culture alone. Engravings and paintings inside tombs of various ancient Egyptian pharaohs depict numerous figures playing harps.
When playing a harp, the musician employs the first four fingers of his/her hands alone for strumming. The thumb and the little finger never touch the strings.
The amount of pressure that is exerted by the strumming of the strings upon the soundboard when the harp is tuned to the perfect pitch is way over 4,000 pounds!
Electric harps that amplify the acoustics are easily available these days and are mostly manufactured in Chicago, Italy and France.
Despite an absence of black keys, an expert harpist can still locate all the Cs and Fs from among the 47 odd strings. The Cs are colored red while the Fs are identified by their black color.
Most early harps had just two wooden sides. The Celtic harp was the first one to have a third frame arm, giving the contemporary harps their triangular structure.
A lot of corporate logos also use the harp as their symbol. Prominent among these are Harp Lager and Guinness beer.
Chicago, Illinois manufactures the majority of all the pedal harps that are used in concerts all round the world.

Structurally and chronologically, harps are very closely related to another variety of stringed musical instrument – the lyre, mention of which can be found in a lot of ancient mythologies of different regions of the world such as Asia, Greece, etc. Harps were extremely popular during the Medieval and Victorian eras when minstrels, bards and troubadours traveled across Europe and performed at public places as well as in the esteemed presence of rulers, courtiers and noblemen. Despite tracing such a long journey across various different ages, harps have managed to retain their peculiar grandeur and charm and even now, no musical concert or instrumental symphony seems complete without them. With that, I’ll conclude this write up on harp instrument, sincerely hoping that you found it revelatory and interesting.