FAQ

Why does your harp have pedals?
A. It’s true, pedal harps have pedals... seven of them to be exact, one for each note of the scale. The pedals permit the instantaneous shift of the strings to sharp or flat on the fly. With this capability a pedal harp can play in any key thus opening the door to the world of chromatic music. For the math buffs out there, there are 2,187 different possible combinations of pedal settings.

Is that a tuner in your pocket – or are you just happy to see me?
A. Yes, unlike pianists, we do indeed tune our harps ourselves. Every day, sometimes several times a day, or even in the middle of performing. The pitch of a harp string is sensitive to temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and the materials strings are made of. Wound metal, gut, and nylon all respond differently, plus environmental conditions always fluctuate. If you’re a harpist, by necessity you spend a lot of time tuning. 

Many harp jokes revolve around tuning.

What's the definition of an optimist? 
A harpist with a tuning key.

How long does a harp stay in tune?
About twenty minutes, or until someone opens the door.

Was it something I said – or why do harpists always look so serious when they play?
A. A harpist is simultaneously keeping track of the notes on the page, their fingers on the strings, their feet on the pedals, the tempo and dynamic level of the music, the metric subdivision of the rhythm, and the conductor (if there is one). The human brain is capable of simultaneously managing four to five things. You do the math. If I have to remember to smile too, something else has to go!

Why is the cat hiding in the closet?
A. I just broke a string! Truly, the sound of a wire string breaking in the middle of the night is enough to wake the dead. It does sound like a gunshot. If you think about it, the composite tension of the strings on the neck of the harp is about 2,000 lbs. The upper register strings typically break the most frequently so if you’re unlucky, you’ll be in the line of fire when one breaks. By the way, the pedal harp has 47 color coded strings, typically red for C's, black or blue for F's.

Are there days when you wish you’d taken up the piccolo instead?
A. Hmmm, let me think... 
Never. Not a single one.

Has the harp been around a long time?
A. Harps are as ancient as humankind. They were most likely invented as a response to the sound of plucking a hunter's bow. Harps have been recorded in every civilization from antiquity on, and Egyptian frescos are the most ancient depictions of the instrument. The descendant of the ancient Egyptian harp, the Kanun, was introduced to Europe by the Moors during the middle ages. The Celts had their own version, the smaller celtic harp, made popular and further developed in Ireland. The Cruit, a national Irish symbol, dates back to the 11th century. Throughout the medieval period harp playing flourished as the native tradition of Irish music. The Brian Boru Harp preserved in the Museum of Trinity College Dublin is probably the oldest harp now remaining in Europe. The harp was further refined over the years to look like what you have sitting before you today.

Some ancient names for the harp include: Lyre, nevel, kinnor, ardin, madagis and sambuka.

Want to impress your friends?
A. Some of our favorite trivia revolves around the harp, of course.

• In the Marx Brothers' movie, Night at the Opera, Harpo destroys a grand piano, rescues the frame from the wreckage, and proceeds to play it like a harp.

• Bugs Bunny plays the harp in 'Long-haired Hare' when the Caruso-wannabe is trying to rehearse an aria from The Barber of Seville.

• The early American statesman Ben Franklin found beauty in simple tunes. He played several musical instruments, including the violin, guitar, and the harp.

• In The Sorcerer's Stone, Harry Potter interrupts the harp that lulls the 'dog' named Fluffy to sleep at great risk to himself and his companions.

Ireland uses the harp as its national symbol and features it prominently on its currency.