“How much does that thing weigh?” I get asked frequently. The thing so irreverently referred to is, of course, my 6-foot-tall, 47-string, 81-pound Lyon and Healy pedal harp. There is nothing inconspicuous, or portable for that matter, about it.
“You must drive a van?” comes the next query.
“A station wagon actually,” I reply happily. (Thank goodness for Volvo! I would not want to be doomed at age 25 to drive a van for the rest of my life.) In reality, not all harps are eighty-one pounds. I can throw my folk harp over my shoulder easily. Last summer I even rented a lap harp in Paris and wore it quite contentedly through the Metro system in its backpack case.
“Don’t you wish you played the flute?”
Now, it was really my parents who chose harp and forced me to practice, but I love playing harp like I could never love another instrument. The whole harp trembles when you play a full chord and you can feel it resonating. Sometimes I like to play really loudly and press my ear to the sound board just to hear it ring, though it is bad for my posture.
I appreciate the challenge of playing one of the hardest instruments in existence. Harp is a solo instrument like piano, except it has seven pedals in addition to two staves of music. It takes hours of practicing to coordinate all four limbs.
I love stumbling across exhortations to practice, in the Psalms of all places. I get to play music that I love: my favorites are ‘strathspeys’ (a strathspey is an elegant form of Scottish dance), and sonatas for the harp by French composers like Debussy and Tailleferre. I enjoy the frequent distinction of being the first harpist most people have ever met. And I don’t need an accompanist, though sometimes I am one.
The flute would indeed have been easier to transport, and there are days when I wish someone would invent a shrink ray for my harp, but no, I don’t really wish I played the flute.
On the other hand, I’m up for a harp/flute duet any day.
Keep reading: How NOT to Rent a Harp in Paris
Stephanie Claussen teaches harp lessons out of her home in St. Paul, Minnesota. She strives to ingrain in each student not only correct hand position, rhythm and a sense of musicality, but also a love for making music.