The Harp – Picking Strings

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 14,548
    Cynthia Cathcart, a teacher, recording artist, performer, and author shares tips on how to get a wire-strung harp.

    Cynthia Cathcart

    Cynthia is one of the world's experts on the Clarsach, the wire-strung harp of the Highland and Islands of Scotland and of Ireland. Performing and teaching internationally, she is leading a new wave of interest in the wire-strung harp. Based near Washington, DC, Cynthia represents Ardival Harps of Strathpeffer, Scotland and is their North American Artist in Residence. Cynthia is a recording artist, and the author of several books for the clarsach. She holds a number of prestigious awards, including two-time U.S. National Scottish Harp Master Champion, three time winner of the Clan Lamont Trophy (in Virginia, Texas and Ohio), and holder of the Pennington-Grey Award for service to the wire-strung harp.

    My name is Cynthia Cathcart and we are going to talk a little bit here about some guidelines on how to get yourself a wire-strung harp. Some things to think about; this harp we might say is an historic harp. It follows the form and the sound and the construction techniques of the harps as they were historically made. The wire-strung harp is actually quite ancient, and so the idea of carving out, for example that I mentioned before, would have been done because the glue is just what we have available to us today. The advantage to the carved out construction is without the glue, its a different sound. I think its a better sound.

    Some harps like this one here, are actually replicas of a specific instrument thats in a museum. The only thing we can say with any certainty about the historic harps, the ones that have survived in the Roman museums is that no two of them are the same. So, if you decide to get an historic replica, you have got some research to do to figure out which one you want to replicate. The nice thing about the historic harp is they tend to be a little smaller. Harps that are based on the neoceltic harp, which is actually a descendent of the wire-strung harp tend to be pretty big. So, if you think you want to do some traveling, you might want to get an historic, either a historically informed harp or a historic replica. Now, you can also get wire-strung harps that have levers or blades. Remember, in the first clip we looked at the levers on the nylon or gut-strung harp. I dont have any levers or blades on my instruments. This is a limitation, but it is the limitation to give us the room to be creative and I dont miss them.

    Now, sometimes you will find makers who have taken a gut-strung harp and simply put wire-strings on it; either they are experimenting or they may be trying to retrofit an instrument. Be careful of these, because the nylon strings do not have the same tension as wire. Depending on the harp, it might not work. Another thing to think about is to try and find a maker who supports wire-strung harp, who makes them somewhat of a regular basis and avoid the one time, one off experiment. Also be aware of the fact that harps are beautiful, they simply are. It is really quite easy to fall in love with a gorgeous harp that may not have the workmanship that will carry you through. So, do take a good look at the workmanship, dont get too carried away with the beauty of it.

    Some makers offer kit harps. A kit harp is nice if you want to get involved in the making of your harp. It may not necessarily save your time and money. This harp for example, not strictly a kit, it came to me built and glued together. I took it to a carver and had him design and carve the designs on it for me. I took it to a woodworker and had him dye it for me. It didnt save me a whole lot of money, but it did give me the opportunity to be involved in the look of my instrument, and I hope that helps give you some guidance as you start your search.