For seven months, I’ve been plucking away on my Harpsicle, diligently practicing Sylvia Woods’ Teach Yourself to Play the Folk Harp. Now that the holiday season is here, I’m reveling in playing my way through her 50 Christmas Carols for All Harps.
Most evenings, I start with a new favorite, “Infant Holy,” a traditional Polish Christmas carol, and work either forwards or backwards through the book. It’s so hard to pull myself away from playing these carols that unwatched “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” episodes, TCM movies and WOSU-TV holiday programs are stacking up. I’ll admit, some carols are played slower than others, and they have their share of wrong notes, but Cindy’s encouragement helps. “When I call your home, I hear the beautiful harp sounds. It sounds like heaven,” she wrote me this week.
The concert began with an exciting announcement. The Grandview Library was recently recognized as a five-star library and the best public library in America in its category. This is the fourth consecutive time the Grandview Library has received five stars from the Library Journal Index of Public Library Service. When I was a senior at CSG, I worked as a page in the Grandview Library’s Children’s Room, shelving and checking out books, so this was great news!
Then, seven harpers and a percussionist played and sung an hour’s worth of seasonal favorites and Celtic music. Most of the harpers played one or two selections on their own; three even sang solos. It was terrific!
When they played familiar carols, I thought to myself, “I have trouble with that part too,” or “I love playing that section of the piece,” or “I need to track down that music.” It was a great confidence-builder!
The concert also introduced me to some new things. One harper played and sang the “Sans Day Carol,” a pretty 19th century Cornish Christmas carol I’d never heard, with lyrics similar to those of “The Holly and the Ivy.” Two more performed “The Snow It Melts the Sooner,” a carol I remembered I liked hearing on Sting’s album, If On a Winter’s Night. Later, two harpers pulled out a nifty instrument called a bowed psaltery and played them. This stringed musical instrument from the harp and zither families is played with a bow.
To conclude their concert, the harpers described differences in harps and shared some interesting facts about the history of the harp. Did you know that the earliest harp came from Africa and featured one string, like a bow used in hunting? And that the harp is the national instrument of Paraguay? Four hundred years ago, Jesuit missionaries taught the Paraguayans how to play until they returned to Spain in the 18th century. The Paraguayan harp is a unique, 36-string instrument that’s played with the fingernails rather than the fingertips. Check out this NPR story to hear some extraordinary examples of Paraguayan harp-playing.
After the concert, harper Lisa let me try playing her bowed psaltery. Its sound is an acquired taste, but it gave me an idea. The zither has a prominent solo in Johann Strauss II’s spectacular “Tales from the Vienna Woods,” so I’m tempted to learn how to play it. In the meantime, a trip to Rees Harps in Rising Sun, Indiana is in order. I think it’s time to acquire a travel-sized concert lever harp, the next step up from my Harpsicle. And I’d better start working on Sylvia Woods’ 50 Irish Melodies for All Harps. After all, St. Patrick’s Day is coming soon!