"But, really, why does anyone create? You feel a... a restlessness inside, a need to make something new, something no one has ever seen before. You want to add to the beauty and the richness of the world with a gift, an offering that is uniquely yours. It's an act of selfishness and generosity, all rolled into one."

-- Bruce Coville,
The Last Hunt

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent

"Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent": Traditional French, Arranged by Stephanie Curcio ©2001, Used by permission.

This melody always gives me chills, and Stephanie Curcio's arrangement makes it even more haunting. Harpists can find the sheet music at her website, http://www.harpmusicpublisher.com/.

At one point in the video, you can hear my next door neighbor coming home; I hope it's not too distracting. I decided not to do another take because I wanted to be done before my downstairs neighbor started her regular nightly screaming and swearing fit... apartment life, gotta love it. I was doing these videos to help people calm down during the holiday season, remember?

A couple of people have asked me what I'm doing when I reach up to the top of the harp with my left hand. The short answer is I'm flipping sharping levers. Now I'll try to explain that as simply as I can, but I don't think I can do it without using at least a little bit of musical jargon.

The type of harp I play is most accurately called a lever harp; you may also hear it called a folk harp or Celtic harp. Near the top of each string is a lever that raises the pitch of that string by one half step. In other words, it takes a string that would be equivalent to a white key on a piano and makes it equivalent to a black key. Before you start playing, you set the levers for the key you will be playing in. Sometimes, though, there is a sharp that is not in the key (called an accidental). If the accidental is present throughout the piece, you can also set that lever before you start playing; if that note alternates between being sharp and being natural, you will have to change the lever with the left hand while you are playing. This is what you see me doing at a couple of points in this piece, "Carol of the Bells", and "The Cherry Tree".

Below is an illustration of my levers, which are known as "blades". Click on it to read the labels. You can see another type of lever here.

This should not be confused with tuning. Tuning, which has to be done before you play, is when you turn a peg to adjust the tension on a string in order to produce that string's particular pitch as accurately as possible. Raising a sharping lever changes the length of the string to produce a completely different pitch.

Just don't ask me about pedal harps-- way more complicated!

1 comment:

  1. Great explanation! I can't imagine having to 'anticipate' the note and having to adjust the string 'as you go'! I have enough trouble just 'remembering' that there IS an accidental coming up! (I played clarinet in my youth and today enjoy playing a digital piano). I admire your ability to play a harp. I'm enjoying all your videos! (Sorry about your neighbor. That has to be unnerving!)