Although my first instrument was the violin (on which I was classicaly trained), since 1994, my principal instrument has been the Celtic harp, also known as the Irish harp, the folk harp, the Clàrsach, or lever harp and all my recordings feature or prominently contain the sound Celtic harp.
The Celtic harp is an ancient instrument whose history dates back to at least 500. B.C.. The national instrument of Ireland, its image once adorned both the Irish flag and coin. In Celtic culture, court harpers were second only to royalty in importance and prestige. Originally strung with wire, the instrument flourished from the 10th -18th centuries. Despite its importance, however, the old Celtic harp tradition became extinct by the early 19th Century and not a single player remained to pass on the art. Although we do not know how it was once truly played, there has been resurgent interest since the mid 20th Century and a new Celtic harp tradition now flourishes throughout the world.
The gut or nylon strung ‘neo-Celtic’ harp which I play is the ancestor of the larger harp used in orchestras with which most people are familiar. Orchestral harps differ from their folk ancestors not only in size, but also because they have pedals which allow the harpist to sharpen or flatten sets of strings using her feet (they are there- fore called pedal harps). Folk harps lack these pedals; as a diatonic (as opposed to chromatic) instrument, one generally does not change key during a piece. Recently, however, levers have been introduced to the folk harp which enable the sharpening of specific strings by hand.
I get many comments on the beautiful appearance and tone of my harp. My 36 string lever harp was manufactured in Seattle, WA. by Dusty Strings. The body is made of a heavy hardwood called Bubinga and the sound board is made of maple. I have added an internal pickup to allow for amplification.
There are countless websites about the Celtic harp and and Celtic harpers that can be found on the internet, but here are a few good resources to start:
Lisa Lynne’s Information on the Celtic harp: lisalynne.com/info_harp.html
The Sylvia Woods Harp Center
Glendale, California - Harps, books, recordings, free introductory workshops, concerts, harp rentals, lessons and a listing of harp teachers nationwide. (818) 956-1363. www.harpcenter.com
The Folk Harp Journal
Magazine published quarterly for all harpers from the novice to professional. (832) 249-7885
Verlene Schermer is my principal referral for harp lessons in the Bay Area. www.verlene.com