Angelic Additions
Whitney King Barron, Harpist
Lubbock, Texas
(806) 832-0531
info@lubbockharpist.com

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The history below is from www.harps.com.
The harp is the oldest known stringed instrument. The piano, the guitar, the violin and all other string instruments evolved from the harp. Throughout the ages, the harp has had an impact on almost every culture. Harps have been regarded as sacred and have been instrumental in the healing process, in celebration of birth, as comfort in passing, and to make people feel better. No other instrument has been so closely associated with so many positive things – with a profound sense of beauty, with peace and tranquility, with love, with enchantment, with goodness and with heaven. The harp’s development reflects physical, cultural and economic environments such as trade, religion, environmental changes, and technology at the time.
No one really knows where the harp originated. Many believe that the earliest harps came from the hunter’s bow. Perhaps while hunting, prehistoric man liked the sound of the vibrating bowstring. Then a second string was added to the bow, then a third. In the course of time, more and more strings were added. Eventually, a gourd or a hollow area at one end of the bow was added which became a sound box.
Much of the imagery and concepts of harps we have come from the Bible. The harp is the first instrument mentioned in the Bible. The Bible mentions that King David was “skilled in playing the harp”. David played his harp as a shepherd while sitting in the fields and composing his psalms. Although no one knows exactly what David’s harp(s) looked like, the Bible does say that David played very well and prevented King Saul from going mad. “And David would take the harp and play with his hand. Saul would find relief and feel better and the evil spirit departed from Saul” (Samuel 16:23). This seems to be the oldest recorded case of harp therapy.
Music in India has always played a significant role in the lives of its people. The history of the harp in India goes back thousands of years. There is an ancient Indian saying, “Listening to the playful melody of a harp (yazh), puts one into a state of spiritual ecstasy that makes one forget the worldly pains that one goes through.”
After centuries in hiding, the harp reappeared in Western Civilization. The emergence of Christianity brought with it respect for the instruments of the Bible – especially the harp. A Cambridge manuscript describes the harp as one of the few permitted instruments in the early church, whereas the horn, drum and rattles were regarded as the devil’s instruments.
European harpers earned their living by moving from town to town, using small harps for self-accompanied singing, storytelling, and in instrumental consorts. The harp had such mystical significance that many kings or chieftains had harpers in their employ, believing the instrument to possess magical powers. Harpers were second only to the chieftain or king, often serving as advisors and leading armies into battle in order to bring luck to the warriors, to hail the heroes, and to recount battles to the tribes and clans. Unarmed, they were recognized and respected by the enemy and immune from harm.
We know very little about the music of ancient American cultures. There is little evidence showing that multi-stringed harps were ever made by the indigenous people of the Americas. They are generally thought to have been introduced with European conquests and colonization.
By the time of the Renaissance, the organ was popular and other keyboards began appearing such as the clavichord and harpsichord. Essentially, the “harp”sichord is a mechanized horizontal harp where a string is plucked when a note on the keyboard is pressed. Musical composers continued either to ignore the harp or include it sparingly for swirly “harpy effects” – this despite the fact that Haydn, Weber, Rossini, Liszt, Chopin and Mendelssohn are all known to have been harp players. At the same time the piano was invented, the pedal harp was also invented.
The piano became a product of the industrial revolution and mass production. It grew more and more popular with the masses. The harp became unpopular and went high class. The handmade harp could not compete with the mass-produced piano. The piano was cheaper, easier to play and could play the new music of Debussy, Ravel, Gershwin and other new composers. Piano repertoire continued to grow and those for the harp dwindled. The harp enjoyed some renewed interest when Harpo Marx, the self-taught harp-playing mute of the Marx Brothers, brought the harp to the silver screen. Despite Harpo’s appeal and antics, the harp continued to lose popularity. The harp became so unpopular that in the 1940s the Royal College of Music in England decided to get rid of some instruments. Two dozen harps – perhaps a half-million dollars worth today – weren’t being used, so they were simply chopped up. Harps became more scarce and difficult to come by. Only a few harps were made in the 1950s and 1960s. Since the 1980s the harp has been enjoying a comeback.

 

 

"Upon the harp I will praise thee, O God my God."     - Psalms 43:4

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