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Topic: Hark, Hark, the Harp

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  1. #1
    Senior Member rwayland's Avatar
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    Hark, Hark, the Harp

    As I was practicing scales on my piano tonight, two at a time, at an interval of a fifth, I was distracted by thoughts of a harp. Is this possible on a harp? The distraction is, of course possible on a harp! But what about the scales?

    Also, does a harp detune often, and require frequent retuning in the course of a long orchestral piece?

    Richard

  2. #2

    Thumbs up Re: Hark, Hark, the Harp

    Quote Originally Posted by rwayland
    As I was practicing scales on my piano tonight, two at a time, at an interval of a fifth, I was distracted by thoughts of a harp. Is this possible on a harp? The distraction is, of course possible on a harp! But what about the scales?

    Also, does a harp detune often, and require frequent retuning in the course of a long orchestral piece?

    Richard
    Possible? Yes, with a little footwork (assuming a pedal harp). If you're playing scales in perfect fifths (e.g., C and G), the problem is F natural in C vs. F# in G. Fortunately, they don't occur at once (if you're playing in parallel fifths), so it would be possible for the harpist to hit the F pedal and switch F to F# sometime between the F natural in the C scale and the F# in the G scale. But they probably wouldn't thank you for writing it... Since scales a fifth apart will differ in only one accidental, this should in theory always be possible, as long as the scales aren't too fast.

    Also possible on a folk harp with sharping levers, if you're playing fifths in the same octave (so that you can reach both notes with one hand) - that way, you can adjust the sharping levers with the other hand.

    Grant
    ==============================
    Grant Green ||| www.contrabass.com
    Sarrusophones and other seismic devices

  3. #3

    Re: Hark, Hark, the Harp

    Quote Originally Posted by rwayland
    Also, does a harp detune often, and require frequent retuning in the course of a long orchestral piece?
    The standard joke here is "Harpists spend half their lives tuning their harps, and the other half playing out of tune."

    I think harpists will tune their instruments as well as they can before the performance begins, but won't retune during the piece. A harpist friend explained to me that you can't just retune one string, you have to retune the whole harp.

    (Glad I only have four strings to deal with.)
    Dan Powers
    www.danielpowers.info

    "It's easier to be a composer than it is to compose."
    --Ray Luke (1928-2010)

  4. #4
    Senior Member newmewzikboy's Avatar
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    Re: Hark, Hark, the Harp

    Just remember the harpist needs time to dampen the F before flipping to the F#. But generally, they are pretty fast with the feet. For fast passages, having two harps in the orchestra accomodates these activitives. Or just make sure you hire one that drives a manual stick shift and you should be fine.

  5. #5

    Re: Hark, Hark, the Harp

    Hi Richard, I'll give you my two cents as a harpist -- scales in two different keys at the distance of a fifth ARE definitely possible, though (as has been pointed out above), there's a pedaling issue involved.

    Actually, moving the F sharp pedal quickly is no problem, the main problem would be a possible pedal buzz: imagine the RH playing in G major, the LH in C. Both hands start on middle C (for the left) and the higher G (for the Right). The first use of an F sharp will occur seven notes later, as the right hand approaches the leading tone F sharp. But the F natural of the LH's scale will still be ringing, having only been plucked three notes earlier. And no way to damp it. So you'd have a bit of a pedal buzz as that lower F string got pushed up a step. This would be more of a problem if the scales started an octave lower, since lower strings ring longer.

    As to detuning, the biggest issue I have when I play with the orchestra is when bright, hot lights are used and there are lots of bodies around me (as there usually are) and if the harp hasn't been tuned in this heat and allowed to acclimatize. If it has, then it tends to hold pretty well.

    Cheers!
    Steve Main
    Steve Main
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  6. #6
    Senior Member rwayland's Avatar
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    Re: Hark, Hark, the Harp

    Quote Originally Posted by stmain
    Hi Richard, I'll give you my two cents as a harpist -- scales in two different keys at the distance of a fifth ARE definitely possible, though (as has been pointed out above), there's a pedaling issue involved.

    .......

    As to detuning, the biggest issue I have when I play with the orchestra is when bright, hot lights are used and there are lots of bodies around me (as there usually are) and if the harp hasn't been tuned in this heat and allowed to acclimatize. If it has, then it tends to hold pretty well.

    Cheers!
    Steve Main
    Thanks for the tuning information. Fifteen or twenty years ago, at a lunch time concert in downtown San Francisco, by the youth orchestra, the harpist tuned frequently. I still wonder if it was because he thought my looking at him was because I thought the instrument was out of tune, because every time I looked, he turned red, and tuned a string or two, or so it appeared to me.

    Richard

    I just looked at your profile. The harpist might have been you!
    Last edited by rwayland; 06-24-2005 at 04:14 PM. Reason: addition

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