I’ve wanted to learn the harp since I was 13 years old, but never knew how to go about starting. About a year ago, there was a harpist performing in our local farmer’s market, but I was too shy to go up and ask how one could go about learning to play the harp. Several months later, another harpist showed up at the farmer’s market, and I hid behind a pole while my husband went up and asked her for some ideas about how to learn. She pointed him to Kline Music, a music store in Sacramento which rents small harps on a month-to-month lease (the money can go towards the purchase of a harp). Finally, I stopped wimping out, got some phone numbers of different harp teachers in Sacramento, and signed up for some lessons from Peggy Brown of Harps Ltd.
I started out renting a small Dusty Strings Allegro 26 harp, which was surprisingly small and light. In order to get it into a comfortable playing position, it has a metal pole that slides out the bottom and locks to raise the harp up (the picture on the web site shows the harp with a wooden stand, which is different from what I had). This is a “lever” harp, which is different form a “pedal” harp. Pedal harps are what you usually see in orchestras and have pedals around the bottom base that change the notes to be flat (half a step lower) or sharp (half a step higher), so you have more options for the type of songs to play (for example, pushing the “C” pedal can make all the C strings sharp). Lever harps have individual levers on each string that make the string sharp when you raise them, so you generally can only stay in one key for a song.
My harp teacher had me start with Fun From the First volumes 1 and 2, basic short “start from the beginning” type books. There is a bit of music theory as well as harp technique, but my many years of piano lessons helped me to fly through the material. I just finished off volume 2 and am starting to play various pieces from Medieval to Modern volumes 1 and 2.
Unfortunately, by the end of February, I was running out of strings to play on! My harp teacher advised that I rent a bigger harp from her for six months (Kline Music only rents the small harps). The money I pay for the harp rental doesn’t go towards a future harp purchase, but she advised that I look around and get a used harp, which would probably save me quite a chunk of money.
So now I’m renting a Lyon and Healy Troubadour harp, in black. It looks a lot more like a “real” harp and not a little toy harp! Unfortunately, three strings have already broken from the changing weather. I’ve learned that I can’t keep the harp near a window, open door, or vent — which rather limits the choices of where to put it in our two-bedroom apartment!
Every other Tuesday, I drive out to Sacramento with my husband and drop him off at school, then go to my harp teacher’s house (she lives about 10 minutes away from the college). After my hour-long lesson, I go back to the college, plug in my laptop in the library, and work offline until Steve gets out of class. Then we drive back home and I catch up on email and do more work.
Today, I had my sixth harp lesson. New techniques to work on for the next few weeks are rolled chords and “sliding,” which is when you push/pluck a string with a finger to end up with the finger resting on the next string (instead of plucking it and having your finger off the strings altogether).
It’s been challenging to find time to practice daily; some days it just doesn’t happen. But I’m trying to stick with it; I really enjoy it, and I feel happy that I’m finally pursuing this long-held dream.