painting by Amy Dunn
For example, take the Irish Harp (lever, Celtic, folk, clarsach, neo-Irish, whatever) the instrument I’ve been playing and about which I’ve been learning for close to forty years. If one wishes to achieve any kind of virtuosity on any instrument, even a simple folk instrument (which the harp is not!) requires physical, artistic, and intellectual commitment from a player; and with that kind of commitment learning how one’s instrument works never stops. On the other hand I’ve had a lot of fun learning to play the harp: lots of adventures, great music sessions, awesome sounds, and lifelong friends, not to mention history, folk and ethnic tradition, music theory, ethnomusicology, and how to deal with stage fright! It was the harp, it’s magical crystalline sounds, and its role in culture and how that cultural changed that drew me into graduate work in Folklore and Folklife at the University of Pennsylvania.
About Learning the Harp: Music is humanly organized sound. I’ve encountered many people who say they cannot possibly be a musician because they can’t read music. Well, neither can Sir Paul McCartney, and I seriously doubt that anybody will ever tell him he’s not a real musician. As a matter of fact, most of the music made on this earth has nothing to do with musical notation. Do you sing in the shower, or in the car, or when you’re cleaning or gardening or doing other chores? You are making music using your ears and your voice. Playing by ear, by listening, is just as important, if not more so, than playing by reading music from a piece of paper.
When used together ear and eye and hand or voice can create magnificent sound! Which is exactly what I try to do as a teacher of adults and children. I infuse tune making, theory, visual literacy, ear training, cultural history and musical tradition with solid technique that allows a player to express her or himself the way s/he chooses. I learn as much from my students about my own playing as they learn from me. The work that goes into learning an instrument becomes play in both musical and emotional senses.
Big Question: Do I need a harp to learn to play?
Big Answer: Yes.
Big Question: Where can I find one?
Big Answer: Contact me and I can give you some help in finding a harp to purchase, or even rent. I don't sell or rent harps, but I do know people who do. And different people have different wants and needs and ideas about what they want to do. So email me at and I will get right back to you.