Do you let others touch/play with your harp? Why or why not?

Posted In: Performing

  • Participant
    evolene_t on #228903

    Hello everyone,

    This is a post that is mostly aimed at professional harpists that play for an audience, but everyone can participate!

    The question here is : do you let other people touch your harp, and play with it? Why, or why not?
    When I say “other people”, it can be anyone : friends coming to your home, the audience at your concert, and, most especially… kids.

    Do you feel that your instrument, maybe being your livelihood, or simply being something that you invested in and are attached to, should be protected from the hands of others?
    Or do you feel that people should try out the harp?
    Do you let your feelings guide you, saying “no” if you’re not feeling it?
    Do you have another method?
    (Like offering another instrument for them to try?)

    For me, kids are the biggest issue : most are fascinated with the instrument, which is fantastic to see. However, depending on the age and their education, they can be unpredictable and it’s not always easy to know if they are going to play respectfully or bang away on the instrument.

    On the other hand, most small harp concert I go to end with the harpist offering the audience (max. 40 people) to try out their harp, and I really like this initiative.
    I also remember being 6 or 7 years old at the Radio France Orchestra? The concert hall was almost empty save for the instruments : and I made a beeline to the harps while my mother was chatting. Isabelle Perrin was the harpist then, and she was ever so kind with me, getting me to pluck a few strings on her gigantic, shiny harp. Now, I was overcome with shyness then and soon ran off, but I vividly remember this moment with great fondness. I would love to recreate this moment with someone else.

    Personally, I don’t have a hard and fast rule yet. Since I play a double-strung harp that is unknown here in France, I love it when other harpists play with it and discover a new type of playing. When I know the children (family and friends), I always let them play if they ask.
    On the other hand, I’m not encouraging them either. (I don’t bring out the harp at a gathering with a lot of people, for example, which I could do).
    As for adults, they never ask to play and I don’t offer it either, so the harp stays untouched.

    I would like to take out my harp in public a bit more, in order to challenge myself : but I would first like to have a firmer position on this matter. I only have the one harp, after saving for a long time, so I would be angry if it gets damaged by carelessness. And yet, I want to give back some of the magic of discovering the harp to other people.

    So how do you do it? What are your stories? (charming stories or horror stories, I want them all!)

    evolene_t on #228958

    Piggybacking on my own answer here, since the forum is quiet during the holidays.

    So I guessed that nothing would be better than try out my question out in the open. I took the harp to a family gathering with younger cousins : long hours and a lot of people, so I could play in the background and chat.

    The kids are around 6 and 9 years old, the perfect age to be very interested in a new instrument and to be a bit careless. (Again, no adult seemed interested in playing). They had a blast glissandi-ing around, plucking wildly and trying out nursery tunes.
    Funnily enough, their favourite thing about the harp was the levers, pushing them all up or down etc. Never though about that!

    After about a full hour of having them play, with me holding the harp, I could see that it could last a loooong time. So I tuned it to a pentatonic scale (so that they could play around without deafening everyone) and settled the eldest behind the harp. I padded the floor with a thick towel and sat a few steps aways.

    Well, as was foreseeable, after a while she stood up, and… gave the harp a push. It clanckered to the ground, on the towel. Luckily, there was only a very small dent in the wood and no damage, but the harp was whisked away right then and there, at the request of the parents themselves.

    In conclusion…
    – Kids are able to play with the harp for literally hours
    – Kids will be kids and harps will be damaged
    – So if one agrees to have kids play with their harp, it must only be for a few minutes and there should be someone behind the harp at all times. I might have to come up with a short and sweet sentence to convey that to the parents…

    I would still love to hear your experiences!

    Biagio on #228959

    I’m more than happy for people, especially children to play around; how and where and what harp depends on the milieu. If it is a large public setting such as the local Highland Games I’ll take along one or two especially for a “petting zoo”, if I have them. If not and it is a harp I value then there are a few rules:

    No sticky fingers (parents should tell the kids to wash their hands first)
    Always under my supervision/presence
    Explain/demonstrate some basics while they’re having fun (what’s the lever for, what’s a scale, harp history, what they cost etc.)

    That last one has resulted in several, children and adults, buying a harp and taking lessons – and not from me, I’m not a teacher! The harp just worked it’s magic.

    Gretchen Cover on #228964

    Funny this topic should come up. There is a new minister at a church I play regularly. He was so excited to know there would be harp music that he raced over to my harp and could barely keep from touching it. When I said ok, he jumped on the bench to try plucking the strings. Who can say no to such enthusiasm? I am happy to let people try my harp or touch it as long as they ask first and l am standing by. One thing I like about Salvi Harps is the polyurethane finish that wipes clean easily unlike the lacquer on Lyon and Healy harps. (Appears the photo I tried to upload won’t work.)

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #229280

    It might be a good idea to bring along a lever harp they can touch. Touching a harp is sometimes necessary for knowing one must learn it. But as a student who is a nurse pointed out, harp strings can be contaminated with germs and bacteria from touching. You could have some alcohol with you and make them wipe off their hands first.

    evolene_t on #229297

    Thank you all so much for your answers!

    @ Biagio and Saul, good thinking about washing their hands and keeping wipes for that purpose. I didn’t think of that in particular, since my strings are nylon and can be changed inexpensively.

    @ Gretchen, fun experience! It’s always lovely to see the enthusiasm in other people. But I’m guessing that this minister is an adult that you can trust to be careful around your harp.

    It’s clear for everyone that you must still be standing by, though. Was there ever a case when somebody just wouldn’t let go of the harp? How did you -firmly but diplomatically – get them away from your instrument?

    I suppose having a spare, cheaper harp would be the way to go, but I personally won’t invest in another harp use for this purpose. Even a cheap cardboard harp means spending a few hundred bucks to have the parts shipped.

    Explaining all about the history, tuning etc does seem to be the way to go!

    Samantha B on #229336

    I usually go with what I feel at the time… I’m a bit of a shy person as it is and sometimes I just feel uncomfortable or just don’t want others to touch my babies!! I feel that I don’t have to justify why because it’s my possession, after all. There’s also what you mentioned, kids can go on for ages and I feel a bit awkward when it’s time to ask them to stop.

    Sometimes I do say yes when I feel like it but I’ll stay seated at the harp and let them do a glissando or two.

    I once played at a school though and wouldn’t let anyone touch because if one person gets to, then I have to let everyone!

    balfour-knight on #229349

    The answer from me would be “no, do not touch my harp,” unless the child or person can already play the harp, of course. The same thing goes for my piano, organ, clavichord, etc. Musical instruments are not toys, and mine cost far too much to risk damage from children who are not properly supervised by overly-permissive parents these days! I have experienced many parents who say their child can play, and it turns out that they can only beat on the piano or glissando on the harp, usually with dirty, greasy little fingers. I totally agree about the hand-wipes in any event!

    ancient on #229364

    Very interesting question. I have yet to play any gigs on harp, but years ago, when my music partner and I were the house band(instrumental duo) at a large German restaurant for 10 years, we had a rule that no one was allowed on the stage. At the time, I played accordion and my partner played guitar and mandolin. We sequenced our background music ourselves for a very tailored sound which was well received. We had thousands of dollars of equipment on the stage and simply couldn’t let people or kids mess with it. One night, a man came up to me while we were on break and was so curious about my accordion that he tipped me $20.00 to let him see what it felt like to wear the accordion. I said okay. So, I had him sit down and I put the accordion on him. He sat there for about a minute and then was done. He said “thank you” and that was it. That was an easy 20 bucks, normally, we just don’t allow it. As for harp, we haven’t played out yet. We are very protective of our instruments and don’t want someone else’s fingers on them, so, I don’t know how we’ll handle that.

    evolene_t on #229375

    Okay, I’m relieved to see more people for whom it is a firm “no”. I too think that instruments are not toys and are too valuable (both monetary and sentimentally) to risk damage. I can go on and refuse without feeling like a grinch.

    Sometimes I do say yes when I feel like it but I’ll stay seated at the harp and let them do a glissando or two.

    Yup, that seems like the way to go.

    I once played at a school though and wouldn’t let anyone touch because if one person gets to, then I have to let everyone!

    A very good point. But I found that some parents looked shocked when saying “no” to their bundle of joys : and the more intrusive kids tend to be the ones with parents that supervise them the less… I would be willing to let well-behaved kids with watchful parents try out the harp, but they’re not the ones I need to worry about so much.
    I’m not really confortable with kids and have trouble judging what to expect of them in accordance to their age.

    I have experienced many parents who say their child can play, and it turns out that they can only beat on the piano or glissando on the harp, usually with dirty, greasy little fingers. I totally agree about the hand-wipes in any event!

    Hand wipes are the deal, then! Do you use alcohol-based ones (that might damage the finish?), or “soapy” baby wipes (that could leave gunk)?

    @ Jackie : great story! Easy money, and when someone is willing to pay, you can expect them to be more careful, right?

    balfour-knight on #229376

    I actually make the children wash their hands, and then do a “hand-inspection!” Having taught music to children for over thirty years, I seem to know all their little tricks, ha, ha!
    Harp Hugs,

    Veronika on #229445

    I confess I’m also rather relieved that many others don’t like having their harp touched by random strangers. It hasn’t been a problem for me so far (and of course with friends it’s OK), but I’ve been wondering what I’d do in such a situation.

    David Ice on #235024

    I usually try to accommodate somebody who wants to try to play a string or a glissando. Alas, what I’ve also found is that nowadays, so many people feel they are ENTITLED to do anything they want. Just a couple of weeks ago I was at a resort, and playing an outdoor wedding by their huge pool/water park setting. I loaded in my harp, and while I was off for a moment to take care of other details, two adult grown women, who were wearing bathing suits and SOAKING WET, sat down at my harp and began playing it—-not miming playing, but soaking wet fingers playing the strings. My harp mover accosted them and told them “Do. Not. Touch. The. Harp!” And they waved him off with an arrogant “what—EVAH” and took more selfies. These were basically entitled rich women who were sober. I’ve decided that if I ever encounter such a person again, I’ll tell them “I hope you have $40,000 worth of insurance! And I want your car keys.” If they protest, I’d tell them “My harp costs as much as your car, so if you can play around with my private property, then I want to take your car for a joy ride too. And if you caught me sitting behind the wheel of your car, fiddling with the controls, you’d certainly call the police.”

    It’s one thing to have the curious kids try to climb up the column and stand on the base…but lately for me it’s been the ADULTS that I want to throttle! And being polite or discrete gets you nowhere. Another woman came up to me and asked if she could try my harp, that she was a “student of the harp”. I said sure, who was her teacher? As soon as she grabbed a string I could tell she had never touched a harp in her life! I pointedly asked who she had studied with, and the mumbled “Oh, I dabble” and put the harp down and walked away. Again—-if she had ASKED if she could take a picture or try a string, sure….but don’t LIE to my face and tell me you have studied harp. It’s getting increasingly difficult to remain gentlemanly or polite when people diss you like this!

    Sylvia on #235082

    Many years ago, a guy sat down at my harp to “play.” His fingernails went into the soundboard.
    Later, when the harp was at the factory for something else, they repaired the board so the marks no longer showed.

    Victoria on #235097

    That is a very interesting analogy, David.

    If we were to ask strangers if we could try out their $40k car (or any valuable property for that matter), most would think we’re crazy…but somehow some people think we should let them try out our harps (which cost the same or sometimes more).

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