As some of you already know, I am planning to discontinue playing the pedal harp due to time constraints, which means that I will be playing the lever harp exclusively.
I used to get this a lot, but it seems to be happening less and less these days. The lever harp is not inferior, it’s just different, and many pedal harpists either haven’t been trained in using lever harps at a professional level. The “old school” mindset that a lever harp was a steppingstone to a pedal harp is simply not true any more now that lever harp manufacturers have started making truly professional calibre instruments and lever harp performers are center stage instead of hidden away. The published repertoire has come a looong way in the past 20 years too. I’ve seen a LOT of pedal harpists dusting off those lever harps and toting them to gigs because they like the portability and the tone. With the resurgence of all things Celtic, many clients actually prefer lever harp to pedal. Now having said that, there are times when it’s easier to drag my pedal harp to a job simply because the music I’m playing is written for pedal harp exclusively, and perhaps some of your fellow musicians are worried that your decision might limit your repertoire somewhat. (And in some cases, let’s be honest, it might; and some things are just plain easier on pedal harp.) But with come ingenuity, you’d be surprised what can be accomplished on a smaller harp. I think most harpists and musicians who are well-versed in lever harp view it on par with larger instruments. Welcome the rest into the new enlightened age!
Certainly the only issue is if the music you want to play can be played on the instrument you are going to use.
All instruments have their limitation. I don’t think it is unfair to say that the lever harp is a bit more limited than the pedal harp, but if the music you want to play is perfectly playable on the lever harp then a pedal harp just isn’t necessary.
As mentioned, more and more pedal harpists are pulling out the lever harp for gigs. For example:
Sylvia Woods started playing the pedal harp and switch almost exclusively to lever harp.
The great Mary O’Hara plays pedal harp, but professionally she only used the lever harp to accompany her singing.
Verlene Shermer is a pedal harpists but most known for her use of the electric lever harp.
Deborah Henson-Conant, while still recognized as one of the leading Jazz pedal harpists is using lever harps more and more as time goes on, not less.
The members of Electric Angel I believe all play pedal harp, but in their band they all perform exclusively with lever harps.
The late Derek Bell MBE was at one time the principle harpists of the Northern Belfast Orchestra and switched almost exclusively to lever harp when he left the world of classical music to join the Chieftains.
I think of all the innovative and talented lever harpists out there who really show what you CAN do with the instrument despite it’s particular limitations. Aside from the above Pedal harpists who either use levers as well or exclusively now, there are other musicians like Rudegar Opperman, a Celtic harpists who is more than able to hold his own with Park Stickney who is one of the best Jazz pedal harpists around.
Musically you should play what ever music inspires you and drives you. And if that music can be played on lever harp then you don’t need anything else.
It’s not a matter of one instrument being better than another. It is a matter of choosing the most appropriate tool for the job. What is the point of playing O’Carolan music on a pedal harp if you have a lever harp that it can be played on just as well but is more portable, less difficult or expensive to maintain,
Disappointingly few pedal harpists “get” the lever harp at all, Jerusha.
I find an awful lot of pedal harpists who say about the lever harp exactly what pianists used tosay about the pedal harp back when I started playing: “Why do you want to play that? It’s such a limited instrument! The piano can do so much more so much more easily.”
Of course the lever harp is limited. So is the pedal harp, the flute, the violin, the piano. Every instrument there is has limitations. The difference is that harpists tend to obssess about them. I never found a flutist who’s annoyed because she can’t play four note chordal passages as a solo.
Frank Voltz performed on his lever harp at the Southeastern Harp Weekend in Asheville in October. He also gave several really wonderful workshops discussing jazz stylings (in hymns), loving levers, etc. He broke down a lot of barriers for people and was a completely engaging teacher and performer.
The only thing is that to me, it is much harder to have to leave the strings to change levers than to use the pedals. The only pitch advantage with levers is having an f natural and f sharp at the same time in different octaves. While I am not big on the idea of progress, the improvements in harp-making that led to the pedal harp we have now are significant, and abandoning them to return to lever harps altogether would be regressive. Not that everyone is doing that. But when Peak Oil happens lever harps may be all that are left, so we should use our pedal harps to the hilt as long as we can.
Certainly they are more convenient to move. Compositionally, diatonic music is fascinating, but limiting. Live is very hard for pedal harpists so we should as a community be careful about drawing work away from that instrument or soon no-one will be able to afford them at all. We need to increase work for everyone and income, contradictory as that might sound.
>Live is very hard for pedal harpists so we should as a community be careful about drawing work away from that instrument or soon no-one will be able to afford them at all
I totally don’t follow you here, Saul? Are you operating on the assumption that a lever harpist commands a lower fee? They should not. My clients hire *me*, not a particular harp.
If that’s not what you mean, I don’t follow at all. Can you explain?
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