Here is the link to a thread on the forum where this issue was brought up.
Amazing. Reminds me of a story a jazz guitarist friend I went to college with told me. He was trying to get his jazz trio into one of the clubs here and the club manager kept on insisting that he would only book them if they had a big guitar. After many frustrating minutes of conversation (big guitar – what you mean a gretsch or something?), it turns out the booker was referring to an upright bass.
Apparently big guitars just look better so they must sound better, and proper jazz combos should have big guitars. This is a quality venue and you have no business turning up without a big guitar. Probably what the thing is with harps as well.
Well you have to remember I live out in the sticks……
I think Jerusha is right. If someone is looking for Celtic music they probably know enough to understand what a Celtic style harp looks like. But if someone is expecting the general classical / religious music typical of weddings they may be expecting the kind of harp they are used to seeing playing that kind of music.
I think the thing to remember is that when playing a wedding or similar event you aren’t playing a concert. You are part of the ambiance. How you present is part of what they are looking for. It’s like putting on a play. The producer may have very specific ideas of what he wants the stage to look like. If a bride wants a large, gold gilt pedal harp then that is what she wants. I don’t think anyone should take it as an insult if they ask for that over a lever harp. It’s not about the practicality of the instrument. It is that you are part of the scenery as well and you have to fit the producer’s vision.
To be honest I have seen far more prejudice against specific kinds of harps from other harpists. There are still far too many harpists who put down types of harps different than the ones they play. I have heard pedal harpists who say that lever harp is just what you play until you are “ready” to “move on to” a pedal harp. And I Have heard lever harpists who say that pedal harps are all dull sounding. I have heard wire strung players talk about how their harps are so much harder to play and take so much more control than those other harps.
So yeah, a bride may want a specific type of harp at her wedding, or a party planner may want a specific look of harp at a cocktail party. But I don’t see that as prejudice. That is strictly about having something that fits their visual image of what they want the event to look like. They mostly don’t know or care about the qualities of the harps, what music they are best suited to play, or how versatile they are or are not. They aren’t talking about which harp is “better” musically. Only which is better for their production which includes appearance.
As a general rule I think that the expectation would still be more pedal harp for those. If for no other reason than that the majority of Jazz and Pop harpists tend to play pedal harp. Which makes sense. Although you can play pop and Jazz on a lever harp, the chromatic nature of these kinds of music tends to make it a good fit for pedal harp in general.
So I think that anyone who is actually familiar with pop and jazz played on harp is going to probably expect pedal harp because that is probably more what they will have seen.
However I would be willing to bet that they would also probably be more flexible than people wanting a strictly classical / church music. I think if people ask for Jazz they are probably more interested in the music itself and so may be more concerned with finding someone who can play the music rather than what they play it on.
Of course these are all generalities. As Barbara pointed out, some folks just find a full concert grand pedal harp intimidating and would rather a smaller harp no matter the kind of music. And other people just wont care one way or another. When I played professionally I always gave the customer the option so long as the music being requested was something I could play on either. For a period all I had was a lever harp and I managed to find work anyway. Fortunately there are a wide range of customers with a varying degree of wants.
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