Reverie harp and lyre players

Posted In: Coffee Break

  • Member
    Elettaria on #206588

    My disability’s been getting worse, and I’m bedbound so much these days that I’m not getting to play the harps as much as I’d like.  I’ve looked into the options with a lap harp, and have the plans for one with a cardboard one ready to go, but the friend who was going to be building it has hit some problems and it’s not looking like it’s going to happen any time soon.

    A friend suggested the Reverie Harp a while ago.  She said it’s meant to be very soothing to play, and the vibrations feel nice against your body.  It’s used a lot in therapy work.  However, it’s useful in that you can hand it to someone in hospital and they can strum it without knowing any music, because it’s tuned pentatonically, and that’s not what I want.  The harp is strung in wound phosphor bronze in the bass, which I like very much, and plain steel in the treble, which I don’t like.  I’d rather have something diatonic in just the bass range.  There’s also a company making wooden bowls with wound phosphor bronze strings on top, which sound nice, so that’s another thing in favour of the strings.

    I’m chatting to a local chap who makes modern lyres, which I think will suit me nicely.  The plan is to get a 12 string, range tenor B up to the F# above middle C, and to use wound phosphor bronze for the whole range.  This gives me B minor, D major, and E dorian without retuning, which works well both with my vocal range and with my partner’s mountain dulcimers (tuned in D, often capo’d to E minor).  As he uses guitar tuners, it’ll be easy to retune, for instance to put the Cs to naturals.  It’ll be exciting to learn to work with a limited range, and my partner says he grew a lot as a musician when he started doing that.  I haven’t settled on a shape yet, but he’s proposing a size of 50cm x 31cm x 4cm, which will be nice and portable.  We’re talking to guitar string shops about which gauges to go for, and they are being very helpful and should be able to give us a stringing chart once we have the exact string lengths, using the Reverie as a guide for tension (there’s a stringing chart on the Reverie page I linked to above).

    I rang a UK harp shop which sells the Reverie today, and they generally think this will work, but flagged up one possible issue.  The Reverie has a very long sustain.  I don’t want to have to damp all the time, I already do that with wire harp and I want something that’s easier for an instrument to be played when I’m conked out in bed.  I’ve had a play of my partner’s new bass dulcimer, which has wound phosphor bronze strings (Newtone), and it seems reasonable in terms of sustain.  Anyway, how do we get an instrument that has a rich sound, but not so much that constant damping would be required?  The Reverie has a much larger resonating chamber, so I’m guessing that’s part of it.

    The luthier is proposing sycamore, hollow body, spruce soundboard. Sycamore is what he has in at the moment, though he could check with the timber merchants at some point.  I am wondering whether the spruce soundboard would give it too much sustain, and I’ve a feeling I’ve read somewhere that this is why spruce isn’t generally used on wire harps.  We’re in Scotland, so sycamore is acer pseudoplatanus, and would be called a maple by Americans.  Apparently big leaf maple is about the closest.  He has also used ash, beech (European beech is different to American beech), sapele, maple, sweet chestnut, Douglas fir, and cedar for soundboards.  He uses birch ply for the back of the soundboxes.  Here is a video example of one of his lyres, I think with a solid body and built in ash, which he liked so much he kept.  He actually has the body for another one like this already around.  You can hear and see a lot more of his lyres on YouTube.

    Reading up on woods, the sycamore is sounding like a good one for keeping the sound nice and clear, as people say maple is great for clarity and tends to reduce sustain.  I don’t want it sounding overly bright, but I’m hoping the string range will take care of that.  I admit that I think his lyres look a lot prettier when they don’t have a different wood for the soundboard, although obviously the sound comes first.  He’s had some stunning woods in the past visually speaking, especially some sycamore (darker than the timber he has in at the moment) and beech (which gets used in a few places over here, for instance for Teifi’s student harps).  The sycamore he showed me was light but did look like it had a certain amount of visual interest.

    Also if you look at his web page and his YouTube recordings, what do you make of the different shapes?  I’ll be playing it either flat on my lap or held up on my left side, depending on the situation.  Quite possibly if I am really tired I will lie with it flat on my chest, or next to me in the bed.  I’m still trying to work out whether I should have the treble or the bass nearer me, but I’ve realised I should probably get something fairly slimline on whichever side ends up closer to me.  I like the look of the curvy ones with simpler lines, visually speaking.  I suspect the one I linked you to on YouTube might be the most practical shape as it doesn’t stick out much on either side.

    People who have played the Reverie, or a lyre, or know about woods and such, what do you think?

    • This topic was modified 4 years, 3 months ago by Elettaria.
    • This topic was modified 4 years, 3 months ago by Elettaria.
    • This topic was modified 4 years, 3 months ago by Elettaria.
    Participant
    wil-weten on #206599

    I just wonder, when playing the harp is what you really want, whether one of the bedside harps would be a nice alternative. Like a Christina Harp or a Harpsicle?

    You already thought of a cardboard harp. Did you have a look at this one? http://www.backyardmusic.com/Harps.html.  You can buy it as a kit, half finished or completely finished. There are several really nice youtube clips with people playing a backyard harp. They seem very affordable, even after shipping costs to the other side of the world.

    Member
    Elettaria on #206604

    They’re way too big for me, and they tend to be tinkly when they’re smaller. Finding one that’s the right size and weight has been pretty much impossible, without dropping thousands on a Blevins or similar, and even so the range is really high. We do have a design for a small cardboard harp with a better range ready to go, but the friend who was meant to be building it can’t do it for the time being, and also it is probably still a big big for me. I may be better off waiting and seeing if I can save up enough for a serious lap harp in the future. Did I mention that I’m 4’11?

    <span style=”font-size: 16px;”>Something like this would be playable even if I’m unable to sit up (I’m currently trapped under a cat!), and the tenor range would be really nice. I’m excited about learning to do things with a limited range, there’s a long tradition of that with folk instruments and I’ve seen how much my partner has grown as a musician in this situation.</span>

    Participant
    wil-weten on #206605

    Yes, I agree very small harps tend to be a bit tinkly. But do you really mean that a Christina harp or a Harpsicle is way too big?

    I wonder what makes you feel that lyres don’t have the same ‘tinkly’ sound as very small harps. Have a look at the dimensions of their soundboards…

    I think Camac Bardic Harps are both rather affordable and have a great tone, though they are not very lightweight. There’s one with 22 strings and one with 27 strings. I like the 27 string Camac Bardic (never heard the 22 string one). But, of course, they are more about twice as heavy as the harpsicles.

    There are affordable, lightweight German harps that are lightweight. Maybe something to keep in mind for later (as their harp builders do have waiting times. Though you may be buying a Pepe Weissgerber Harp with 27 or 31 strings from the Dutch harpshop De Zingende Snaar (you do live in the UK, don’t you? buying a UK or European harp is much cheaper than ordering one that is built in the US, because of the prohibitive shipping costs (as well as additional VAT and some other costs).

     

     

     

    Participant
    Biagio on #206607

    One cannot play many actual tune on a Reverie – it is designed for just strumming.  Given that limitation and the price of $600 US, why not just buy a decent Oscar Schmidt autoharp at about half that?

     

    Member
    Elettaria on #206608

    Yes, the Harpsicles, Christina and such are much too big. I am lying in bed.  Even if I sit up in bed, I’m limited to about 70cm tall (and that’s probably too big as well), and harps of that sort are more like 80-95cm tall.  The Bardic 27 is 6kg, I couldn’t even lift that.  They all weigh far more than I can handle, and the very few harps that would be small and light enough cost far more than I can afford, and tend to sound tinkly.  Seriously, it’s OK, I have looked into this!  I have also had sensory overload episodes set off by tuning the top strings of a harp when I’m really tired.  That’s why we’re planning to use wound bronze strings and drop the range to tenor.

    A Reverie is tuned pentatonically, and I agree that I’d find that too limiting.  I’m talking about a small diatonic range.  There are plenty of folk instruments using a range that size and I’m looking forward to the challenge.  I just want to figure out a soundboard/back combination that will sound nice and won’t produce overwhelming amounts of sustain.  Right now I am reading up on birch plywood.

    Participant
    evolene_t on #206969

    Hello Elettaria,
    My heart always pinches when I read that you cannot sit up at the moment (though I confort to think that the cat is the main culprit for that ;-))

    I know little about the Reverie and I agree that the price is quite high for a range that might not be enough.
    The lyres on the other hand look beautiful. But watching the video, I realise that the player lays the lyre flat on his knees, unlike the harp which one holds vertically.

    —–

    In this case, you might also want to look into the instrument called Psaltry (psaltérion in French). Also called “lap harp”, they are not to be confused with Dulcimers where you strike the strings with a small hammer, or Bowed Psaltries that look medieval but are actually quite a recent invention and that are played with a . After a quick search, the website “Song of the Wood” have the models that I mean.
    Song of the Wood

    I bought one for myself, hoping that it could help me practice the harp. Mine is wire strung and it cost about 70€ for a sound that is really beautiful. They generally have 12 to 15 strings. Sometime the makers make the strings double, in a way that looks like the dulcimer.
    Here’s a french website where the person makes his own medieval instruments : Atelier de Claude

    The great thing about psaltries is that you can basically hold them any way you like : flat on your knees or your torso if you’re lying down, smaller strings side up or bigger strings, or even vertically like a harp.
    Here is a video in a French castle where someone recreated, then improvised on a Psaltry, if you want a look at the instrument : Psaltérion de Puivert
    Depending on the size it’s about the size of a computer laptop, or smaller, and weights less than a kilo (or 2 pounds).

    However, the catch with all of the instruments that we mentioned in this thread is that you cannot play with both hands on each side, which is what the harp allows. But the same can be said for the lyre. You can also tune the psaltry any way you like (no levers though), both diatonically or pentatonically. Personally I like to experiment with both.
    You can strum the strings and use a guitar pick for that, or just the fingers.

    Now this is not to say that the lyre isn’t the best choice for you, Elettaria. Unfortunately I also can’t advise you on wood choices and the likes. This post is more to give a introduction to this little-know European medieval instrument. Perhaps you might look into it!

    Participant
    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #207075

    A lyre is not a harp, and has a very different sound and feel. It is side-strung, and most likely played with a plectrum. You might as well play a psaltery or a zither. Just so you know the difference. If you are having one made, consider which kinds of strings you will want, nylon, gut or wire.

    Member
    Elettaria on #207238

    Yes, it’s being built with wound phosphor bronze strings to drop the range to tenor. It’s in the process of being made, huzzah, and will hopefully be here in a few weeks. I’ll see what style of playing suits me when it turns up. There are quite a few lyre players holding them in a similar way to harps, although generally on the left rather than on the right. He doesn’t always play them on his lap, if you hunt through his videos, sometimes he holds them up in the traditional fashion.

    Meanwhile, this morning I got a cheque from my former power supplier refunding me with a rather exciting amount of money, years after I’d given up hope of seeing a penny of it back. So I am contemplating getting this small harp from Wales. I’ve had a chat with the man building them and also a woman who helped design them and plays herself. She played for the recordings on the site, and mentioned to me just now that she plays with her nails, which presumably makes it a little brighter sounding for those recordings. He’s going to have a look into what the lightest weight might be. He uses nylon strings from Robinson’s and is now using Rees levers, having found that Robinson levers weren’t great.

    I’m not going to rush into anything, I’ll think it over for a month and see how well the lyre meets my needs, and I also have the options of waiting until the deluxe Waring harp comes out, or of getting local woodworkers to build me a little harp from birch laminate with no levers. This does seem to be my only other choice for a harp this size (as mentioned above, Harpsicles are too big for me) and in this budget. I thought about the Sasha kit from Harps of Lorien, but it’ll come to a lot more by the time you include shipping and customs, and that’s before you get to needing to have it built.

    So my questions are:

    a) Is E-E a good range, and if so, should I go for CF levers or CFB? Lower notes do sound nicer, and it gives you E minor and E dorian for the full range.

    b) How good are Rees levers? I can live with not being able to flip them quickly during pieces, but do they alter the tone significantly or cause other problems?

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 2 months ago by Elettaria.
    • This reply was modified 4 years, 2 months ago by Elettaria.
    • This reply was modified 4 years, 2 months ago by Elettaria.
    Participant
    Biagio on #207248

    I like the (new) Rees levers very much. Mechanically the action is like the Truitts but they have a simpler mounting bracket (similar to a Loveland).

    Biagio

    Member
    Elettaria on #207249

    Excellent. I have been having fun working out a couple of pieces for that range. It wants to sing in the minor, I think, considering that it has E minor or dorian, and if you use the bottom string for the dominant instead, A minor or dorian. G major is useful as well, although it doesn’t fit as well in the bass, nor does D major.

    I will spend a few weeks getting the hang of my lyre and seeing how it suits me as an instrument to play in bed, I think. The silly thing is that my friend lent me her 19 string wire harp, but I cannot keep up with the tuning routine for wire harps, so it doesn’t make a good instrument for when I’m exhausted. With my bigger wire harp, I’m not even getting through tuning it before flaking out at the moment. Thankfully a PA tunes my 34 string lever harp once a week and I can handle the odd bit of tweak-tuning in between, so on days when I’m at my flat and can manage to play a bit, I have that. It’s my partner’s flat where I don’t end up playing anything at the moment.

    Thank you for all the sympathy, too, everyone! Being this ill is bloody hard, I’ve been climbing the walls with boredom, and merrily overdid it this weekend due to a bit more energy and actual sunbeams. We got out the hammock for my partner’s garden and curled up in it together, at one point with his bouzouki as well. Then we had a couple of friends round for board games the next day, which we usually do every weekend but had missed for months as I’d been too ill. But I’m still having to be really careful, getting warning signs such as my heart rate zooming up from the excitement of…wait for it…putting my socks on.

    I still cannot believe that [unnamed big energy supplier in Scotland] refund. I spent years trying to get the money back. I must have made eight complaints to the Ombudsman, who are beyond useless. At one point I managed to claw a couple of hundred back via my bank, as they were specifically unauthorised payments after they’d agreed to stop taking money (they will take anything up to triple the amount you actually spent), and next thing I knew I was getting threats of court action and bailiffs. Also it’s more than twice as much as I thought they owed me. I should probably at least wait and see what happens in the election before deciding whether to squander it on a small harp, the Tories getting in again could mean very bad things for my finances, but it’s pleasant to dream, at the very least.

    Is it OK to store a small harp lying on its side on a large shelf? It doesn’t have a flat back, so it can’t lie on its back. He does send out a little stand, so it’s more stable when standing up, but I’m not sure I can think of a place to keep it. That’s if I get the wee Welsh one, of course. It really is the only harp in this small size and price range you can get in the UK, and there’s nothing in a similar price range you can import either. The idea of it is growing on me, though.

    Member
    Elettaria on #208279

    It’s finally finished and will be with me on Wednesday!

    Here is a sample video from the luthier.

    I can upload the photos he sent me too if anyone wants. It’s come out looking lovely.

    I’m particularly glad that I went for the tenor range, as I have been having a nightmare time of it lately with high-pitched sounds being painful. It’s ruling out both the wire harp and my piano, and pretty annoying when watching TV. I’m due to get sent to a neurologist at some point for other stuff that’s been happening lately. Bloody brains, eh.

    Participant
    hearpe on #208377

    My Stoney End 22 in Cherry is very lightweight. I think Reese harps are as well, about 4 pounds but larger-26 strings. I find my Stoney End really does well for me n an easy chair. Fewer levers keep it lighter too- the Stoney End only has levers on C and F, and starts and ends on G. Good luck with whatever you find.

    Member
    Elettaria on #209982

    Thank you! It must be hard to imagine what it’s like having muscle strength this limited, as people keep cheerfully suggesting harps which are evidently very lightweight if you’re healthy, but far too heavy for me. The Eve sounds like a lovely harp, I hear so many good things about it, but it’s 8lb and I can’t manage that. My lyre is 3lb.

    It’s a gorgeous little thing with a warm, soft voice that is incredibly therapeutic. There have been nights where I can’t sleep and creep into the other room and play it sleepily, no need to worry about waking anyone. I am mostly treating it like a wire harp with wider spacing and a deeper voice, and working from wire harp repertoire. Improvising is finally happening! I’m damping a bit but it’s not too much to handle. I do need to keep an eye on positioning so I don’t end up with a sore wrist, though.

    The bottom two strings sound a little dull (we were guessing wildly at how to string it, so I expected to do some tweaking), so the string maker has sent me replacements with a different core, and I will put them on later today. Guitar tuners are indeed blissfully easy to use. The luthier was really impressed by the wound bronze strings and has started stringing more lyres that way, including a new 14 string.

    The working theory is that it’s actually magic. Everyone wants to try it, and it’s not too intimidating. Well, one friend played it flat on the table just in case, but you can easily play it that way and the table adds resonance. The people who thought they couldn’t play music find that they can after all, and the musicians do fabulous things with it.

    The evening that was really special was when a friend was staying and had brought another friend of theirs with them. The friend I’d known for years doesn’t play anything, said, “Oh, I’m tone deaf, can’t play a thing.” But they shyly gave it a try, and were soon plucking away happily. Then their friend had a try. She’s a fairly serious folk musician, I think, but eight years ago she had a stroke and mostly lost the use of her left hand. She thought musical instruments were over for her now. Happily, she found that she could hold the lyre with her left hand and play with her right. She curled up on the sofa with it – its an ideal size for curling up with – and played and sang with it for ages. It was spellbinding.

    One of my PAs does sound meditation classes and she’s very interested in getting one too. My partner couldn’t keep his hands off it when it first arrived. As a harp-adjacent instrument goes, it’s filling its role beautifully.

    Being me, I am plotting a slightly wider harp-lyre hybrid. I think we could make something with 20 or 22 strings going down to tenor C, using fluorocarbon for the range down to middle C, and then either just wound bronze or that combined with a few wound nylon strings to get the lowest octave without needing the strings to get much longer. Once I’ve got a decent recording of this lyre, I’ll post about that separately. It’s definitely very promising.

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