Interactive: North Carolina Symphony Blog
In the earliest stages, the harp had just a few strings strung on an open-bowed frame. We call it a “bow harp.” Somewhere in Ireland, a post was added to the frame. This triangular shape can withstand more pressure allowing additional strings to be added. These early models were diatonic—meaning a harp could only play the “white keys” on the piano without re-tuning. Over the next few hundred years, inventors all over the world attempted to fix this problem. We have cross-string harps, double strung harps, triple strung harps, dials, digits, and levers to make the harp a chromatic instrument. In 1811 in Paris France, piano-maker Erard introduced the double-action pedal harp and the first truly chromatic harp made its way into the orchestra with 47 strings. Over the next 200 years the harp stayed largely the same.
In the 1990s the harp was re-born, once again, in Paris, France. Camac produced the first ever electric harp with a collaboration between harpist Deborah Henson-Conant and harp maker Joel Garnier. Later, they worked with bicycle enthusiasts to make improvements. Harpists strap electric harps to their bodies to support the instrument and the first model was quite heavy at a whopping 22 pounds! Using carbon-fibre, the same material used for light weight bicycles, reduces the weight of the electric lever harp to 11 pounds. So now you know, harps and bikes are made from the same material.
Electric harps are gaining in popularity. Walking and dancing while playing the harp, incorporating loops pedals, synthesizers and amplification are a few new techniques that harpist Deborah Henson-Conant and this weekend’s guest soloist Catrin Finch enjoy exploring. Click here to check out a performance of Catrin playing the electric harp and come to Meymandi Concert Hall to hear her perform live.