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Which Music Can I Play on Double-Strung Harp? [Double-Strung Harp FAQ S1E5]

Hi, I’m Cynthia Shelhart. You can call me Cindy. And it’s time for some #DoubleTalk. Double-strung harp, that is!

Welcome back to our FAQ series on the double-strung harp. In the past couple of videos, Parts 1 and 2 of Episode 4, we took a look at the double-strung harp’s family tree, all the way from late Renaissance chromatic harps to the 20th century birth of the modern double harp. If you missed those episodes, we’re sorry we missed you! You need to make sure you subscribe, so you can be notified of future episodes.

This time, it’s a very special Episode 5— can’t wait to share it with you. It’s actually ripped from the pages of a workshop that I just taught. And I thought this would be a great way to share a glimpse for you of what it’s like to work with me in a workshop. So sit back, relax, and enjoy a very special FAQ Series Episode 5, where I answer the question: “Which music can I play on double-strung harp?”


Which music?

Which music can I play on double-strung harp? This is really a concern or a question that people have.

At first, I have a very short answer: I say, “The easy answer is, almost ANYTHING!”

And then after that, there’s an easy answer with a short disclaimer: “ALMOST anything, if it works for your HARP, and works for YOU.”

We’re not just talking about musical elements like melody, or harmony, or genres or styles here. We can actually dig a little deeper, and talk about the actual source material of where the music really comes from.

For example, if a piece of music is written down in permanent form—somewhere—it usually comes from 1 of 3 categories of the source material: a composition, an arrangement, or a transcription. This means that, for compositions, you’re playing something that’s exactly the same, that somebody has written down, and the expectation is, you will play it as written. Or, maybe you are going to adapt music in the original source, and it will be different from its original form. So let’s compare those two things quickly.

Compositions for double-strung harp

For compositions, you’re doing something that’s exactly the same as the composer intended, whoever they were (and whenever they were). The double-strung harp is a new and growing instrument. And that means that we are excited about it! It also means that we have a small and growing number of original compositions written for the double-strung harp. That’s not a whole lot of repertoire—YET. We’re working on that.

So it’s important, when we are thinking about growing the double-strung harp, to take advantage of our instrument’s potential (which is amazing, by the way, I think you would all agree with that). We need to grow our repertoire by also adapting music from other instruments, from other sources. That’s why I’m personally active as both a double-strung harp composer and arranger, so I can help add to the repertoire that’s available for our instrument, and help bring other people into our world.

Arrangements & transcriptions for double-strung harp

There are two types of musical adaptations where we would change the music around a little bit (or maybe a lot) to make it work for us and our double-strung harps. Those are arrangements and transcriptions. This is a time honored practice, by the way; this isn’t something like, “oh, we’re messing with it, that’s not a good idea.” This is something that people have been doing for centuries, since the beginnings of musical history, in all different cultures.

Arrangements are pretty closely related to the original compositions. They can actually be a little simpler, or they can be made more complex than the original. And the arranger might make musical changes in the fingering, for accidentals, the range, etc., that work better on the non-native or non-original instrument. And this is also what happens when we adapt music from, say, our single-row harp libraries, or from other kinds of harps (pedal harps, wire-strung harps, etc.). When we take that music and adapt it for double-strung harp, we are making arrangements.

Transcriptions are another kind of arrangement that are intentionally even closer to the original. They are played as written. And this isn’t just for classical music, as you might expect; this could be anywhere from Western classical music to jazz and rock. I did a couple of arrangements/transcriptions on my first CD. One was a jazz piece by Chick Corea called Children’s Song, and the other was an arrangement of a Southern rock tune by the Allman Brothers called Little Martha. So you never know what might you might be inspired to try, with arrangements and transcriptions.

(Of course, in this process, we’re also making sure that we respect intellectual property, and observe copyright law as needed, if this music isn’t in the public domain. Very important.)

Arrangements + arranging = more repertoire!

So once we understand that arrangements—and ARRANGING—are our friends, and they’re acceptable in the musical community, we can take on almost any kind of music we like (including the arrangements in today’s workshop, in our Irish music workshop), as we adapt and play original musical source material from a wide world of genres and styles. So again, to make the the the appropriate answer: you can play ALMOST anything, if it works for YOUR double-strung harp, and works for YOU.


Wrapping up

Thanks for joining me in this special Episode 5 of the Double-Strung Harp FAQ Series. If you liked what you heard today, please make sure you’re subscribed, so you can be notified of future episodes. And if you want to be the first to get some more Double Talk, more news from my website, go to that website and sign up for my mailing list at cindyshelhart.com. And we’ll get the word out to you as soon as it’s available.

In Episode 6, coming up, it’s that magical moment: you’ve got your double-strung harp and you need to know what to do next. So we’ll answer the question: “How do I start playing double-strung harp?” See you next time!

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