Murphy harp strung in semi-precious metals (photo / property of S. Pereira)
The Golden Harp
Dearest golden harp,
Are you ready? Today we play.
I went to another live Patrick Ball performance yesterday (https://www.patrickball.com) -- this time I got to revisit The Fine Beauty of the Island. For a few glorious hours, we were transported to County Kerry with Mr. Ball as a colorful host of characters, accompanied by that iconic Jay Witcher wire-strung harp of his.
The last time I went to a live Patrick Ball concert, I was lucky enough to sit front-row and feel the resonance of those brass strings booming in my chest. As a clinical musician, it inspired me to think about the therapeutic value in that resonance and sustain. When I play at a patient's bedside as a therapeutic musician, I have no use for a big, beautiful, boisterous voice, but the sustain of that resonance drew me in. I play two wire-strung harps: I have a bladed Trilett Avalon and a Trinity College replica (built by David Kortier) that I enjoy, but they both have too big of a voice for a hospital room. Most of the harps built in the Cellar Gang with Frank Murphy had similar voices. But, there were two memlings -- two wire-strung Memling-shaped harps that were built. When Frank passed, one of them passed to Sally Perreten, and Sally graciously passed it to me.
You and I, little Memling, we will have a grand experiment.
I enlisted the help of Ann Heymann (http://www.annheymann.com) in my grand experiment. What would happen if we restrung the Memling that Frank built with semi-precious wire to warm the harp's tone but create the optimum sustain of its resonance? For a small harp, a Memling shape has the longest strings, so its voice is in a "more therapeutic" range than many small lap harps with a tinny, music-box tone. I wanted warmth and resonance, and Ann understood. She made all the calculations and engineered a string set in semi-precious metals for my Murphy harp, with a bunch of beautiful gold strings in the bass. It was going to be a grand experiment, indeed.
I have replaced hundreds of strings in my harp-life, but none so nerve-wracking as these. Ann met me online to teach me to properly wrap the toggles and string the harp with care. I was so nervous of breaking one of these precious strings. She told me to save all the bits -- the trimmings and broken strings could be melted down...but I wasn't sure how I felt about the thought of a piece of jewelry from my mistakes!
Then the pandemic hit. While my golden harp and I enjoyed some time together, I couldn't take it bedside. I wasn't considered essential, playing for patients at the Yale New Haven Health hospitals or at Beacon Hospice, while patients and staff battled the pandemic. When our work as clinical musicians switched to virtual encounters, I wasn't willing to compromise this sound experiment to the idiosyncrasies of the virtual platforms. I have always resisted publishing any therapeutic tracks for this reason -- I am a firm believer that the therapeutic value I treasure lies too heavily in the presence of the harp in proximity to the patient, versus an electronic replication. When the restrictions for non-essential personnel were lifted and I returned to the bedside, I was busy practicing for my final recording submission for the advanced level Harp Therapy and Guided Imagery certificate program. I was busy with my bedside harp, my Marini Bass Lap harp, with it's own therapeutic voice, carefully practicing each of the archetype patterns and watching for my patients' responses. So my golden harp has waited patiently for me to grow.
"I played this harp because the sound of it has a way of filling up a lot of empty spaces."
Patrick Ball, "The Fine Beauty of the Island"
So, here we are, little golden harp. I hope we're ready. The last members of Ode, who were formerly The Cellar Gang, are practicing carols for the upcoming holidays this morning.
It's a fine time for a golden strung Memling to sing for others.