The Opening Credits

by James Skene

In all likelihood a well made and well cared for harp will outlive the person who plays it. This is especially true when the player receives a newly made harp from the luthier and even more so for the harper who has moved well along toward their ‘three score and ten’ from being a twinkle in someone’s eye. Perhaps this is one reason that the conveyence of a harp from the maker to the player is far more momentous and heady than a simple business transaction, an act of merchandising.

And what if we wax a bit mysterious about this? The wire harp is one of the last things that is born of an indivudual’s imagination and cunning here on the ragged edge of craftsmanship. It does not lend itself to mass production nor the industrial process because of its nature and its tiny market. If the tuning wrench turns ‘but a wee’ to change the pitch a whole step, then that same tendency to be unforgiving applies as well to the chisel and reamer.

So it is only fitting that the player acknowledges that the luthier has put quite a bit of himself into the wire harp. And they do, and they are almost universally gracious about it. But the turn of phrase has always caught my attention, not only because of its curiosity but because also because of its frequency. More than half the time the player of one of the new harps will say (to wit), “I love my new’s not really mine, of course. You created it so it will always be yours.”

Whose is it? In an affective sense I mean, not in an estate sense. I do have an answer and it comes from the essential nature of harp building which I’d wager escapes most harp players. A harp builder is craftsman, aficionado, entrepreneur, sure, those things. But the essence of the harp builder is mischief maker. Yes, when we look at that billet of wood, we see the harp in there. It’s another tale entirely, but all the skill in woodworking and physics amounts to very little compared to the vision that clearly sees the harp in the trunk of a tree or a plank of wood. Of course we see beyond that to charming bell–like tones, arrangements, figures, and such. Ah, but we also see beyond that and realize that we are bringing mischief into the world where without our vision and effort there was none before. Indeed, the harps by their essence and nature will not sit in the corner of the parlor like a piano or be put away in a velvet lined case like the saxophone played in the high school band.

Rather the harps will find themselves around campfires at events, sessions on front porches, gatherings where people have come with the specific intent of feeling good. Laments will be played at a friend’s passing, the music will accompany weddings, and companions will bond over no other common ground than the music. And love songs will be played...and then there will be a twinkle in an eye caught unawares and no end to the mischief. Those who long for a time and a place, be it real or fictional, spared our industrial missteps where all the surroundings were the result of craftsmanship, the wire harp may be the only thing they ever hold in their hands that fulfills that fantastic vision.

May I bring to mind all those fantasy and swashbuckle movies that center around some enchanted weapon, usually a sword. That you are a wire harp player or aspiring to be one greatly increases the odds that you are familiar with same. As the movie opens the bearded, grizzled smith pours the molten metal into rough form. About this time the opening credits begin to scroll across the screen. As they continue, giving credit to the assistant producers, minor players, contract studios, and such, the smith pounds the blade on the anvil with smoke whirling and sparks flying. All this time of course swashbuckle music has been building in the backbround. About the time ‘also starring’ appears on the screen, the smith is quenching the blade then honing the edge and wrapping the handle. As the epic–type music nears its climax, the besooted smith hands the sword over to the hero and tells him that the sword will possess him more than he possess the sword.

Then the movie starts in earnest and as it wends its way thought battle and love story and mystery and magic, likely as not brought about by the mystical sword, the smith’s predictions of mischief come all too true. But...we never see the smith again.

Did you ever consider that you play a single song only for a few minutes, four or five, maybe a bit longer on some major compositions. People don’t attend to an individual tune for much longer than that. But how that tune plays in their head and how they recall the fun they had, the sorrow they nursed, the ambitions they felt whenever they hear the song again. Only a few minutes with a tune at the right time and under the right circumstances works its magic for a lifetime. The actual performance, although essential, is a trifle compared to elixir it admixes into our lives forever. Whose song is it?

And whose harp is it? It’s yours. We harp makers are only the opening credits. Like you, the player, we are glad to have some reward for our art and beyond that we share with you a twinkle in the eye at the at anticipation of what mayhem the harp may cause. But the harp is truly yours and all the mischief that goes along with it.

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