Monday 3rd June
Another beautiful day; I am sure this trend cannot last much longer (I am in England after all…)! Read in bed until Rosa and Dad left the house, at which point I did some violin practice and contemplated taking a self-portrait, as the only time I would be going out today would be to the orthodontist (nobody really wants a photograph of that, right?). Played around with different hair and make-up before deciding it wasn’t really worth it.
Instead, went down to play the harp. The day was so lovely that I couldn’t resist taking it outside to play. I truly believe there is not a more beautiful instrument than this one. It is so very magical. When I first stroked its strings, it was not like the first time I drew a bow across my violin, or blew a note into a recorder, or pressed the keys of a piano. Unlike the violin, it is a kind instrument: my harp makes a stunning sound with little-to-no effort. Unlike the recorder, my harp is never shrill. And, unlike the piano, my harp positively glitters.
I will never forget the first time I saw this instrument. Originally I loaned one from this company, but once it was clear that I wasn’t going to give up playing my parents agreed to buy me a harp to call my own, from the same people. My harp – a Clarsach Celtic harp – was created especially for me, with its tiny butterflies as per my own request. There is no other instrument the same as this one in all the world, and when its strings ring beneath my fingertips, I feel as if I am creating my own piece of magic.
Harps are derived from the lyre, which, according to Greek mythology, was discovered by Apollo and presented to Zeus as an apology for the theft of his cows. The lyre became a symbol of wisdom, and Apollo’s son, Orpheus, was said to induce magic with his playing – stories say that trees would uproot themselves and follow his music. In Irish mythology, the harp is said to be able to manipulate listeners’ emotions, at times making them cry uncontrollably; furthermore, it has the power to send people to sleep. The harp owned by Irish chieftain the Dagda is said to have come to him when he called, whilst harp music would first inspire and then soothe warriors before and after battles. According to the stories, druids who played the harp and recited poetry were believed to be able to cross the border between worlds: the strings of their instruments could literally transport them to alternative realities.
Of course, these are just stories. And yet, in my instrument, I see elements of truth in all of them. The image of the harp as the instrument of the gods sits very comfortably with me; it is the most divine music-maker I can imagine, and with all its magical powers it must be full of wisdom – as must its player, to be able to control them. When I play, people wish to hear more, and I can rarely bear to stop. My sister says that when she first heard me perform, she cried; indeed, on occasion I find myself wrought with emotion from the mournful harmonies or incessant beauty of this instrument. And who would not want to fall asleep listening to music such as this?
I regularly comment on the intimacy of the instrument. one must, at times, practically wrap oneself around the soundboard and the strings. Were it alive, I feel it would be as devoted as a dog or horse with a life-long owner: call its name and it would come running, were it able. Nor is it simply the physical aspect of playing the harp which is intimate and close, but the effect that it has on one’s mind and soul. When I am stuck for ideas – like today – it does me the world of good to sit and play awhile. Afterwards I am often filled with hope for the day, solutions to problems, and a whirlwind of concepts inside my head. Equally, after a stressful day, a difficult piece of work or an argument with someone close, there is nothing better for me than to rest my fingers against the strings of my harp and let the anger, fear, sadness or adrenaline flow out through melodies which have stood the test of time. The harp reminds me that there is more to life than an exam result or a clash of beliefs.
But crossing realities? Being transported to another world? It is, ultimately, a combination of wood and gut-strings, nothing more. But as the proverb says, one must play the music, not the instrument. And it is the music which has the power; it is the music which can make one laugh or cry or sleep, the music which can inspire and soothe. And when that music is played on a harp, those powers, I think, are magnified beyond all measure. My harp takes me from my living room to somewhere safe and beautiful; somewhere that is far away from rage and fire. It transports me to somewhere I can be not quite myself; somewhere my troubles and my cares and my past don’t exist – somewhere unblemished. Somewhere magical.