Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"Baltimore Rhapsody" Block #18 - the harp...

The harp is the next orchestral instrument in my "Baltimore Rhapsody" quilt (click here to find out more about the project).  It is one of the most ancient stringed instruments - pictures on vases show that it was used in the ancient courts of Babylon four to five thousand years ago. 

There is a harp in the New York City Metropolitan Museum of Art that is over 2500 years old.  It was found in an Egyptian tomb and looks as though it could still be played.

Harps were used in both Ancient Greece and Rome.  In Ireland and Wales, it is the national instrument.  A well-tuned harp was one of the three necessities for a Welshman in his home (the other two things were a virtuous wife and a cushion for the best chair).

The beautiful, unusual shape of the instrument is due to having to accommodate strings of different lengths.  The most primitive harp would be several strings tied to a hunting bow. 

As the harp got bigger, the strings were attached to two separate pieces of wood, with the lower piece also serving as a sounding board to amplify the sound.  A third piece of wood, the pillar, connects the other two.  In the modern harp, the pillar serves as a sort of pipe that connects the pedals at the base to the mechanism that changes the length of the strings, thus changing the pitch of the strings.

Until 1810, harps had no way to change the pitch of a string, so they could only play music in one key,  With the modern pedals, a harpist can play just about anything.

The person playing the harp tilts the instrument until it rests on the right shoulder.  The strings are played with both hands (one on each side of the strings) and eight fingers/thumbs (the pinkie fingers aren't used).

The modern harp has 47 strings and seven pedals.  The strings are colored so that the harpist can orient themselves - all the C strings are red, all the F strings are blue.  With the pedals, the strings can be set to play either chords or scales.

Notes are played in rapid succession (a glissando) where the strings vibrate until dampened or plucked to produce short notes/chords.

The harp can accompany other instruments, be featured as a solo instrument, or add beautiful flourishes to orchestral music.  As a piano player, I have always wanted to try and play the harp - I think it has the most beautiful sound.

In stitches,
Teresa  :o)


  1. Love the history and excellent choice of the grape arbor with the ancient history of this instrument - but, oh my, all those circles, er, grapes! Lovely!!

  2. I've always loved harp music, too! This block is beautiful! Another stunner!

  3. What a pretty block. The variations in color of the grapes looks very good. I have looked forward to seeing each of your new blocks for the instrument quilt and they do not disappoint.

  4. Another beautiful block! Your grapes are gorgeous!

  5. How are you doing that?? I can't see any stitching!!!

  6. Another awesome instrument. You are so talented. Yes, HOW DO YOU do such perfect work. Do you ever sleep????

  7. Your work is breathtaking! I notice that you embroider around some of your pieces to make them stand out. Any chance you could tell us a bit about that in an upcoming post? I love the effect!!

  8. Another beautiful block Teresa. I have enjoyed reading about each piece of the orchestra. I love looking at all of your fabrics on the close up pictures, you really make that fabric stash of yours work.

  9. every time I see another block I am just in awe. you are so talented. Just beautiful!

  10. Beautiful! Every time I see one of your posts I am in awe of how this quilt is coming along....

  11. Thank you for the harp history lesson. I did not realize that harps had pedals. Harps make such beautiful music. This block is so wonderful. I love all the grapes. Very well done.


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