Concert Harp
by Gregg Miner, as part of


Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
(Hugh Martin & Ralph Blane, 1944) EMI Feist Catalog, Inc.


Concert Harp - Lyon & Healy Style 17G, 1957


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Disclaimer to Internet readers: The following text is a humorous essay written for the layperson. It originally appeared in a companion booklet to my 1995 Christmas Collection CDs. The information, while factual, is presented in a personal, unorthodox manner. No offense is intended toward my fellow musicians or fellow musicologists.

There’s a well-known saying in orchestral circles which states: “Of all the instruments, the harp is easiest to learn, most difficult to master” and I can personally attest to that! Anyway – here are a few of the most commonly asked questions about the pedal (or “concert”) harp… 

  1. What are the pedals for? Are they like piano pedals?
  2. Why are the strings different colors?
  3. Is this real gold that I’m touching?
  4. What made you decide to play the harp?

1. No, they may look like piano pedals but they perform an entirely different function. The seven pedals of the modern harp correspond to the seven notes in the musical scale – CDEFGAB. Since the harp, with its pedals in the middle position, is tuned to the C (natural) scale, utilizing the “double-action pedal system” perfected in 1811 in Paris, each of the seven notes can be raised or lowered a half-step to access the sharps and flats. A given pedal moves the note simultaneously in every octave, thanks to an incredibly intricate and complex linkage assembly contained inside the harp. It’s really quite ingenious!

2. The different colors tell which strings are which – otherwise we’d lose our place! The red ones are c’s and the blue or black are f’s. Incidentally, every octave is colored whether the strings are gut, brass-wound (bass strings), or nylon (highest strings).

3. Yes, it is, so please don’t!

4. OK, since you’ve been so patient with me, I’ll give you an honest, heartfelt answer…Harpo Marx. I just loved the man. His harp playing in the movies was such a magical moment for me that I simply never dreamed of obtaining or playing the instrument. Then one day in the late 1970s my research into Harpo’s musical career led me to Mildred Dilling, the closest thing to a regular harp teacher Harpo ever had. She agreed to meet me at a “master class” she was giving in Chicago (that’s where I’m originally from). Hoping for Harpo stories, I received instead an impromptu lesson, after which Mildred insisted that I had a knack for it, then told me of a used harp for sale in the city. I maintain that I am not impulsive, but rather, methodical by nature. However, the next day I cashed in my stocks, examined the harp, bought it (the very one you see before you), squeezed it into my van, and moved to Los Angeles. Incidentally, I did eventually get lots of Harpo trivia from Ms. Dilling and was introduced to many of Harpo’s family and friends. I was in heaven. Oh yes, I also learned to play the harp, after a fashion (and many years of study!).


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