Instruments More Practical Than Lutes

It was fun writing about my early days of harping on my Black Gate guest post. It got me thinking that maybe people would enjoy hearing more detailed accounts of the life of a wayward harpist. So I think I’ll do a series of posts chronicling my musical adventures.

The first time I started playing the harp, I was 7 years old. My parents owned a folk music centre, and a customer turned friend, who happened to be the principal harpist for the Lyric Opera, suggested that folk harp lessons might be a nice addition to the class roster. I honestly can’t remember if I was really enthused about this or if it was mostly my mother who was enthused (bless her foresight), but I gave it a go.

Here is a picture of me the first time I played a harp:

I’m afraid it didn’t last long. You see, responsible harp teachers place a lot of emphasis on learning to tune your harp by ear. Tuning a harp by ear is not fun for a 7 year old. Actually, it isn’t fun for a 27 year old (all hail the electric tuner). So I wandered away from the harp, preferring to focus my attention on the really important things in life: ponies and fantasy novels.

But here’s the thing about fantasy novels: they’re rotten with harpers. Lloyd Alexander’s Fflewddur Fflam, Ellen Kushner’s Thomas Rhymer… suddenly harping was taking on a new allure. But my mom clearly wanted it too much, so I decided that my archaic instrument of choice would be the lute, which was also properly bardic.

My dad is a luthier (which, ironically, is someone who makes and repairs stringed instruments, not just lutes), so I went to him with my plan.

Me: I want to play the lute.
Dad: No you don’t.
Me: Pretty sure I do.
Dad: There’s a reason no one plays the lute anymore. They’re badly designed. Slide right out of your lap. If you want, I’ll teach you to play the 12 string guitar.
Me: The 12 string guitar is not poetic.
Dad: Maybe not , but it doesn’t slide out of your lap while you play it. How about the mandolin?
Me: *POUTS*
Mom: Why don’t you play the harp again? The harp is poetic.

She was right. The harp is poetic, and soon I was getting to know my very own Triplett lap harp, dragging it around outside, imagining that the back garden was medieval France. It was the perfect size for pretending to be a bard, and totally freaking adorable. We named it The Twerplett. Here’s a picture:

The cat is included for scale.

Fun fact: Triplett harps are made by a company in California, who used to make surf boards, and then one day were like, dude, we could totally make harps.

The Twerplett served me well for many years. The small size is meant to mean that you can bring it onto airplanes as carry-on luggage. I once had to cry to get an airline representative to let me carry it onto a plane the week after September 11. But that’s another story.

Next up: “High School Orchestra” or “Hey That Looks Heavy, Bet You Wish You Played the Flute”

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18 thoughts on “Instruments More Practical Than Lutes

    • I also totally had a crush on him. Though my first book crush was totally Mr. Tumnus.
      You can tell it’s the 80’s in that photo by the amazing mullet the guy in front is sporting.

  1. I remember you playing the little harp in middle school, and afterwards everyone was like ‘oh I feel so sorry for the harp girl, her harp kept falling out of tune and she kept having to tune it in the middle of her performance! what a brave girl to hang in there!’ and you were just flipping the pegs to get a sharp/flat. lol.

  2. It was great to have a harp-playing roommate. So much cooler than your average guitar-mangling or banjo-plucking roommates…
    Also, surfers making harps? Hilarious!

  3. nostalgia
    Oh- that picture! I like to think in some other reality, the barn still looks like that, and people are still reveling in good music and company. (sigh.) I realized the allure of the harp for a young person had to do with the scale. A tidy, petite harp was the thing for a little girl, but you did your best with the bigger version for long enough to be ensnared.
    What got you hooked later, was that I bought one for myself first- that made it truly alluring. (Glad it wasn’t a motorcycle, though your dad would have been thrilled.)
    If anybody on this blog is interested, I have a Triplett wire strung folk harp- gorgeous cherry wood, that needs a home. Sounds like bells ringing. You can ask Caitlyn. It is for sale, yes, it is. Cheers!

  4. nostalgia

    Oh- that picture! I like to think in some other reality, the barn still looks like that, and people are still reveling in good music and company. (sigh.) I realized the allure of the harp for a young person had to do with the scale. A tidy, petite harp was the thing for a little girl, but you did your best with the bigger version for long enough to be ensnared.

    What got you hooked later, was that I bought one for myself first- that made it truly alluring. (Glad it wasn’t a motorcycle, though your dad would have been thrilled.)

    If anybody on this blog is interested, I have a Triplett wire strung folk harp- gorgeous cherry wood, that needs a home. Sounds like bells ringing. You can ask Caitlyn. It is for sale, yes, it is. Cheers!

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