Playing the harp was always a secret childhood dream of mine, like riding horses. Both were prohibitively expensive (I grew up in NW London, when horse riding was realistically accessible only to the upper- and upper-middle classes). I never voiced the desire to do either to my parents, because a child knows when not to push their luck. When I was eleven my parents bought me a piano, which given that I did not grow up in a musical household was extremely generous. As well as being a dream come true, it was the catalyst for both the genesis of my composing career aged twelve and my sister’s singing-songwriting debut several years later. As a teenager I had several friends who played the harp. Despite having a magical, entrancing sound, it was a big, cumbersome instrument and ferried around in large cars by their respective parents in all respects A Faff.
Fast-forward many years later. I went to visit the family of a kid I used to babysit, and while there I found out they’d been learning the harp, but didn’t like it and gave it up. This was not one of the massive monsters I had seen growing up, but a lever harp – small, nimble, portable and sweeter than any large pedal harp could be, as it had no need to compromise on sound for volume like the orchestral harp. Although I understood that it wasn’t for them, I can remember thinking, “this kid had the chance to learn the harp and they just gave it up!” The realisation that I was now an adult and could do whatever the hell I wanted came a little while after when I was at dinner with my friend Di who also played the lever harp. Suddenly that pipe dream I’d forgotten about was not only tangible but achievable. By then, I’d been immersed in the world of folk music for many years so I understood the role that the lever harp played in the context of its music. So I went off to make it happen, and just over two years later managed to nab that grade 8 I’d desperately wanted as a kid but was never good enough on any other instrument to get.
I did a lot of self-teaching, but found an excellent harp teacher to keep me on the right track and help me with the grades. My teacher rented me my first harp for a few months which was nice but kind of bland in tone. I was on the lookout for a harp of my own. Unfortunately, the opportunity to try lots of different harp models in the UK only rolls around once a year in April at the Edinburgh Harp festival, which was almost a year away. So in the meantime I found myself a nice little Fountain harp, the twin of Di’s. Di’s harp was called Henriette, so I named mine Juliette. I eventually sold her on to a nice home once I found my perfect dream harp in April, but I have very fond memories of Juliette from that year. Juliette is the harp that is featured in the photo that I use everywhere (the one where it looks like I am in the middle of a forest. Which I was, but it was totally unposed, I promise). While I had her, I wrote a nice little duet for me and my boyfriend at the time to play, and named it after my sweet little first harp. The duet was written for clarinet and harp but works for any treble solo instrument and both harp (lever and pedal) and piano can accompany it. We never did anything much with it, but it’s still nice to have. Maybe one day I’ll turn it into something bigger. In the meantime, here is the track to listen to.
The sheet music is also on sale for anyone looking for a nice duet or accompanied solo. Scored music is provided for the Bb clarinet, flute and violin and accompaniment for harp and piano, and sheet music for other instruments is available on request.
Oh and I eventually got to ride horses too. Adulthood sucks, but there are some perks.
I think I’ll go play my harp…