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Who Knew? My Ancestors Helped Build America

Did you know I am an 11th generation New Worlder? Me either!

It wasn’t until much later in life that I learned about my genealogy, connecting me to several founding families of America. My parents weren’t into that stuff, and it was a random internet search that led me to find that my grandmother, Rose Calkins, came from an old founding family. It’s for her that I named my teaching studio – Rosalani Harp & Music Academy.

Our family, Hugh and Anne Calkins, landed on these shores in either 1638 or 1640. Their grandson Hugh II built a home in Norwich, CT with his second wife Lois Standish, granddaughter of Captain Myles Standish of the Mayflower.

The Calkins history is deeply embedded in our country’s history with this home, built in the “Colony of Connecticut” as land records were recorded at that time.  Hugh died in 1722, long before the Revolutionary War when we became the United States. Our ancestors literally helped build our great nation.

Hugh II’s Norwich home was recently slated for demolition. However, the Norwich Historical Society and Preservation Connecticut have stepped up and will be working with the Calkins Family Association to bring Hugh’s home back to its original structure.  The plan is to make it a public education center, research library, and museum staffed by volunteers.

I have not been to Connecticut, nor have I see, any of the well-known family sites. But if you live nearby Norwich, I can send you the address and you can stop by – well when we are able to move around again.

Did Hugh and Anne, or Hugh II play the harp? I’ll have to dig into family history to find out.

Why are Harps so Expensive?

What makes harps such expensive instruments?

If you’re like most people, you enjoy the sound of the harp – the sweeping glissando musically announces the arrival of magic, fairies, dreams and goddesses. But if you’ve ever looked into what a harp costs – you might feel that magical feeling slipping away. I always tell new students and parents: “Playing harp is not a cheap sport.”

Yes, you can buy very inexpensive harps on Amazon. I did. But within months, I learned what most harp teachers know – you get what you pay for. The cheap Amazon-purchased harp had a dense thudding sound, and it wasn’t long before the levers were not holding anymore.

So truly, an entry level harp is going to start around $700-$1000 or more. Gasp! And when you look at concert harps…they cost as much as a small car, upwards of $20,000 or more.

But why? Why are harps so expensive? In short, each one is a delicate, hand-made piece of artwork, made by a craftsman/woman who has been honing their trade for decades. In some cases, for generations.

Let’s take a look at a couple of harp-making shops: Lyon&Healy in Chicago makes high-end harps for harpists all around the world. In 2019, they opened their tours to the public for the first time – before, only performing harpists could go. Now you can see how concert harps are made in a factory setting, from the comfort of your sofa.

Lyon&Healy Harps: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Q57owlLmwQ

Maybe owning a concert harp is not for you, and instead you’d rather a more affordable option – a Celtic harp (aka Lever Harp). These harps are smaller, lighter, and less complicated than concert harps. But as you can see in this video, it’s still an artistic process.

How A Celtic Harp Is Made: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBQF0JaHJuA

What’s your favorite kind of harp? Have you been to a harp store or factory? What was your experience seeing how harps are made? Can you see how each one is unique, hand-made, and therefore expensive?

Top 5 Best Music Learning Apps for Harp, Piano and Voice Lessons

When I was a kid, learning music was a matter of an instrument, a book and a teacher. And if I was lucky, friends who wanted to practice together. 

These days, there are so many wonderful learning apps that I use in my daily lessons with my students, and I wanted to share a few of them with you:

  1. METRONOME

Every musician needs a metronome to speed up and slow down time in music for practicing. I use the Pro Metronome app, which allows you to change the speed, change the type of notes that get counted, create unusual rhythms, and store different songs for practice later. You can also change the sound of the metronome; some of my students find traditional metronome sounds painful. Because this is an app, you can wear earphones or earbuds for practicing, which makes the clicks easier to hear and follow. 

Apple: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/pro-metronome-tempo-beat-subdivision-polyrhythm/id477960671

Google Play: 

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.eumlab.android.prometronome&hl=en_US

 

  1. NOTE READING

It’s true that you can spend an entire lifetime as a totally fulfilled musician and never read a note of music. My father actually hid the fact that he could not read music until the very end of his life. But if you want a deeper experience of music, then learning to read music is your ticket into a wonderful world of composers and their thinking. 

I love the Music Tutor app because you can set it to test you on Treble Clef, Bass Clef, Treble and Bass together – and for those who need it, Alto Clef (you know who you are!). One of my ingenious students figured out that if you play in Airplane Mode, you don’t see the ads. Clever!

Apple:

https://apps.apple.com/us/app/music-tutor-sight-reading/id514363426

Google Play:

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.jsplash.musictutor&hl=en_US

 

  1. NOTE READING AND MUSIC THEORY

One of my favorite note reading and music theory game sites is MusicTheory.net. It has been around forever, and has evolved into a wonderful tool. Again, just a few minutes each day will make a big difference in a short time. There are free and paid tools. 

https://www.musictheory.net/

 

  1. PRACTICING WITH THE MASTERS

In Victor Wooten’s excellent book, The Music Lesson, he suggests that you “jam with the masters.” While it’s probably not possible to get most masters to come to your home, you do have access to thousands of recordings that you can learn from. 

But what if the master you are listening to plays the piece too fast? Or in another key? 

Answer: The Amazing Slow-Downer app. You can import almost any song into the Amazing Slow Downer, and slow down the song to a pace you can play without changing the pitch or key. You can also change the pitch or key without changing the speed of the song. And you can create loops, little bits of the song that need more practice. That way you can practice with the loop without hunting for it each time. 

Apple: 

https://apps.apple.com/us/app/amazing-slow-downer/id308998718

Google Play: 

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.ronimusic.asd&hl=en_US

 

  1. PRACTICING WITH YOURSELF 

Once you have mastered working with the Amazing Slow Downer, it’s time to use yourself as the master. Using a simple Voice Memo app, you can record just your left hand, and then play the right hand with your recording. And vice-versa. It’s a great way to train your ears to hear correct rhythms while keeping the playing simple

Apple: 

https://apps.apple.com/us/app/voice-memos/id1069512134

Google Play:

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.skl.voicememos&hl=en_US

 

What’s your favorite music learning app? Post a comment, and I’ll go test it with my students and let you know what we think. 

Keep practicing! 

 

Every Harp Life Has a Backstage

Most people enjoy harp music, but they also never have a reason to think about what happens when a harpist is NOT playing music. You might be surprised to find that it’s pretty ordinary business operations, done in the service of the harps and music.

On any given morning, you might find me

  • Racing to write a blog post for my social media guy. I occasionally get ahead and get blog posts written and scheduled. But when I’m touring and traveling, that gets harder. 
  • Rescheduling student lessons, which happens nearly every week 
  • Following up with student notes, checking their performance and exam schedules and planning their lessons accordingly. 
  • Practicing! Both piano and harp. 
  • Planning for the next holiday season. 
  • Invoicing students and venues. Chasing down slower payers. 
  • Going to networking events. 
  • Continuing to meet venue owners, caterers and event planners. 

While I often get to wear fancy dresses and high heels, there’s the backstage that has to be running smoothly for the performance and teaching pieces to be also delivering the value that I hope, too.

 

What makes harps such expensive instruments?

Harps are expensive because it requires a lot of highly skilled, manual labour, are often made to order. You truly get what you pay for when it comes to harps, and good ones run from $1000 to $25,000 and up for fancy pedal harps. 

 

On both Celtic and pedal harps, the pillars/posts are often hand carved. The in pedal harps linkages in pedal harps must be hand laid, and all 90+ sharping disks must be installed and adjusted by a human being. Check out the video below to see this delicate manufacturing work…

 

Hand fitted inlay makes the high end harps glow with beauty. Hand burnished gold leaf shines, and the careful tuning of these string tension all require human touch. 

 

Skilled hands have a great advantage over computerized machinery for crafting harps that are beautiful, durable, and sound amazing. 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Q57owlLmwQ

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