I recently became obsessed with harps. Did you know that there are essentially two types: lever and pedal harps? And that those mechanisms affect the repertoire you can play? And that if you want to play classical music compositions (or just have the ability to change keys and play different sharps and flats mid-song), you’ll want a pedal harp and that those harps start at about $12,000? And also that some of the very best harps in the world are made right here in Chicago (Lyon & Healy harps), less than 10 miles from my house?
I know all of these things now. And so do you!
I have never actually played a harp. I have never touched the strings. (Gut strings! Another thing you and I now know! They break often and can cost $50 for a single string.) But I do assume I would be a natural. And I know exactly where a harp would go in my house. Right in front of the built-in bookshelves in “the library,” which would also now be known as “the music room.” Pretentious.
Harpists don’t use their pinkies while playing. Another fun fact for you!
We do already have a decent collection of instruments in the double parlor. A banjolele, acoustic guitar, ukulele, and banjo hang on one wall in the library. Beneath the red console in the living room, we have an electric guitar, amp, accordion, autoharp, and clarinet, along with a small keyboard and a basket of kid-friendly instruments.
I like to think I can play all of them, but I’m a dabbler. I’m best with the ukulele. (But not as good as I would be with a harp, am I right?)
I know logically that $12K for an instrument I’ve never played is not a wise impulse purchase. Lyon & Healy has a harp rental program, a rent to own option, and a generous trade-in/upgrade policy. They’re beautiful instruments, some consisting of more than 1500 parts, that take skill and craftsmanship to make. I understand the pricing, but it does give reason for pause.
So in my research and FB Marketplace browsing, I ended up with a used digital piano instead.
It sounds amazing. It’s a Roland FP-30 with weighted touch-sensitive keys and “SuperNATURAL sound” that really does feel and sound like an acoustic piano, complete with slightly off notes at either far end. But it is not beautiful, and it is especially unattractive on its stand.
I had an idea — several ideas, really — to jazz up the base. They came to me as I was falling asleep and I made sure to write them down in my Notes app so that I would not forget come morning.
Solid ideas. I was thinking paper mache, or perhaps the foam core collage technique I used to make my 6-foot insects? I think there’s something there. ↓
Actually, the ideal aesthetic upgrade would be to convert an upright acoustic piano. It would be a ton of work. I don’t really have room for a piano though! Only a lovely freestanding harp. (Or unsightly keyboard.)
I don’t know how to play piano properly, but the person we bought it from included the book he had been using to learn. I’ve been teaching myself how to play from it and getting used to reading music again. Maybe I’ll revisit this whole harp idea some day after I’ve gone and gotten really good at the piano. I hear the skills are somewhat transferrable.
CyndiAugust 3, 2022 at 2:34 pm
Lots of new things I learned about musical instruments from your article. I own a cello and a piano. And have learned a lot about these two instruments as well. My lowest string on my cello costs about $300 to replace. You can find cellos from $100 to $100,000 and up. Some people don’t know what they are selling so you could luck out with a better instrument for cheap. Best thing is to find a good shop or luthier. Chicago is full of good luthiers in case the need arises.
Pianos can be really cheap! My friend had a grand piano and came across a rebuilt Steinway that she wanted to move up to. She couldn’t sell her old piano. She couldn’t give it away either!!! There are tons of pianos on the market. There are so many evidently, lots just get tossed because they can’t be re-homed. Lots of old uprights are made of beautiful wood. It might be something you could put your keyboard in as the innards of an old piano might be beyond repair. Or with some looking you might be able to find a decent piano that someone needs to get rid of for free. Moving a piano isn’t cheap but in my experience you need a piano mover to move a piano to avoid damage. Still only would be a minor cost to a new piano. Fun fact! The legs on a grand piano are “wedged” on. They aren’t screwed on. And grand pianos are easier to move than upright or spinet.
So I now own my friend’s grand piano that I never dreamed I could afford. I got a good deal on it. Not quite free. It will be passed down to my son who is already thinking they don’t want a grand piano. Hopefully I’ll be gone by that time!
One more thing, people make incredible things out of old piano cases; bars, bookcases, storage units.
TaraAugust 4, 2022 at 2:56 pm
I gave away my beautiful teal upright piano in anticipation of a move and not having enough room for it in the future house. My husband bought a keyboard to help me sooth the loss. But we are in the same boat. My brainstorm which we have not implemented but might work for you too is to build a pull out drawer in a bookcase. You could pull it out like a desk drawer, play, and then tuck it back to bed once you are done.
LaurLouAugust 4, 2022 at 3:44 pm
This was delightful. I am wholeheartedly along for this musical dream-fest!
JudyAugust 4, 2022 at 5:02 pm
Somehow I lost you,
I assumed you had become so busy with family etc that you had stopped for awhile.. I am 82 now and so happy u popped back into my life. I always found you fascinating, so unique and still following your own personal “yellow brick road” except in your case it would be much a path of a completely different “color”!
KacyAugust 5, 2022 at 8:32 am
I feel a guitarlele would not be out of place in your acoustic collection. Something to consider!