Here’s a riddle for you:
What can go up or down but never side to side, can be like a gale-force wind or a whisper of a breeze, and is easy to do when you don’t know how and much harder when you do?
I’ll bet you got it in one guess - it’s a glissando. In case you didn’t get it, here’s why a glissando is the right answer.
The first part is obvious; glissandos - or in more correct Italian, glissandi - go up or down the harp. And the second part is probably clear too; a glissando can be powerful with a majestic sweeping rush of notes, or it can be delicate and tender, just like a whisper.
The tricky part of the riddle is the third part. If you’re a harpist, though, you likely understand this one. Playing a glissando on the harp is the easiest thing in the world. Taking one finger and brushing it over the strings in a simple glissando was quite likely one of the first things you ever tried when you sat down at a harp for the very first time. It’s so simple and it’s sublime at the same time. You run a finger across the strings and the harp sings. It’s effortless and amazing.
But if you’re like most of us, that was the last easy glissando you played. Once you started learning the harp, you learned that there are special techniques for playing a glissando, and that you have to count them and end on the right note and keep an even tone from the beginning to the end while you’re changing the dynamic and more. Figuring out how to play them from the markings on the page can be difficult, not to mention the complications of levers and pedals. It’s no wonder some harpists avoid them if at all possible.
Avoiding them is not the answer. Harp glissandi are part of the unique voice of the harp. No other instrument can imitate them. No other effect has as much power to set a musical scene or create the right atmosphere or energy. Glissandi are glorious, and so much fun to play.
Whether you are a veteran gliss-er or a newbie to the glissando world, I want to share the 7 ingredients of a glorious gliss with you today so that you can make this special kind of harp magic and find your bliss in the gliss.
Links to things I think you might be interested in that were mentioned in the podcast episode:
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