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#161: String Strategies for Summertime or Anytime

music and meaning Jun 17, 2024

They say that only two things in life are certain, death and taxes. But if you’re a harpist you know there is a third certainty; at some point, often at the wrong point, you’re going to break a string.

I remember one performance with my flutist friend Joan when one of my high strings broke as I played it at the end of a glissando near the end of the piece we were playing. When we had finished the piece, I began to change the string while she joked with the audience that the string had broken on time and in tune. We had been playing concerts together for years at that point so she also gave the harp talk to the audience while I finished changing and tuning the string. 

Not all string breakage is so convenient, of course. A few years ago, I was playing a big flashy solo piece as part of a program with various performers.  The piece was Salzedo’s “Variations on a Theme in the Old Style,” The piece is in G Major and it’s about 12 minutes long. I was less than a minute into the piece when I broke the last string I would have expected to break, the lowest wire G string on the harp. In many pieces, that wouldn’t have been an issue, but this string was part of every variation from beginning to end, and in fact, was in the last chord of the piece. It was critical. 

Two thoughts flashed simultaneously through my mind. First, I’m going to have to stop and fix this string. Second, I had not only broken a string, but I had broken the most important rule for any harpist playing anywhere. Instead of having all my strings with me backstage, I had left my wire string set in my car which was in the parking garage a couple of blocks away. Not good. 

While a broken string is a fact of every harpist’s life, it doesn’t have to be a disaster, even in a performance, as long as you have the right replacement string and you know how to tie the all-important knot. On today’s show, we’ll review string care, string storage, the different kinds of strings and which to choose for your harp, and I’ll even give you some knot-tying tips. All of these are really important as we here in the northern hemisphere come into high summer, which is a season of high string breakage.

But how did I resolve my broken string dilemma?  Here’s a hint: it was solved in a most surprising and simple way and without running to the parking garage. I’ll tell you the whole story later in the show. As they say, stay tuned!

Links to things I think you might be interested in that were mentioned in the podcast episode: 

Get involved in the show! Send your questions and suggestions for future podcast episodes to me at [email protected] 


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