Musicians modernizing sound of heavenly harp
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Tuesday, January 19, 1999 11:02:35 AM EST
(CNN) -- The harp is perhaps one of the oldest instruments still able to hold a modern-day audience's attention -- to say nothing of its ability to entrance anyone who hears it. But when you strike up a conversation with a harpist these days, don't suggest that harp music is stagnating.
"The harp has been everywhere, in every culture," admits harpist Deborah Henson-Conant, a member of the Belfast Harp Orchestra. "I think of the harp as the instrument that went into battle, the instrument that sang about love, the instrument of the bards. I mean the harp has been there.
"So for me," she continues, "this is the image that I want to bring back -- the harp as a living instrument. Not as, 'OK, maybe the angels played it,' but, you better be sure they're up there rocking and rolling as well as playing angelic music."
BHO colleague Rudiger Opperman, just one of a body of Celtic artists who use the harp in their original pieces, agrees with Henson-Conant's "harp as living instrument" tenet. Opperman invented a mechanism allowing him to draw electric guitar-like sounds out of his dragon-headed harp. "This is different, isn't it?" he asks, demonstrating.
"We harpists do not live in the past," Opperman says. "We live nowadays. Some of us listen to rock music. Some of us listen to jazz music. Some people go dancing. We don't just try to pretend as if we are bands from 800 years ago."
Lest you think these artists are alone in their work, World Beat brings you the sights and sounds of a variety of musicians bringing new material into the harp music repertoire, in part two of World Beat's in-depth look at Celtic music.