In the last few months the FHF! has published some articles with the memories people have of harp builder Hans den Brok. It got me thinking, so here I’d like to share my story.
In 2001 I moved from Maastricht, where I studied, to Elst, the surroundings I grew up in. I was in the last year of my conservatory studies and that meant I didn’t have many classes anymore. My schedule was mostly harp lessons and an internship, which I took at the music school of Nijmegen.
It did not take me long to get to know Hans den Brok from Andelst, a village very near to where I lived. Although I had been playing the harp for many years and lived in the area as well, I never got around to see the harps he made. But since I wanted to start teaching, it was time to buy myself a lever harp, and that is when I met Hans. I had been looking for a harp for a while, but could not find any that I liked, until I saw what Hans made.
At that point in time Hans mostly made two harp models. I went to try them out one afternoon and soon found he had a wealth of knowledge that he loved to share. He told me about building harps, showed me where he made them and gave me more than enough time to try the harps he had there. I was sold; a harp by a Dutch harp maker with a beautiful sound; what more could a harpist want?
Through the years I was a regular visitor to Hans and his wife. Sometimes with my students, to look for a harp for them, other times for social visits. Hans always offered interesting conversation, whether about the new instruments he was making, the harp models he was always trying to improve upon, or just about music in general.
Hans was well known in the folk world, a world that was all new to me but I was very interested in. He played many instruments (which he made himself) in different groups and it meant he had a widely spread network of musicians. Music from South America was his passion.
My own interest in folk music started when I visited Wales, where I got introduced to the concept of Eisteddfod (festivals centered around literature and music). Returned from that trip I had tried finding CDs with folk music from Wales in the local library. It turned out to be almost impossible, but what I did find was Irish folk music which started a new passion.
Through Hans I got asked to play in a band: Gwyddle. Charles Kosman was the founder of this band and I found later that he had played together with many harpists. It was all new to me, but more than anything exciting and challenging. The little I knew about playing chords I had learned in a few lessons on bandwork that we had at the conservatory, in which we arranged pop songs for each other to play on guitar and piano. I had tried playing some of those arrangements on the harp, but it had stopped at experimenting. The little I knew turned out to be of big use, because Charles asked me to write my own accompaniments. It stimulated me enormously to see making music in a different way.
The news that Hans was sick and would not have long to live was a big shock. I remember it all went very fast. Hans had still wanted to take a trip to South America, but it would not become reality anymore. The harps he was building were finished as well as he could.
One afternoon I visited him and he asked me to play the latest model harp he had built, a replica of a pedal harp from the early 1800 (of which he had made a lever harp model). He had gotten the measurements from a harp of one of my fellow harpists. After I played he said ‘I think that this is probably the best model I have made’. I ended up playing the harp and the song on his cremation.
Now, almost 10 years since his passing, Hans is still very much present in my everyday life. Firstly because of his harps, which I play almost every day but also because every once in a while I meet someone who knew Hans, from the harp world or the music world. What gets me is how many lives he touched, people simple when they tell me about his enthusiasm and his beautiful harps.
For those among you who never got a chance to meet him, but would like to know who I am talking about, his daughter has put some lovely videos (of his TV performances in the 80’s) on YouTube, which I would like to share with you here: