From the blog

Playing (harp) outside

It’s summer again, which means that here in the Netherlands there is a good chance of nice weather. It means that many of my students tell me there is little time to study: the temptation of going outside wins over the temptation of making music. But what if those two things could be combined?
Over the year I have been outside with my harp quite a bit, in many different circumstances (with a  lap harp, a 36 string lever harp and my pedal harp).  I remember a vacation on the river Vecht near Ommen, where I could sit beneath a canopy of leaves while the river flowed past in the shimmering heat.
In Avebury (England) with a harp outside near a tree on a hill, the wind made the strings sing in magical harmony.
Fantasiafest where we played in the burning sun and the audience sat listening to us on bales of hay and danced along, or in Nijmegen where people came up to me to have a chat.
During midsummer celebrations with my friends, singing with harp accompaniment at the campfire, while I tried to place the harp so that sparks couldn’t get at it.
More recently a special experience playing at a funeral at natural cemetery Heidepol, where it was very cold but the family was so thankful for the special solace the live harp music gave them…

Playing outside is something special, your instrument sounds and feels different. I would greatly recommend you try it, but I know many people who don’t dare try it because of their expensive instrument. So here are a few tips that might make it a bit more doable for you to play outside (in the summer):

  • Look for a place that lets you sit in the shade; if that is impossible then stick to the rules for sunbathing. This is not only important for yourself, but also for your harp! (minus the sunscreen…) Harps are made of wood and held together with nails/screws and glue. When glue gets too hot it can stop working properly, wood can expand or shrink. Don’t let your harp be in the sun too long!
    Never leave your harp in your car on a hot day, the temperature will rise faster inside your car than outside and your harp will be cooked.
  • Make sure you have a good transportation cover for your harp. A thick cover will make sure your harp can withstand a jog. Keep the cover at hand on the place you are playing at so you can get it at the slightest notion of rain (or with too much sunshine). You could also place the cover in front of you while you play with some change on it (like a guitar case) in hopes that people might give you some more.
  • Take one or more big trash bags. You can open them and put them over your harp cover in case of sudden heavy rainfall. Or you can put them on damp ground. Like I said before: wood expands and contracts, especially when in damp circumstances so don’t stay in a damp environment for too long and make sure you dry your harp thoroughly as soon as possible (but do not place it next to the heater!).
  • Make sure you have an indoor place you can get to quickly. This can be your car, a shop or even a covered bicycle storage (this is the Netherlands). If you get asked to play outside for a wedding for instance, always ask for their contingency plan with bad weather. Let them know your instrument can’t be in the rain or stand in the sun for too long.
  • Make sure you have a parking space close to where you’re playing. Carrying a harp for a long distance isn’t good for your back and shoulders unless your harp is very light. I swear by my harpo. This trolley is amazing and it makes it possible to transport both my pedal and lever harp without any effort even over a longer distance.
  • If your plan is to play in a city centre, make sure you know what the rules are for street musicians in that city. Some cities (like Nijmegen) will let you play outside acoustically under certain conditions, other cities will let you buy a permit. Keep in mind that policies can change according to circumstance, like when there are events going on (in Nijmegen you need a permit to play during the four day walk).
  • It can be handy to have something to sit on or set your harp on when you want to stand. I made a crate for myself that lets me sit or stand behind my harp, but you can also use anything available at the location like tree stubs or benches. In case of the latter it can be advised to check out the space in advance so you know if you need to bring anything.
    Relying on a place to sit that is available where you play means you aren’t going to be able to have a specific height for your seat. Sometimes it can be good to bring a pillow along.
  • Make a bag (backpack is ideal) in which you put anything you might possibly need: something to drink/eat, sunscreen/hat, tuning key and tuner, your business card or flyer for promotion and keeping in touch with people you meet, a little container for people to put their change in, clothespins for when it’s windy (a hair elastic can be handy to bring too), maybe your music stand and sheet music, maybe a pencil and paper (you never know).
  • Lastly: your mobile phone can be handy in case of emergency, but also to check the weather.

Hopefully I was able to help you on your with to take your instrument outside. If you still feel like you don’t want to take you expensive instrument outside, but you would love to try making music outside, you can always consider buying a toss-and-fling-harp (as someone once put it to me). An inexpensive small harp or an old used instrument could fulfil this role.

Have you ever played outside or are you planning on playing outside this summer? I would love to hear about your experiences.

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