Lessons & Carols on double-strung wire harp

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We’ve selected the carols and Christmas hymns we’ll be singing for Lessons & Carols at our church on December 31st. Most of these will be played on the pipe organ and I’ll be accompanying on my double-strung wire harp.

The collection this year will be: (from the Episcopal Hymnal 1982)

  • Once in Royal David’s City – 102
  • Creator of the Stars of Night – 60
  • Hark! the glad sound! the Savior comes – 72
  • Rejoice! Rejoice, believers – 68
  • Lo, how a rose e’er blooming – 81
  • O, little town of Bethlehem – 79
  • Away in a manger – 101
  • What child is this – 115
  • While shepherds watched their flocks by night – 95
  • Angels we have heard on high – 96
  • We three kings – 128
  • O come, all ye faithful – 83
  • Go tell it on the mountain – 99
double strung

Double-strung wire harp

Playing them from the hymnal can be a little distracting, if you’re not used to ignoring the four-part harmony and just concentrating on the soprano line to learn the melody. Also keep in mind that the hymnal arrangements are designed for congregational singing but might not go so well for instruments (like wire harps).

A few of these are available in Sylvia Woods’ Christmas harp book. I just play the simpler arrangements, since wire harps have richer overtones¬†than nylon-strung harps and ring on much longer. I also play fewer chords than suggested and stick to thirds and single note melodies and counterpoint accompaniment, when possible.

Since I have a full set of Truitt sharping levers on both sides, I can deal with accidental notes without having to flip a lever in midstream. Set the lever to the raised sharp position on one side, leave it off on the other and then just remember to play that # that comes up in the middle of your piece on one side and go right back to the natural note on the the other.

The double-strung wire harp also has a very echoing quality, so that if the strings are slightly detuned from one another, about one or two cents, they shimmer. If you play the same melody on each side of the harp, but just slightly delayed so that one hand leads the melody ahead of the other, the shimmering is especially beautiful. But be careful not to overdo it!

Lastly, playing a single clear outline of the melody on one rank (or side) of the harp, followed by a clear counterpoint on the other side (can be an improvised descant), is a very effective way of presenting Christmas hymns and carols!

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