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The Harp: A Global Story Of Man, Music, And Medicine

Entering the Museum of Making Music you understand the meaning of the word cacophony as a roomful of children play a vast array of musical instruments and chat loudly with each other.

By Beth Accomando, KPBS.org

The Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad is sponsored by NAMM, the National Association of Music Merchants. This weekend they open The Harp: A Global Story Of Man, Music, And Medicine.

Entering the Museum of Making Music you understand the meaning of the word cacophony as a roomful of children play a vast array of musical instruments and chat loudly with each other.

"This is not a quiet museum," says executive director Carolyn Grant with a smile, "We have a tour of 60 children coming through today. We want people to get hands on with real instruments."

Like the harp, which is the focus of the museum’s latest exhibit.

"We describe a harp as a sound board with strings perpendicular to the sound board," says Grant.

As opposed to a guitar where the strings are parallel to the soundboard. The exhibit takes us from a replica of an ancient Egyptian harp to Celtic harps with metal strings to a 1776 French harp from the court of Marie Antoinette to a modern electric harp designed for musician Deborah Henson-Conant by the French company Camac Harps.

"I want this exhibition to pique somebody’s curiosity, whet somebody’s appetite," enthuses Grant, "This isn’t a comprehensive history of the harp, it’s little tidbits that show this human need, desire, to communicate, to make music, it’s part of what makes us human."

Tidbits like discovering how the Spanish brought the Bible and the harp to South America where the elite instrument was transformed into a folk instrument for cowboys.

"We look at what we like to call the cycle of music making," explains Grant, "What is the need that arose to create this musical instrument. How did manufacturers, engineers, craftsmen respond to that need. How did the playing of the instrument change over the years. What genres were engendered by musical instruments. What did composers do with instruments, and the other side of that how did composers push development of musical instruments, and then finally what is the ultimate result of all that work, all that activity that ultimately results in music making."

All those questions and more are answered at the Museum of Making Music’s harp exhibit. The exhibit runs through September. There will be a concert on opening night this Saturday, March 23.

And I will leave you with my introduction to the harp, it was through Harpo Marx. Not only was he a comic genius, but he was pretty darn good on the harp as well and whenever he played, I was always entranced.

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