Playing the harp standing up

2017 has been the year where I entered the wonderful world of playing the harp standing up!

One of the reasons I decided to take my little purple harp to Tokyo was because I wanted to play standing up. Before coming to Tokyo, I had owned my little harpsicle harp for a couple of years and it had been great to take with me to low key gigs, but I hadn’t been brave enough to perform standing with it yet. But if I was going to go through the trouble of bringing a harp to Tokyo I was going to bloody well learn!

Julia Mascetti metal harp
with my band Gjoll at Shinjuku Antiknock

After all metal is more effective when you can jump around a bit…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
I bought a guitar strap from the Yamaha shop in Ginza and started experimenting. The main problem I had was one of angle – I like to have to the straps tight-ish so the harp close to my body and I don’t have to lean down, but I’ve found that if I get it into optimum position, the strings are out of eye-line? This is fine for simple songs I know well, but I can’t imagine sight reading standing up or attempting pieces with a lot of lever changes for this reason. I’m still working on this issue and if there are any veteran standing harpists out there I would love to hear your tips! Nevertheless, as I play standing mostly when I’m accompanying myself singing it hasn’t been a big problem. I’m just sticking to basic arrangements and gradually gaining confidence as I perform standing more and more.

For my recent EP release party and other ‘big important gigs,’ as well as events I’m booked for, I still go for the bigger celtic harp but I am enjoying the freedom of being able to play standing up when I want to. I find I can connect with the audience in different ways when I can walk and move more and I can breathe really well and project my singing voice. I’m always using for ways to break new ground and expand my musicality, and this has been an enjoyable one!

If you have tried playing your instrument in a different way, please let me know how it went!

Julia Mascetti harp Cheshmeh

Taking my Harpsicle Harp on a Plane to Tokyo

“Don’t, whatever you do, put your harp in the hold.”
The advice of pretty much every musician ever.

As both an expat and a harpist, my life choices have not exactly made things easy in terms of moving my stuff around. Once last year I did a gig as solely a vocalist and it was incredible. No faffing about with taxis, no desperate attempts to take my harp on public transport. I actually went to the pub afterwards and didn’t have to ask in Japanese if they have a back room where I can put my lever harp while I drank with the band. My old car made things a lot easier but I sold him to come to Japan. I also have a beautiful pedal harp being rented out 6000 miles from here that I pine for occasionally but getting her out here is next to impossible.

Taking my harpsicle on a plane though, would not be impossible. For those who don’t know, harpsicles are small harps that you can carry around with you, are often painted in fun colours and you can plug them in easily. I have one, it’s purple and I love it. I could think of so many uses for it in my Tokyo life – on stage with my metal band so I could perform standing, in my work as a Kindermusik teacher and any casual rehearsal where I could get away without the faff of moving my large lever harp.

On their website, Harpsicle® Harps describe how professionals have started using their harpsicles as their “travel harp,” “the one they can toss into the airline overhead while their big harp is trapped in a massive harp travel trunk.” So I was hopeful that I could take my harp on the plane with me on my flight from London Heathrow to Tokyo Haneda. I looked on some flight and music forums and found that people had had very mixed experiences taking their harpsicles on planes and I started to be more concerned. I really didn’t want to be in a situation where I had presumed that it would be allowed on with me and then be turned away at security – with the choice of either leaving my harp behind or chucking it into the hold with only a soft case (which is NOT an option at all).

So I called British Airways, gave them my harpsicle’s dimensions and asked if it could come with me in the cabin. The short answer was no and the long answer was no. I didn’t have a hard case as Harpsicle® Harps don’t make them and I didn’t wanted to spend the money required for a custom made case as it would probably cost more than the harp.

So my Dad and I set about making a cardboard construction to keep my baby harp safe in the hold.

First we wrapped the harp and its softcase in  4 layers of bubble wrap…
harpsicle harp bubble wrap plane

Then we constructed cardboard around the harp. Making it so it fit tightly around the irregular shape was harder than it looks. Again we used several layers for protection.

harpsicle harp cardboard plane tokyo

Finally we used a tonne of tape and then added fragile tape and a contents label in English and Japanese.

harpsicle harp tokyo fragile
The packing process took a little more than an hour. It did occur to me that if customs told me to unwrap this I would be royally screwed. Luckily, I got through with only a few odd looks and some questions. My real concern, however, was whether my harp would be damaged. Every musician I had chatted with had looked at me in horror when I had told them my intention of putting my harp in the hold. It took me 20 minutes and 3 papercuts to free my baby harp from it’s cardboard case but when I got it out it was undamaged and even mostly in tune. Victory.

It’s been really satisfying bringing my purple harpsicle to work and rehearsals this week and I recorded my first youtube video with it in years last weekend. It’s Galway Girl by Ed Sheeran and I’m not as ashamed of this as I should be.