There is perhaps no sweeter sounding music than from a well-played harp. From classical and religious through Celtic, folk and show music to even pop and jazz, the range of music possible is almost as wide as on a piano. That’s not to say that every wedding harpist will cover all those styles, each one will specialise in their own type of music and enjoy playing one or two more and, then again, not all harps are suitable for all musical genres.
Different Types of Harps
There are two main categories of harp, the Concert or Peddle Harp can change key while it’s being played like a piano. It’s large, complex and heavy, usually looks magnificent and can cost more than a family car! Peddle Harps are perfect for classical music and can be used to play almost anything but they are big and cumbersome to transport and a hassle to move about within a venue (say from ceremony to the suite where the cocktails are served).
All other harps can be called Folk Harps and the diversity of design and size is extraordinary because harps have been played for many centuries in countries all over the world and each culture has come up with a design to suit its music. The most widely played in the U.K. is the Celtic Harp, also known and a Clarsach (Clar-shuch), Irish or Scottish Small Harp. This the harp you’re most likely to hear at a wedding other than the Peddle Harp. It’s still a sizable and impressive instrument and can project its often softer, warmer voice nearly as well as its classical cousin. It’s perfectly suited to to Celtic and folk music and, in skilled hands, can also take on less complex classical pieces, hymns, show tunes and pop music.
Quite often you’ll find a harpist who owns both types and they’ll ask a higher fee for playing the classical harp due to the expense and trouble of transporting it, not to mention the greater risk of damaging their very valuable instrument.
The harp is ideal for welcoming your guests into the church or venue for 20 minutes or so before the ceremony begins and perfect for music during the ceremony. See my article on wedding ceremony music for what you need to know and ideas to think about. A classical harp and many folk harps will be loud enough to be heard by everyone for the processional and recessional and both can accompany any hymns unless you have more than 80 to 100 guests.
As a background to your champagne reception harp music is unobtrusive yet brings a glow of sophistication and warmth that few other instruments can offer and obviously takes up less room than a string quartet or trio in venues where space is at a premium.
The harp also combines beautifully with melody instruments like flute or violin to offer a range of duo options which can give a brighter and more varied overall sound. You should expect to pay about the same for one of these harp duos as for a string quartet which are extraordinarily good value these days due to the appallingly low fees paid by orchestras to classical musicians.
Solo harp will cost anything from £150 – £300 Clarsach or £260 – £350 Peddle Harp for an hour (pre-ceremony and ceremony) whereas you could pay as little as little as £200 or as much as £450 for a full three hours to take in champagne reception as well.
There is harp music to suit almost every taste and harpists available in almost very part of the country. Be soothed, be enchanted, listen to more harp music!