Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Why Harp and Sword?

I love this song. It almost became the national anthem of Ireland.
The Minstrel Boy to the war is gone
In the ranks of death you will find him
His father's sword he hath girded on
And his wild harp slung behind him
Land of Song! say the Warrior Bards
Tho' all the world betrays thee
One sword, at least, Thy Rights shall guard
One faithful harp shall praise thee!
The Minstrel fell! But the foeman's chain
Could not bring that proud soul under
The harp he lov'd ne'er spoke again
For he tore its chords asunder
And said "No chains shall sully thee
Thou soul of love and brav'ry!
Thy songs were made for the pure and free,
They shall never sound in slavery!

Harpers are not mild people. We are individualistic, anachronistic, and stubborn analog items in this increasingly digital world. In history and legend harpers have been pretty damned rowdy. King David of the bible (remember he's the guy who invented Rock and Roll, he took a rock and rolled that giant), Tristan, Galahad, Sigfried, all harpers. It used to be that skill with the harp to accompany oneself while singing or telling stories was essential to being considered a complete human being. The sentiments expressed in this old, beautiful song speak to, and for, me. The harp is, with it's cousin the lyre, the oldest of stringed instruments.

Almost every culture has harps in one form or another. Because it is so basic and so old it speaks to us on a very primal level. I have seen the sound of the harp touch people physically. I was playing at a busy shopping mall during the Christmas season. I would time and again watch people as they moved in a frenzy from store to store all of a sudden be stopped short by the sound of the harp. They would stop, breathe, and return to a more genial, human state. On my breaks I would let kids sit at the harp and touch the strings. They were captivated. When you play the harp it nestles on your shoulder. The action of playing it is like gathering the notes into your heart. It is also an unforgiving, and demanding instrument. I think that it's worth it though.

Swords are also very old. They are among the most personal of weapons. You have to get in close to use them. It takes commitment to submit to the training and discipline of the blade. I have often said that I would be fine with the return of the Code Duello in our society. Things like tort law, pissants like Karl Rove, would all be improved by allowing folks to reach for their swords when they are aggrieved. One of my favorite Presidents, Andrew Jackson, solved his issues with a slanderous press by calling out and duelling the miscreants who wrote that evil stuff about his wife. And, let us not forget, a sitting Vice President, Aaron Burr, called out and met Alexander Hamilton, killed him, and kept his job. I would have loved being able to call up Ken Lay and say "You simpering bastard, you cheated my mother, the park, dawn, bring your sword asshole." It would have been much for fufilling to watch him defend himself on a sand bar than in a courtroom. On the sand bar, low tide takes the losers.

Anyway that's enough ranting for now....


Blogger litbrit said...

When you play the harp it nestles on your shoulder. The action of playing it is like gathering the notes into your heart.

That gives me goosebumps. How beatiful, and how true.

David (T-Rex) and I were having a conversation about Chopin earlier today. He described some of Chopin's music as being heartbreakingly beautiful.

That's also how I feel about the harp, the cello and the violin. There is definitely a profound emotional component to beautiful string music; it bypasses your conscious state and works its magic somewhere else entirely.

7:39 PM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

strings are different indeed. i feel them physically. except violas. when classical musician gather we always rank on viola players because the only way to get into the viola section is simply not cut it on violin why is pinkus zuckerman the best viola player in the world?
because itzhak perlman plays violin.

10:39 PM  
Blogger maurinsky said...

Stephen, I will not share that with my younger one, who has chosen the viola as her first instrument.

8:57 PM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

and don't tell her the joke i emailed you...

12:14 AM  
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3:52 PM  

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