We have just survived the hottest July on record, and there’s no reason to expect August to be any cooler. Try these harp care tips to get you and your harp through the dog days of summer.
In the Philadelphia area where I grew up, the three H’s – hazy, hot and humid – are an almost daily constant in the summer weather forecast. And in my parents’ house, we didn’t have air conditioning. There were many days when inside the house didn’t feel that different from outside. All of us complained about the heat, including my harp.
Half the strings broke and the other half sounded terrible. The harp felt sticky. I stuck to the bench when I practiced. It was miserable, but I learned a lot about how to care for a harp when the sultry weather hits.
1. Harps are happiest indoors. This one’s obvious, but you should pay attention to your harp’s indoor environment. Your harp should not be in direct sunlight or in the direct breeze of an air conditioner. It is best if the temperature and humidity are kept fairly constant. It’s difficult to pin down exact numbers for these, but the general rule is that if it’s not comfortable for you, it’s not comfortable for your harp either.
2. Tune your harp every day. You should be doing this anyway, but in summer, especially if it’s humid or rainy, it’s even more important. A harp that is kept in tune will stay in tune fairly well, even in adverse conditions. A harp that is not kept in tune, well…it will be out of tune. Remember to tune your harp with all the pedals up or all the levers down, so that you don’t put extra wear on the strings or on the regulation.(Yes pedal harpists, that means tuning in C-flat Major!)
3. Harp care outdoors. If you must take your harp outside, keep it in a controlled environment as long as you possibly can. But do give yourself and the harp enough time to adjust to the outdoor conditions, if necessary. For example, I have played outdoor weddings where I only needed to play a few minutes, and I could take the harp outside at the last second, knowing that I would be done playing before the instrument started to feel the temperature change. Keeping the cover on until the last moment can also help. Other times, for a lengthy outdoor orchestra concert for instance, you might want to give the harp enough time to adapt a little before you start playing.
But whatever you do, never put your harp in direct sunlight. Keep your cover close by in case of a sudden downpour. And obey the most important rule of harp care – NEVER leave your harp in a hot car!
Another tip – after you have brought your harp home, let it re-acclimate for a half hour or so, and then tune it. You will both be happier next time you sit down to play.
4. Check your stock of spare strings. You don’t want to be caught without the string you need, if one should break. Organize your spare strings, and order any you are missing. Remember the Murphy’s law of harp strings: the string that breaks is always the one for which you don’t have a replacement.
5. Keep it clean. In hot weather, the finishes on some harps will feel tacky. Take extra care. Wipe the harp down with a clean, lint-free cloth when you are done practicing, to remove any perspiration from the harp. Check the links below to follow your manufacturer’s recommendations for cleaning and polishing:
And if you are sticking to your bench, sit on a towel!
It’s Your Turn: What is your worst summer harp experience?