Hi. This is a story and a bit of philosophy. If you don't like thinking, harps, or music, you'd probably be better off TL;DR. If you like any of those things, you might find this at least interesting and perhaps even inspiring. :)
The other night I was walking back to my dorm along the streets of Boston when I heard a harp. At first I thought it was in my head or perhaps over a radio at a nearby restaurant, but then I saw it- the top of a real lever harp on the streets of Boston! I approached and listened to the young woman playing the instrument. The music was a primeaval, emotion-rich blend of textures, and listening to it put me at ease and somehow cleared my mind.
It is funny to stand still amid the hustle and bustle of a city and hear an instrument with roots over 3,000 years ago and mostly unchanged over the past 500 years, almost like an oasis in a desert. In a city, you are so shocked and stimulated by the amazing environment around you- endless restaurants, endless faces, a constant wall of sound and language, but amid all of that there is this one stretch of sidewalk in which an ancient sentient force dwells in the evening, reminding us of a simpler time.
At this point in my thought train, a man walked up and started chatting with me. He said, with a thick Boston accent so "harp" sounded like "hahp", "You know, they say harp and flute are the two instruments best for finding, you know, your inner self- meditation and all that."
From the standpoint of the average person, harp and flute are beautiful, expressive instruments, often evocative of a warm spring day or the countryside, but to a lover of music history it is much more intriguing than that. The harp and the flute are the oldest two instruments (aside from drums/percussive instruments) in existence by our best reckoning. Could it be that millenia of exposure to these two instruments in their various incarnations has ironed a certain positive stigma into our brains? Some sort of "harp-flute complex" where these instruments are the most capable of reducing us to tears perhaps? Add to that the power of voice, the oldest "instrument" of mankind, and you have three instruments that seem to just put out an aura of beauty, grace, and love.
So what "gets" us about the harp? Why is it so beautiful to listen to and what sets it apart from guitars and other plucked string instruments like Zithers? How about in comparison to a piano?
Perhaps it is that the harp is one of the only remaining instruments that generally uses real gut strings, or perhaps it is that "catch" we hear when a harpist mutes a string in order to repluck it- a sound that might remind one of the feeling of their heart "catching" when they see someone they love. Or perhaps it is the Romantic symbolism of Cupid carrying a lyre, one of the ancestors of the harp, that we relate to.
Whatever it is, there's something magical and ancient about these instruments and the human voice. If there wasn't, they would have died out like the Crumhorn.
Something magical had transpired over the half-hour I stood and listened (and asked lots of nerdy orchestration questions between songs)... As I walked back to my dorm, I found myself in a different state than I have been for a very long time. A state of mind able to take on anything with a slow, steady determination and without anger or impulse. All my worries and issues plaguing my mind had been put in order and filed away neatly. Perhaps that was what one of music's early purposes was- to help mankind think and clear his mind. We listen to music in order to help us identify what we are feeling and organize our mind.
Despite how much anyone might rag about "Two-Note Hans" or the simplicity of popular music, that simplicity is very important. It is music without the clutter- just raw emotion fueled into a standardized format. Just like the repetitive arpeggios of the harp with the yearning melody singing on top across the high strings of the instrument, the music of emotion is here as a way for us to feel things- all of us. The early blues, ragtime, classic rock- it is all the same idea. Music to make you feel; music to make you think.
I know this has been a bit of a random news post, but I hope someone gets some ideas and thoughts out of my ramblings. There's a whole world out there and there's no need to dismiss it because of what it looks like. I hope in your mind right now there is a harpist playing on the sidewalks of your neural passages, making you think, making you feel. ;)