Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Rain, The Park, and Other Harp Things

Harp Week: Part 2
As Harp Week continues, maybe I should give you a couple of facts about the harp. Although the harp is one of the oldest instruments coming from ancient cultures, the current, modern (pedal) harp was not developed until about 1820 in France. The pedal harp has 47 strings, as well as seven pedals, which use a mechanical action to change the pitches of the strings. The harp actually has over 2,000 moving parts! From symphonic orchestras to disco orchestras, the harp is a wonderful addition to any genre of music with its unique effects and distinct sound.

Alright, so I've got a few more tunes from the 1960's that include the fabulous sound of the harp. I had a great line-up picked out for today when I realized two of the songs with harp were actually from the early 1970's (gasp!), so since I've got to draw the line somewhere (this a 1960's blog, after all), Cher's "Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves" and Elton John's "Your Song" will not be included in this post (though the links will direct you to YouTube).

So besides being that song from the dream sequence in the 1994 movie Dumb And Dumber, "The Rain, The Park, and Other Things" was a big 1967 hit single for the American pop group The Cowsills. Although many refer to this tune as "The Flower Girl" (as the real title is not mentioned anywhere in the song), this sunshine pop/psychedelic-bubblegum song is tied with 1969's "Hair" as the group's biggest hit, both reaching #2 on the charts. The Cowsills were actually a whole family of musical siblings, as well as their mother, and they were known for their 4- and 5-part harmonies. The family was also the inspiration for the 1970's TV show, The Partridge Family. The harp part in this song includes the ever-typical harp technique of the arpeggio and that angelic glissando again.

Released in November 1968, here we have a fabulous example of a baroque-psychedelic pop song (gotta love all these fusions!) by that under-rated New York group, The Left Banke. "Nice To See You" has some wonderful psychedelic effects, making great use of the harp's specialties, as well as including woodwinds and strings with the typical rock 'n' roll band instrumentation. The Left Banke definitely put a lot of care into their arrangements and productions, which is why it's unfortunate that these creative guys had such a short career as a group. Also singing backing vocals on this song is a pre-Aerosmith Steven Tyler (then known as Steven Tallarico). What a trippy gem of a song! And is that a cool, psychedelic-phasing intro or what?

For my last "pop" selection today, this is probably one of the more ...interesting... pieces of music you will hear on this blog. Van Dyke Parks is an American composer, musician, producer, singer, author, and actor who is probably more known among fans of The Beach Boys, since he collaborated with Brian Wilson on songs for the impressive, yet ill-fated, album Smile (however it was finally completed by Parks and Wilson together in 2004!). In 1968, Parks released the album Song Cycle, a fascinating work that includes many genres from psychedelic, folk, baroque, to experimental rock and pop, and reflects a wide range of Americana influences including bluegrass, ragtime, and show tunes. From this creative album, the song "Public Domain" begins with a distinct, Latin-influenced harp feature, followed by very "reverby" vocals that fit the South American flavor. Half way through the song, the mood changes completely with a more experimental string ensemble sound (like early works by composer Arnold Schoenberg, for you classical music peeps). One of the most expensive albums produced at that time, this music of Van Dyke Parks was very unique within the exploratory world of 1960's pop music.

And finally a last minute addition to this post, I realized that "Public Domain" would make a nice transition to this next work for solo harp, a staple on recitals world-wide, and although we're definitely out of pop music territory now, we're still sticking with the 1960's! Written by British composer David Watkins in 1960, "Fire Dance" is a vibrant show-stopper in harp performances that won an American compositional award. In this video, you actually get to see the composer himself playing this exciting piece ("Fire Dance" begins at 1:20 into the clip). Although the harp is generally thought of as a "female" instrument, the founding fathers of harp technique were actually men, and Watkins is one of the impressive few of male harpists still out there today.

On that note, if you're interested in hearing more music like this and you happen to be in the Orange County area (Southern California) on March 6th, check out that recital I mentioned in my last post. Part of the Laguna Beach Live Sunday Concert Series, I'll playing "Fire Dance" and much more on the harp, starting at 3:00 PM.

1 comment:

  1. Love the blog Leah! Its been so much fun to read! I will definitely have to follow it!