A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE AEOLIAN HARP
Aeolian Harps, named after the Greek god of Wind ‘Aeolus’, first appeared in Greecian culture circa 6 BC, when Orpheus, the ‘original’ poet, held poetry readings accompanied by the music of Wind Harps. Much later, artisans of the Renaissance era re-discovered Aeolian Harps, fascinated with both their physical and etheric properties. Much experimentation with the Aeolian principle, i.e., the vibration of strings by wind, led to a variety of designs and installations as illustrated below.(circa 1695 AD)
The music of the Aeolian harp inspired many poets such as Wordsworth, Emerson, and Coleridge, who wrote of its “ethereal melodies”. The naturalist writer and poet Henry David Thoreau built his own wind harps, being inspired, in part, by the sounds he heard from telegraph wires as the winds brought them to life. He called it the ‘telegraph harp’.
Subsequently, the advent of mechanical and electrical devices at the turn of the last century relegated the simple wind harp to near obscurity.
UNIQUE CHARACTERISTICS OF AEOLIAN HARPS
Wind harps have the distinction of being the only strung instrument whose music is composed entirely of harmonic tones, imbuing them with a vibrant resonance not heard in ordinary music. They are also the only strung instrument played solely by the wind. These two characteristics combine to create a music that for many people is especially alluring.
WHAT ARE HARMONICS ANYWAY?
Webster’s dictionary defines a harmonic, also called an overtone, as “one who’s vibrational frequency is an integral multiple of the fundamental”. Simply stated, the harmonic tones ‘contained’ within a string can be likened to the variety of colors ‘contained’ in white light.
Changes in wind velocity will sound a higher or lower harmonic, at louder or softer volumes, respectively.
CONTEMPORARY INNOVATIONS OF AEOLIAN HARPS
Over the last few decades, Aeolian Harps have been resuscitated to a new popularity through innovative designs by makers around the world. The Aeolian wind harps featured on this site have been designed and built by Greg Joly, a Victoria BC piano-tuner and wind harp artisan since 1980.
Greg has designed and built a wind harp in the form of a weather-proof gazebo-like structure that he calls a ‘Harmonic Sanctuary.’ This design of wind harp allows people to be inside their sound boxes, where the faintest stirrings of the strings become audible, and higher winds envelop the listeners with a rich spectrum of harmonic frequencies.
Since wind harps are played solely by the wind (‘spirit’), their music is wholly without ego; a self-less expression of the flowing interactivity of all things. Their Zen-like nature points to the ineffable so simply, spontaneously, and without artifice. The experience can be novel to the point of putting us radically into the present moment. As one listener put it, her thoughts stopped as soon as she heard a wind harp playing.
While introducing wind harps to people over the years, Greg often noted a look of recognition sweep over many people’s faces upon hearing the music of a wind harp for their first time. They would often look at him with a mix of wonder and bewilderment, remarking that it was strangely familiar, even though they couldn’t say why.
One gentleman had lived through a clinical death experience and shared with considerable fondness that he had heard some music very much like that of the wind harp’s when he was ‘on the other side’. Similarly, a dying woman described a music she was beginning to hear to her daughter, who later discovered wind harp music to be the closest approximation to her mother’s description.
WIND HARP MUSIC, LIVE & RECORDED
The Aeolian harp music samples that can be heard on this site, although short in length, offer a good introduction to wind harp music. Many people find that listening to the longer selections on the ‘Wind Songs’ CD has a profoundly relaxing and inspiring effect on them.
As with all musical instruments, to fully experience the wonder of an Aeolian harp, it’s best to hear one playing ‘live’. To live and work in the ambiance of a wind harp playing in a window of one’s home or office, or to sit near a Grand Aeolian harp on a deck or patio, is a highly inspiring occasion. And to sit in a ‘Harmonic Sanctuary.’, one feels as well as hears the music.