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Local Harpist

Brings Magical Touch

If your love is the kind that makes the angels sing, then why not start your life together with the ethereal sound of harp music filling the air? Visually, the instrument itself lends a touch of elegance to any event with its majestic height and ornate finishes. But it’s not until the harpist begins to gracefully pluck the strings, coaxing the lilting notes into the air that the true beauty of this unusual instrument is revealed.

Female harpist playing lakeside

“The harp itself is a piece of art, “ describes professional harpist Sonja Westberg. “The hand movements and gestures that are part of the presentation and technique create a strong visual impact.”

Often associated with formal events, the harp is actually a versatile instrument that lends itself beautifully to a variety of ceremonies from large to small, indoor or outside.

“The tone and projection of the instrument is subtle, but rich enough to fill any space,” says Westberg. She also notes that it isn’t just for classical music.  Almost any song from classical to contemporary can be played on the harp, making it ideal for not just the ceremony, but the wedding reception as well.

 

“You can have your favorite pop song from the radio played on the harp,” assures Westberg.

Another common misconception is that adding hiring a harpist will blow the bridal budget.

“Most people are shocked to learn that they can afford it,” she says. “It’s usually no more expensive than hiring a DJ, and typically more affordable than a string quartet.”

Westberg grew up in a musical family, playing both the piano and flute before taking on the harp at the urging of the director of her Reagan High School orchestra. She immediately became hooked.

“I didn’t choose the harp, it chose me,” she laughs. “Once I started it became my true passion.”

Drawn to the complex, specific technique, Westberg quickly realized that her background in piano was going to be helpful when it came to learning her new instrument.

 

“There are so many similarities from the way you read the music, to the way that you use both a left and right hand approach,” she explains. “Both instruments also have foot pedals that you use to control the sound.”

 

Unlike the majority of other instruments, which you play by pressing keys or buttons, the harp goes against gravity. It requires the harpist to pull the strings to create sound, while balancing the almost 100 pound instrument on her shoulder.

“The sounds and tones that are produced are coming straight from the fingertips,” Westberg describes. “It’s more like a guitar or banjo in that sense.”

 

Westberg is one of only a handful of professional harpists in San Antonio. She holds a masters degree in harp performance from the University of North Texas and when she isn’t performing, she is teaching and spreading her knowledge and love of the instrument. One way she strives to educate and advocate for the harp is by exposing more people to it through events like weddings. The uniqueness captures an audience’s attention and gives them something to remember long after the ceremony is over. It’s something to consider for the bride who wants to add an extra special element for her guests to enjoy.

 

“There’s a good chance that many of those in attendance haven’t seen or heard a harp played live,” Westberg says. “That makes the wedding even more special for everyone.”

 

For more information visit www.sonjawestbergharp.com

Harpist wearing a dress playing for a wedding near a lake at sunset

Harp Fun Facts

 

  • You can’t walk into any music store and buy a harp. Westberg had to travel to New York to purchase her 95-pound concert harp, which stands just over 6-feet tall and was handmade and hand carved in Italy.

 

  • A harp has 47 strings composed of low bass wires, a middle range made of gut strings, and a top range made of nylon or plastic strings. All the strings are tuned to a natural key of C, and each string has three pitches that are controlled by a foot pedal.

 

  • There are more than 1000 moving mechanism parts in the neck of the harp to help with pedal changes.

 

  • There is approximately 2000 pounds of pressure on the soundboard of the harp from the strings, which are tightened to tuning pegs.

 

  • A harp can range in price from $15,000 to $100,000 depending on how it is made. Most are made from a combination of mahogany and spruce. Others have gold columns, which drives up the price. On average, most harps are in the $25,000-$35,000 range.
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