Why are the Best Harpists Female?
The harp is one of the most beautifully sounding instruments that has ever been made. It is not like any other instrument whatsoever, unlike brass or woodwind that can be gathered together under one banner, the harp tends to be in its own category. It is officially classed as a stringed instrument which sort of makes sense, but in a way its closest musical neighbor is the piano. The harp is also one of the most beautiful looking instruments in the orchestra but is difficult to move about due to its shape and weight. So why are there so many female harpists and why are the best players female?
Sex in the Orchestra
It is true that certain instruments have a gender bias, and this has nothing to do with sexism in orchestras. Many classical pieces identify characters either human or animal with particular instruments. For instance, a bassoon would be regarded as definitely a male instrument and the harp definitely female. This may be playing on pre-concepted ideas from the composer or the listening audience. In reality of course how can an inanimate object possibly reflect a gender?
Is Music Male or Female?
Going further into the past. certain composers has a reputation for writing either feminine or masculine music, for example Schubert’s work is always considered as feminine. Not because of the instruments he used but because of the way he wrote his music. The cadences in his music were considered to be feminine in their composition and form. And music that was harmonically strong is often referred to as masculine.
The Female Harpists
The real reason why the best harp players are female is because far more females play the instrument. Perhaps the feminine side of the harp had a huge attraction to female musicians to take up the instrument. But this is not the only reason, the delicate way the instrument is played suits females far better than males. Plucking the individual strings needs great dexterity and the female hand and wrist are far better suited to playing the harp than the stronger, more rigid male hand. As for prejudices that are linked to the harp as a girlie instrument that unfortunately is going back to stereotypes that were held in the orchestra in the past. For years you would never see a female as a lead violinist or the first viola. The orchestra used to be a male dominated world but thank god attitudes have changed and there is far more equality between the sexes in today’s modern orchestras.
It is incredible to think just how much we are affected by what society thinks. And you cannot really blame yourself for thinking of a harp and associating it with a woman. What all of us needs to do is to challenge assumptions and to break old prejudices. Forget about what society tells us about genders and instruments, it is time to make up your own mind, then sit back and enjoy the music.