About 3,000 years ago there lived a young shepherd boy called David in Bethlehem, who would be summoned quickly, many times in the middle of the night to the chambers of ailing King Saul to play his harp. The king would be afflicted with nightmares, anger fits and all general malaise that was disturbing to his mind and affected his physical health, too. When the harp was played, he felt better and ‘would become refreshed and well and the distressing spirit would depart form him.’ These words may seem potent with a similarity known to many of our days. And it is a reality worth reckoning.
People in those days may not have had the scientific knowledge of today, but they were aware of something ever so profound that did happen to people when the harp was played. So they found the best harpist is the land to bring before their ailing king to ease his suffering and bring in the moments of peace and well being.
3,000 years later, today, medical research, studies and testing are proving the healing effects of the harp. And the results are very impressive. Is it a new tool for hospitals? Oh Yes! The unwieldy harp has become a routine fixture during heart operations; others have used harpists in intensive care units to help normalize sick newborns’ heart rates, after surgery to reduce patients’ anxiety, and during childbirth to soothe mothers in labor.
A story reported by msnbc.com in 2005, titled ‘Harp has the power to soothe but it can also heal’ mentions of Zook suffering from atrial fibrillation. Her symptoms included unnerving palpitations and troubling fatigue that make her suddenly collapse without warning. Her doctor, Abraham Kocheril, chief of cardiac electrophysiology at the Carle Heart Centre in Urbana found signs that harp music would help sick hearts like Zook’s to beat normally. According to Kocheril, resonant vibrations form live harp music may be particularly effective at regulating quivering heart rhythms. “Potentially, there could be a prescription for music 5 days a week… to keep the heart healthy in general and specifically to keep rhythm disorders under control,” he said.
National Institutes of Health are financing larger studies on the effects of harp music healing. It has been noted that those in musical sessions have also begun producing white blood cells two days faster than those in a comparison group. There are many cases reported today where the sounds of the harp not only has the power to soothe, but also promotes healing. One would gauge this music as being therapeutic. A study conducted by the International Harp Therapy Program indicated that after listening to the therapeutic harp music, 91% of 200 patients, experienced relief of anxiety and 72% reported a reduction of pain. So what is so unique about this harp as a therapeutic instrument, one may inquire? It is proven that this charming harp is a distinctive instrument for therapy in that the full pitch range of the harp can vibrate the entire body. The rich tonal vibrations of the harp pulsate and can reach the cellular level, helping to restore physical, spiritual and emotional harmony.
Micah and Shoshanna Harrari of Harrari Harps have been producing Bible harps in Israel since 1984. These are believed to be the first and only kind to have been made based on ancient origins of the Biblical harps, in over 2,000 years. For this reason, they take the responsibility to make the best instrument using the finest musical woods. Shoshanna Harrari learned to play the harp by following her heart, first picking out simple songs, and then beginning to play her own music. She began to teach others by this method, encouraging budding harpists to find their own style and play music that comes from the deepest part of themselves. It is said that life has its own music. Therefore, the emphasis was not on perfect technique, rather on awakening of the sensitive strings of the heart and soul.
Tracing the history of the Biblical harps and its therapy, Shoshanna Harrari explains:
1. How many kinds of harps are there?
– The main harps played in the times of the Temple were the Kinnor (Lyre) and the Nevel (harp). The numbers of strings varied according to the Talmudic information, but there were never more than 22. Many times in the Psalms it says ‘ Upon a harp of 10 strings I will praise Thee, O’ Lord”. There is also mention of the 8 stringed harp (which we are now beginning to build), and we know that 22 was the most strings that the harps had (also connecting to the 22 letters of the Hebrew Aleph Bet).
2. How is the harp played?
– The harp is played mainly by plucking, though it can also be strummed. It is very versatile, it can be played with one hand or two hands, in the form of melodies or chords or rhythms. The sound is so beautiful that whatever a person does to play it will always sound beautiful.
3. Harps played in orchestras – the ones placed on the floor look like they have more strings. How different are those from the Biblical harps made from the House of Harrari?
– The Concert or Orchestra harp that is seen prominently in orchestras is only about 150 years old at its oldest. The harps we build are from designs more that 3,000 years old. We take our information from archaeology, the Bible and the Talmud.
The archeological evidence for the Nevel is found in a cave in Megiddo where there is a drawing on a cave of a primitive Nevel and a man standing next to it. Archeologists date the drawing which they call ‘The Meggido harpist) to be about 3,000 years old. And the archeological evidence for the Kinnor David is found on a coin called the Bar Kochba coin minted after the destruction of the Second Temple, 2,000 years ago.
The Biblical harps had at their highest number 22 strings. Though they are large and have more strings, in a very real sense they are more limited in that the great length of the string forces the player to use great force to pluck them to release the required sound.
This elevates harp technique to the highest priority. We have many concert harpists who buy our harps for the sole purpose of finally having a harp they can use for musical expression and personal creativity, because the concert harp is too confining and technical for them to play the simpler music of their heart and soul.
4. How different are the harps made by Harrari harps in Israel from the others made in Wales, etc?
– There are harps made in other countries, reflecting their own music and culture. The harps of Scotland and Ireland, interestingly, according to their own legend (the legend of Tea Tephi) that their harp originally came from a woman who was a princess in Israel, the daughter of the last king, who, escaping from the exile to Babylon, sailed on a boat and ended up in Ireland with her small harp.
The people of Ireland fell in love with her and her harp, adopted the harp as their own and married her to an important king named Herman. She spent her life teaching in ‘the halls of Tara’ (the halls of Torah), and for thousands of years the people of Ireland had a great love for the Jewish People and the Harp.
The harp however began to change as it use and purpose changed. In Israel, the harp was used for prayer and thanksgiving; in Ireland it was used by the wandering minstrels to entertain the lords and ladies of the castles.
In the time of the rivalry between Queen Elizabeth I and her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, the harp became a symbol of the great love of the people for Mary (she played the harp while Elizabeth played upon the pianoforte!) When Elizabeth became the winner of the day (by killing her competition), her jealousy knew no bounds, and among many other things she did was to orchestrate a huge harp burning in the British Isles. For about 100 years, there is no music or record of a harp there. It returned later in the courts of the kings of Europe, were it grew to a more formidable size, the size of the Scottish and Welsh harp, which are about 800 – 900 years old.
The difference between the harp of Wales and Scotland and the harp of Israel is mainly size and purpose. The Scottish harp is great for playing as entertainment in restaurants and weddings, at gallery openings and other things of this venue. The harp of Israel still remains the harp of prayer, of ‘regular, unprofessional’ people, who have a heart to play the music of their soul, for prayer, meditation and other more spiritual pursuits.
It is a joyful instrument to play, mainly because it sounds beautiful no matter how it is played, giving the player a true freedom of expression and creativity rarely found in other instruments. This is strong point, plus its easy portability to pick up and carry anywhere whenever the person feels like going out to the forest, beach, their back yard or a friend’s home. It is just small enough to be considered hand luggage on airplanes, and light enough for anyone to carry with them.
5. Would you comment on the healing properties of the Harp, much spoken of these days?
– An ancient aspect of these harps is their healing nature. Long ago, when David was called in to play for the ailing King Saul, it says ‘he played with his hand, and Saul began to feel better and the evil spirit of depression left Saul’. Very powerful words for a small sweet sounding instrument!
In our time we have the scientific instrumentation to measure just how the sound vibrations of the harp really do affect us. In many recent articles and film documentaries, it is being show that the sound of the harp raises our sympathetic vibration to where it is supposed to be, allowing our overworked immune systems to regain their strength and vitality to be able to resist disease and debility.
6. Have Harrari harps been purchased in hospitals?
– From what I hear from our customers, some of them are taking these easily and unobtrusive harps into hospitals, hospices, birthing rooms and other venues like this to play for the sick, the dying and the just being born. To ease one’s pain and suffering, and passage from one world to the next in the most gentle and loving ways. The people themselves in the hospitals, etc. are so grateful and thankful, and they comment on how the sound of the harp helps them in their different situations.
I have even heard that a few were taken into operating rooms by nurses, where it was recorded that the people who received the operations recovered faster with more vitality than others where no harp was played. I think we will be seeing much more inclusion with the harp and healing in the future.
The popularity of the instrument is growing, as more people want an instrument that is easy to play, yet sounds like the sound of heaven and are connected with healing.
7. Have there been requests from buyers to teach them to play the harp?
A few years ago, a professional harpist from Japan, a man of about 32 who had been playing the concert harp since he was 12 came to choose his own personal Biblical harp from our shop. After he had chosen the one he wanted, he said to me, ‘I will be here for a few more days and I would like to come here for a lesson before I leave.
For many days I pondered what I was going to teach him! This is a man who has been playing professionally for many years. He knew all there was to know about technique, music theory, scales and songs. What was I to teach him???
When he came on the appointed day for his lesson, I said to him ‘ With all the knowledge you have, the technique, the music theory, etc., what I can teach you? “And he turned to me with a look of pleading in his eyes, and he said ‘teach me to be free!’
Then I understood, that the smaller, Biblical harp was always meant to be played by ‘regular’ people. Not requiring the emphasis on technique of the concert harp, the Biblical harp of David, of the Temple and the prophets, was meant to encourage people to play from their harp, to use their own unique divine creativity to play their ‘new song’, the songs of their soul to the contentment of their hearts. A special gift indeed.
A visit to the House of Harrari in Abu Gosh is a fascinating addition to a Holy Land tour.
Irene is a contributor to Travelujah-Holy Land tours, the leading Christian social network focused on connecting Christians to Israel.
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