Huge harp highlights free music day in Carlsbad
Children can build their own miniature cardboard harps on Thursday at the Make Music Day in Carlsbad, but it’s likely their attention will be focused instead on something much, much bigger: the Earth Harp.
The elaborate, building-height outdoor harp holds the Guinness World Record as the largest playable stringed instrument. For its Carlsbad installation, the Earth Harp’s strings will be stretched from the top of the two-story Museum of Making Music to the courtyard below.
The harp — which will be played every 20 minutes — is the star attraction at the all-day, family-friendly, music-making festival. Children can make and play their own instruments, jam on real instruments and more. It runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, June 21.
The Earth Harp is the creation of Malibu luthier and musician William Close, who has invented more than 100 nontraditional and sculptural instruments over the years. He came to the art form with an education in music, sound design, architecture and sculpture as well as a skill for rigging learned aboard sailboats as a kid.
He created the Earth Harp in 1999 when he stretched harp strings across a canyon in Illinois as a musical experiment.
“The very first one was this idea of stringing the landscape and the earth itself,” he said. “It was an environmental piece and it caught the public’s imagination and I could see that.”
From that first installation, Close’s Earth Harp has become an international phenomenon. It has been strung in concert halls and arenas, from tall buildings and mountainsides and at outdoor festivals in the U.S., China, Israel, Italy, Macau and in Singapore, where it set the Guinness record for having 1,000-foot strings stretched from the roof of a skyscraper.
Close competed on “America’s Got Talent” with the Earth Harp in 2012 and he has custom-built permanent harp installations on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship and for a Cirque de Soleil show in Las Vegas. Demand for his instruments is so great that he now has up to four touring Earth Harps ensembles to manage requests.
Back in 2007, Close lost most of his instrument collection when a wildfire destroyed his former Malibu home and studio. But from the ashes grew inspiration, including plans for his new home with a built-in Earth Harp with strings that stretch a thousand feet into the nearby mountains.
“You know the way wildfires are,” he said. “It cleared the palate and I built a really cool place.”
As unique as the Earth Harp looks — Close stands beneath or between the custom-made wire strings and rubs his hands along them with rosined gloves — it’s actually the otherworldly sound it creates that most mesmerizes audiences. Each vibrating string has the ability to sound like an entire string section.
“It’s such a beautiful sound that’s unlike any other instrument,” Close said. “If it sounded exactly like a cello or a violin, then why not just break out a cello?”
Close arrived in Carlsbad on Wednesday afternoon to set up the Earth Harp and tune the strings, which are connected at the base to a U-shaped sound bridge and resonator. He said his one- to two-day tuning process always creates the same musical pitches, but the timbre, or quality, of the sound changes, depending on the length of the strings and the environment.
When he performs, he plays a mix of original compositions written for the Earth Harp as well as popular tunes that audiences will recognize. On Thursday, he’ll be performing on both the Earth Harp and his drum jacket, a piece of clothing with a built-in electronic drum kit.
Besides the Earth Harp performances, there will be a variety of hands-on opportunities for museum visitors. Children can create their own cardboard harps and acoustic shakers. There will also be two scientific stations using instruments to demonstrate the movement of sound waves.
Children can sign up for open-mic sessions, take part in interactive drum circles and jam on multiple instruments.
Admission to the museum is free but donations will be accepted on a “pay what you will” basis.
The Museum of Making Music is one of many arts organizations celebrating Make Music Day, a free global celebration of music held each year on June 21. Launched in 1982 in France as the Fête de la Musique, it is now held on the same day in more than 750 cities in 120 countries.
There are also a handful of events planned on Thursday in Balboa Park for Make Music Day. Digital music improvisation will be presented from noon to 4 p.m. at The Old Globe. From noon to 5:45 p.m. at Starlight Theatre, there will be audience interactive programs of guitar and ukulele strumming, improvisational singing and native flute open mic. There will also be a drum circle from 3 to 7:30 p.m. on the Presidents Way Lawn. For more details, makemusicday.org/sandiego/
Make Music Day
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, June 21
Where: Museum of Making Music, 5790 Armada Drive, Carlsbad
Admission: Pay what you can
Phone: (760) 438-5996
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