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Booking a Harpist
What goes into the cost of hiring a harpist?
by Kari Gardner

In relation to other instruments:
There are ways in which it is cheaper to have harp music than that of other instruments. One basic way is that the harp works very well as a stand-alone instrument, so you only need to pay for one musician (though of course you can pair the harp with other instruments if you wish). Contrast this to an instrument such as the violin. It is best suited to be accompanied by another instrument, like a harp or piano, or to be part of a larger ensemble such as a string quartet or band.

However, if you look at the cost of hiring just one solo violinist versus one harpist, the cost of the harpist is likely to be more. Several factors go into that:

1) Moving the harp: Not only is the harp a large, heavy, and awkward instrument to transport (which is hard on the harpist, kind of like hiring movers to move your heavy sofa-bed), but moving the harp is hard on the instrument (temperature changes, wear and tear from moving, and impacts and jars will shorten the lifespan of the instrument). Whereas an instrument like the violin can become more valued with age, a harp's lifespan is much, much shorter. The intense amount of tension on of all 47 strings on the frame of the harp cause it to warp and eventually break, and moving it a lot speeds up the process. The more gigs a harpist takes the harp to, the sooner the harp will have to be rebuilt or replaced. Also consider that a harpist must have invested in a station wagon or van to move the harp whereas other musicians with smaller instruments could take the train, a cab or drive a Yugo.

2) Set-up time: A harpist must also allow much more time for set-up than other musicians who might be able to walk out of the house, get to the location and walk in, open their case, spend less than a minute tuning, and be ready to go. A harpist must get the harp into the car at home, then must find a place where she can pull up the car to unload the harp, get the harp, stand, stool, and possibly an amp out of the car, put it all someplace safe, and then park the car. Then the harp must be wheeled in its cart to the location, which might require getting it up stairs, or waiting for several elevators cars for one that's empty, or wheeling it slowly and carefully across uneven terrain. Then the harpist has to remove the harp from its cart and cover, and find somewhere to stow these things out of the way (like in a back room or coat room). Then the harpist must tune. The concert grand harp has 47 strings which all must be individually tuned. Not to mention that if the harp has just gone through several temperature changes (getting it out of the house and into the car, riding in the car, getting it out of the car and into the event location) it will often need time to adjust to the new location and temperature before it will stay in tune.

3) Break-down time: Obviously, packing up and loading out is also more involved than with many other instruments.

All of these factors increase the amount of time a harpist must dedicate to a gig. Whereas a the effective time for a gig for different musician might be the time spent actually playing (just for example, say one hour), plus set-up and breakdown time (call it maybe 15 minutes) for an effective time spent on the gig of about 1 hour and 15 minutes (of course, driving time would be the same for either musician, so I'm not including it), the harpist needs at least 15 minutes at home to get the harp out of the house and load it into the car, needs to arrive about 45 minutes to an hour ahead of time to allow for all the unloading, moving the car, set-up, and tuning, another 30 minutes after the gig to get everything back in the car, and another 15 minutes once home to unload the harp and get it inside. To a harpist a one hour gig is more like a 3 1/2 to 4 hour commitment.

Any musician, especially classically trained musicians:
Harpists, like other musicians, are skilled tradesmen who have often spent a lifetime developing their skills. You might think of hiring a harpist simply as 2 hours of time, but it's more aptly stated as 2 hours-worth of a lifetime of hard work, training and monetary investments.

Factors in the cost of hiring a harpist that are shared by other instrumentalists include such things as years of training, not only in college but for years both before and after, and often ongoing. In addition to musician-specific expenses, such as instrument insurance and music-related equipment costs, there are the standard business expenses of being self-employed (office equipment, health insurance, advertising, etc.). Implicit in the equipment expenses are not only the price of acquisition but maintenance. Of particular consideration are the hours at home spent arranging, practicing and keeping up all the music that they play in order to give each party who hires them the best possible performance. Time spent on the business itself and the thousands of hours spent practicing are all unpaid hours, which must weigh into the cost of those few hours they're actually getting paid for--the gig itself.

Factors specific to the harp include of course the cost of the instrument itself (a concert grand harp costs as much as a car--$20,000-$45,000). All 47 of a harp's strings should be replaced and 'regulation' done on the mechanism at least once a year in addition to any other maintenance. Harpists must have a vehicle capable of holding a 6'2" harp in addition to other equipment necessary for a gig. And just as the car the harpist drives is dictated by their profession, so is where they live. It needs to be somewhere that the harp can be gotten in and out of easily (few stairs or an elevator). Ideally it also has space for both a harp room and a home office. Most importantly, it must be a place where the harpist can practice. The sound of the harp carries extremely well through walls and floorboards, so a single family house is preferable, or a complex with thick walls and understanding neighbors.

In conclusion:
Hopefully this overview gives you an idea of what goes into every one of a harpist's appearances and shows why hiring a harpist, or any professional musician, is money well spent on a great way to make beautiful music a part of your special day or event. When you compare this cost to other costs of an event and put it into perspective with the amount of time and training a musician has put into being good at what they do, it's really not that much.

More articles will be appearing soon. Check back!

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