A BEAUTIFUL hand-made Italian Salvi pedal harp was the subject of a presentation by the very accomplished harpist Nia Shakespeare to the Denbigh and District Probus Club this month.

Nia, born in Llansannan, started playing the harp in primary school and at 12, she performed in the film ‘The Corn is Green’ in Ysbyty Ifan.

From then on, she played in numerous locations, including at the medieval banquets at Ruthin Castle, in the Clwyd Youth Orchestra, at various Eisteddfodau and performed with Sir Geraint Evans.

After graduating with a B.Ed from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, she started teaching music, over a period of time, at three Denbighshire comprehensive schools.

It was at Ysgol Brynhyfryd where she started a harp ensemble.

It is thought that the harp is derived from the string of an archer’s bow. The harp, alongside the crwth, were the instruments of the poets in medieval times.

An observation made in the early 13th century was that the singing was not in unison like elsewhere and could be interpreted as giving rise to the Welsh musical tradition of penillion, singing with the harp.

The harp declined in its popularity in the 16th century as keyboard instruments became more popular.

There was a technical explanation of diatonic and chromatic scales and the relationship to the notes that can be produced.

The early Gothic diatonic harp with 24 strings could not change key and was played held on the right shoulder.

The Irish harp with 43 strings, played on the left shoulder, was also tuned diatonically, but some had chromatical potential.

In the early 17th century, harps with two and three rows of strings appeared in Europe.

The latter became very popular with players and makers in Wales during the 18th century, so much so that it became known as the Welsh triple harp.

The middle row of strings is tuned like the black notes of a piano, with the outer rows being like the white keys.

Even though this harp had more scope than previous harps, soon in the 19th century a pedal mechanism with three positions, flat, natural and sharp was introduced by Erard.

This greatly increased the possibilities for the harpist.

It became the concert harp with the capability of being played in various keys.

Blind people could be taught the harp as it was not considered at the time (early 19th century) necessary to see the strings.

Thus, these players were able to earn a living.

Nia purchased her harp in 1981.

She demonstrated features of the instrument such as location and tuning the strings and how the pitch of the strings is altered when a pedal is in use.

There was information about its sensitivity to the atmosphere and temperature.

The instrument needs maintenance periodically, including the annual replacement of its three types of strings.

Finally, Nia played a few tunes, eloquently demonstrating her prowess, including popular Welsh melodies, ‘Moon River’, a Scott Joplin composition and ‘Over the Rainbow’.

Denbigh Probus Club has a very interesting programme for 2020, including topics on regenerative farming, the Tweedmill, Chilly Cows, Rhug Estate, the power of the potter’s wheel, the Harrow and Wealdstone railway accident and 18th century crime in Denbigh to mention a few.