Harpist Peggy Skomal entranced audience members as she played for 25 people at the La Cañada Public Library Saturday afternoon. During the library-sponsored program, Skomal balanced the hour between playing enchanting music and teaching the audience about the instrument.
Skomal showcased two different types of harps — a large pedal harp detailed in gold leaf that is valued at more than $50,000, and a smaller, all wood Celtic harp that she purchased for $7,000. One of the reasons her pedal harp is so much more expensive than her Celtic harp, Skomal explained, is because there are at least 100 working parts in the pedal harp.
The larger pedal harp has seven pedals. The pedals control levers that sharpen or flatten the tuning of the instrument’s strings so that it can be played in different keys.
In between playing songs such as holiday season classics “Greensleeves” and “I Saw Three Ships,” Skomal discussed the differences between her two harps and related the history of harp music.
“The harp is one of the oldest instruments, along with the drum and flute, and all other instruments came from those,” Skomal said. She said that the reason the inside stringed section of a piano is called “the harp” is because the piano evolved from the harp.
“A lot of people think you can’t do anything modern on a harp, but I do quite a bit of modern music, rock ‘n’ roll and the old standards,” said Skomal. She went on to play the 1930s classic, “The Very Thought of You.” She also played harp legend Carlos Salzedo’s “Chanson Dans Le Nuit,” a song inspired by a story about woodland elves gathering for a festival.
James Krauss, a La Cañada resident who plays both piano and guitar, attended Skomal’s presentation with his son and daughter.
“I think it’s a very good idea to have these music programs,” Krauss said of the library’s offering, “because music education has been cut in so many public schools.”
Librarian Elaine Braddock organized the event and hopes it will be just the beginning of musical programming.
“[The program] is something a little different; people have seen the harp but don’t really know much about it. If I can, I’d like to do a whole series on uncommon instruments. Like people know the guitar, but not the flamenco guitar. We’ll see how it goes,” she said.