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What is a Harpist?

Simply put, a harpist is a professional musician who plays the harp! Suitable for many different events, live harp music can provide elegant background music for a wedding, or can perform centre-stage at a classical recital.

A beautiful and unique instrument, the harp produces a soothing and ethereal sound. Our harpists usually play one of two main types of modern harp – either the large concert harp (or pedal harp) or the smaller Celtic harp. Often played in orchestras, and offering the most versatility in terms of repertoire, the concert harp has more strings, producing a full, rounded sound. The Celtic harp is especially suited to folk music, particularly Irish and Scottish, and can also perform a classical and romantic wedding repertoire. Being smaller and lighter, it’s ideal for small venues and more intimate occasions.

Harpists can play acoustically or amplified, and as a soloist, a duet or trio with other instruments, such as cello, flute, or clarinet. They can also accompany a singer or perform with a band.

What music will a Harpist play?

Our harpists offer a wide selection of music from many genres, from classical, jazz, and swing, to show tunes, traditional folk music, as well as pop and chart hits. Whatever tone you’d like to set at your exclusive private event, our professional harpists pretty much have it covered! You can expect music from artists including:

  • Bach
  • Bellini
  • Debussy
  • Handel
  • Mendelssohn
  • Mozart
  • Rachmaninov
  • Vivaldi
  • Adele
  • Andrew Lloyd Webber
  • The Beatles
  • Bruno Mars
  • The Carpenters
  • Cole Porter
  • Ed Sheeran
  • Eva Cassidy
  • Frank Sinatra
  • Howard Shore
  • Michael Bublé
  • Robbie Williams
  • Sam Smith
  • Snow Patrol
  • Take That

The repertoires for each of our harpists are listed on their profile pages.

Popular types of Harpist

1. Concert Harpists

Also known as the pedal harp, the concert harp is very large instrument (nearly 2 metres high and 1 metre deep), which is mainly used for classical music and in orchestras. Due to its 47 strings and pitch-changing pedals, the concert harp has a flexible range, with a full, often dramatic sound. This flexibility means our classical harpists can play a range of genres and songs to suit your event – from romantic classical and film scores, to jazz and contemporary popular music.

2. Celtic Harpists

Much smaller than its concert cousin, the Celtic or folk harp varies in size, from a 22-string lap harp to a 38-string floor harp. As its name suggests, it was primarily developed for traditional Celtic folk music, but harpists can play a wide range of music on the Celtic harp, covering artists such as Mendelssohn, The Beatles, and Adele. Its size makes it ideal for intimate venues.

3. Harpists – duos and trios and accompaniments

Several harpists offer the option to perform with one or two other musicians, or can sing, accompany a singer, or play as part of an ensemble, in accordance with your event requirements. You can choose from options including:

Where in the UK do Alive Harpists perform?

Many of our harpists are used to playing for both private and public audiences in palaces, castles, hotels, stadiums, opera houses, and cathedrals – anywhere the occasion calls for their musical talents! Providing entertainment for weddings, corporate events and private parties across the UK and internationally, our harpists most regularly perform in:

Is a Harpist suitable for my event?

With striking instruments that are sure to be a talking point, harpists specialise in elegant, calming performances, building an ethereal ambience for your event. Often providing day-time background music, they are perfect for occasions such as:

For weddings, a harpist can perform during the arrival of your guests, the ceremony itself, including the bridal procession and the signing of the register, and for the drinks reception and during dinner.

Harpists can also provide the perfect background music for corporate drinks receptions, dinners, and cocktail parties.

Space considerations at your event

Performance space is central to planning the type of artist you hire for your event and, along with access considerations, is especially important when thinking about booking a harpist.

Your harpist will shine if they have plenty of room to perform comfortably, particularly given the size of the harp! A solo harpist playing a large concert harp will need an area of 2 metres wide by 2 metres deep. For approximate requirements, see ‘How much space will a harpist need?’, below.

If you’d like your harpist to perform outdoors, they will need an area that is completely protected from the elements. To avoid damage to the harp, most harpists are unable to perform on grass or gravel.

Volume considerations at you event

Different types of harp will create distinctive sounds, The large concert pedal harp gives a full, rich sound and looks very impressive, while the smaller Celtic lever harp, with less strings, has a smaller volume and range. Volume can vary from serene background music, where your guests can comfortably hold a conversation, to a fairly dramatic sound. This is dependant on the instrument being used, the atmosphere the musician is trying to create and the room acoustics.

A harpist can play at a volume range of 65dB – 85dB (decibels). At its loudest, this volume is equivalent to audience applause. As such, harpists are a safe option if your venue is fitted with a sound limiter or has noise restrictions.

Some harpists will play through an amplifier if a louder sound is required, or as mentioned can play with other instruments as part of an emsemble. The options available for each harpist are shown on their profile pages.

How much does a Harpist cost?

Harpists’ fees are determined by their reputation, quality and experience, as well as their travel distance to your event. Alive Network has a strict vetting process, ensuring that harpists are classically trained, and are among the best harpists working in the UK.

Our harpists range from £200 up to £700 for a harp and clarinet duo.

In 2017, the average fee for a wedding harpist is approximately £300.

The table below shows a breakdown of the cost range for different harp acts:

Type of Artist Cost Range
Solo harpists £200 - £400
Duo artists (such as harp with cello, clarinet, or flute) £350 - £700

The best way to reduce costs is to find a harpist who is based close to your chosen venue. The home town location of all Alive Network harpists is shown on the roster pages and also on each harpist’s profile page. You can also ask your Entertainment Coordinator to recommend the best harpist local to your event.

Who are the top 10 Harpists in the UK right now?

Below are the artists that we believe are currently riding high as the top harpists in the UK right now, based on popularity, performance quality and innovation:

For a list of Alive's most booked harpists right now, see our 'Top 10 Harpists For Hire in 2017' article

How long will a Harpist play for?

Typically, a harpist’s set will be 45- to 60-minutes, with a break of around 15 minutes between sets. Most harpists will play for a maximum of 3 sets.

Most of our harpists can offer flexible performances dependant on your event needs, and this can be discussed with your dedicated Entertainment Coordinator. For a wedding, for example, you may wish your harpist to be playing as guests arrive, for the ceremony, during the signing of the register, and then to perform again at the drinks reception before the wedding breakfast. For a corporate drinks reception, you may choose to have an hour of music or you may require a longer performance.

How much space will a Harpist need?

This guide shows approximately how much space a harpist will need, in accordance with their particular type of harp and their set-up:

Instrument & Act Performance Space Required
Solo Celtic harp 1.5 metres × 1.5 metres
Solo concert harp 2 metres × 2 metres
Duo artists (eg. harp with cello, clarinet, or flute) 2 metres × 3 metres

Harpists with smaller harps will require less space. You’re more likely to get the best from your harpist if they have lots of room to perform comfortably. TOP TIP: Let the venue know if you book a harpist, so they can leave enough space for them when setting up the ceremony or wedding breakfast room. There should also be plenty of space between the harpist and your guests to allow the sound to carry well.

Your dedicated Event Coordinator can discuss space needed for your chosen harpist.

How long will it take for a Harpist to set up?

A harpist will normally arrive at your venue about 30 minutes before they are due to play. This is enough time to set up the harp, tune and warm up.

If your harpist is using a concert pedal harp, they will need to unload their equipment as close to the performance area as possible. Pedal harps are moved on trolleys that can go up and down stairs, but they are very large instruments and can be awkward to transport, especially along narrow winding staircases! Help from venue staff may be needed to transport the harp to the performance area. If additional time might be needed to get the harp into your chosen position, just have a chat with your Entertainment Coordinator in advance.

Following the recital, a harpist can take around 20 minutes to pack away.

What equipment will a Harpist need?

Typically a harpist will require:

  • a suitably-sized, safe, dry, flat performance area. If performing outside, they will need cover – either from the rain or from the heat of the sun! As it can cause damage to the instrument, a harpist will not usually put their harp directly on grass or gravel.
  • a minimum of one 13 amp power socket, if they are using an amplifier
  • a suitably-lit performance area
  • an adjustable stool
  • parking provision, preferably with easy access to the venue
  • a secure, lockable changing room
  • refreshments such as soft drinks and sometimes food, depending on how long you have booked them for.

Your harpist will bring their music, and some harpists will provide their own adjustable piano stool, and light for any sheet music.

For information on the following, see our Frequently Asked Questions:

For a more comprehensive harpist booking guide please read ‘Booking a harpist – Everything you’ll ever need to know’.

If you have any other queries, simply visit our FAQ page.

Alternatively, our dedicated expert entertainment coordinators are on-hand to help. Simply call 0845 108 5500 or email enquiries@alivenetwork.com.

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