Valerie Powell: Harp and piano steal the show |

Valerie Powell: Harp and piano steal the show

Valerie Powell/For the Steamboat Pilot & Today
Pianist Pauline Yang and harpist Courtney Hershey Bress will play works by Ellis Schuman

Pianist Pauline Yang and harpist Courtney Hershey Bress will play works by Ellis Schuman, Fauré, Ravel and Dohnányi on Saturday at Strings Music Festival.

Pianist Pauline Yang and harpist Courtney Hershey Bress will play works by Ellis Schuman, Fauré, Ravel and Dohnányi on Saturday at Strings Music Festival.

This week at Strings Music Festival features two of my favorite instruments: piano and harp. I may be slightly biased when I claim the piano as my favorite, as I took piano lessons for 19 years. Later, I’ll share with you why I love the piano, but first I’ll start with the harp.

The harp consists of a plane of strings attached to a frame on either end. At one end of the harp, the strings are very short and gradually become longer. Each string sounds a different note — the shorter strings are high notes and the longer strings are low notes. The instrument sits vertically on the floor and is played by plucking the strings. The harp is best known for its light, airy tone and is one of the softer instruments. When the harp is part of a full orchestra, you’ll have to listen carefully to hear it.

The piano takes the concept of the harp and turns it sideways. The strings are now horizontal and placed inside a frame. The piano keys are attached to little mallets that hover over the strings. When a key is struck on the piano, the mallet swings down and hits the string. Rather than plucking or bowing the string, the piano is similar to a drum being hit by a drum stick. For this reason, even though the sound comes from the strings, the piano can also be classified as a percussion instrument. The body of the piano acts as a soundboard, and the striking action allows a louder sound to be produced than that of the harp. In fact, the full name of the piano is the pianoforte. In music terms, piano means soft and forte means strong. So the pianoforte can play both extremely soft notes and powerfully loud ones.

Another characteristic of these instruments that makes them so fascinating to listen to is that, unlike vocalists, wind instruments or brass instruments, they are capable of playing more than one note at a time. Two notes played together create harmony, which is more interesting to listen to than a single melody. Additionally, two melodies can be played at once on the piano, called countermelodies, which can sound like two separate pianos playing at the same time. The piano and the harp also have the widest ranges of all instruments. Although most instruments can play in only two to three octaves, the piano reaches a full seven octaves and the harp can play in six. Because of the versatility of the piano, it is possible to capture the sound of a full orchestra on one instrument.

To hear these fabulous instruments, join us for three concerts this week. On Wednesday, we are fortunate to have a live performance by master pianist Menahem Pressler, performing works by Mozart, Turina and Schumann. On Saturday, pianist Pauline Yang and harpist Courtney Hershey Bress play works by Ellis Schuman, Fauré, Ravel and Dohnányi. This concert also features violist Paul Coletti, who will perform two of his original pieces. On Friday, Pink Martini’s lively world sound shows harp and piano outside of traditional classical music. This 12-piece band has collaborated with orchestras around the world and will take you on a musical journey to France, Italy, Brazil and more.

The Youth Concert Series continues Tuesday with Dr. Noize. The performers in this concert will be the kids in the audience, as Dr. Noize brings them up onstage to learn how to compose music with his looping machine and wide variety of instruments. Don’t forget that tickets are only $1 for youths and $10 for adults.

While I listen to recorded music all day long, I always enjoy attending a live concert. The art is not just in the music being played, but in the beauty of the instrument. So be sure to check out our website for ticket deals to ensure your chance to attend a concert at Strings.

Valerie Powell is the development and administrative assistant at Strings Music Festival. She can be reached at or 970-879-5056, ext. 111.

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