Encore Blog

Harpist Booking Guide – 2018 Prices, Hiring Advice and FAQs

Have you had visions of walking down the aisle or sipping champagne delicately to the shimmering sound of a harp, but you aren’t sure how to go about finding one? This comprehensive guide to booking a harpist will make sure you know all you need to hire one for your event, whatever that event may be!

Harps have long been a ‘go-to’ instrument for formal events of all kinds—their ability to produce a light, calming musical atmosphere means they work perfectly for special occasions. And, if your guests haven’t actually seen a harp in action before, they’re sure to be dazzled!

In this guide, we’ll cover the basics of the hiring a harpist (exploring what kinds of harp there are, and how they’ll fit into your event); we’ll also make sure you know what sort of equipment a harpist will need, as well as all their usual setup requirements.

Knowing exactly what music will work for your event takes quite a bit of research (especially if you’re not totally familiar with the harp), so we’ve saved you the trouble, compiling a detailed list of harpist repertoire, as well as sharing our suggested musical choices for the most popular events.

Hundreds of clients all over the UK have used Encore to book a harpist—by now, we’re confident we can help just about anyone find the perfect harpist for their event! The final section of this guide will wrap-up by covering all the questions you might have about booking a harpist.


If you’ve already decided to hire a harpist and you’re looking for available options, you can either:

  1. Compare prices and contact over 130 Harpists available in the UK
  2. Request fast quotes from our singers here, or
  3. Contact our friendly bookings team to discuss your requirements: [email protected]

Outline:

  1. The Basics
  2. Equipment & Setup
  3. Repertoire
  4. Booking
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Tomos Xerri, Encore harpist, available for hire for your next event!

The Basics

What kind of harps are there?

There are three main kinds of harps: full-size concert harps, smaller Celtic harps, and electric harps (which come in a range of sizes). The different harps each suit different styles (classical, pop, folk, jazz, etc.), so check with your harpist that the music you want will work on their harp.

Concert harps, also known as pedal harps, were designed originally for use by classical musicians. Given this, pedal harps were quickly popularised as an orchestral instrument, being utilised for their particular expressive quality by composers like Handel, Mozart, Liszt, and Puccini. While concert harps are often used as a solo instrument, they also work very well with other orchestral instruments, often performing alongside string quartets, chamber ensembles, and singers. While classical music is definitely the most popular kind of music played by harpists, that hasn’t stopped their inventive inclusion in jazz, and even pop music. What would The Beatles, ‘She’s Leaving Home’, sound like without that beautiful harp part!?

Celtic harps are lot smaller than their larger concert sibling, but they’re also a lot older! Celtic harps have been dated back as far as the 12th century, so they’ve certainly stood the test of time. There is a large amount of folk music that has been written for the Celtic harp (ranging from traditional Irish, Scottish, & Welsh music to newer contemporary folk tunes), though it can also be used to perform classical music. While the concert harp produces a louder, full-bodied sound, the Celtic harp has a bright, resonant tone, making it perfect for smaller settings, or performing alongside a folk ensemble.

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Quite a statement! The full-size concert harp is a treat for the ears as well as the eyes—Encore harpist, Elinor Nicholson, pictured

What do harps look like?

A full-size concert harp is grand, ornate, and intricately gilded: eye-candy as well as ear-candy. So, if you are after a fairy-tale look, you can bet a concert harp will fit the bill. In contrast to the concert harp, the Celtic harp is more humble—it’s smaller and not quite as sparkly. Nevertheless, Celtic harps are charming in their own way, usually being adorned with decorative carving or designs.

You can always ask your harpist to send a picture of their particular harp (or check their Encore profile pictures), as there is a lot of visual variation between different harps.

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The Celtic harp: providing the perfect accompaniment to this stunning afternoon event—played here by Encore harpist, Fionnuala Kirby

Would a harp suit my event?

Harpists are ideal for events (or parts of these events) where you would like live music, but don’t want it to be the focus. The harp is most often seen performing at weddings, corporate events, and funerals/memorial services, usually during the sections where guests are chatting, eating and drinking, or being seating.

Not convinced? Below we’ve given some real-life questions and answers that relate to booking a harpist for either a wedding or a corporate event:

Hiring a harpist for a wedding:

You and your partner have talked about having live music for your wedding, so now it’s time to commit to booking a harpist. But there are still so many questions!

“What parts should the harpist play during?”

In our experience, harpists will usually play during the following parts of the ceremony: seating of the guests, entrance of the bride, signing of the registry, and the walk-out. The harp’s soothing tone is well-suited to these sections, providing a non-invasive musical ambiance.

“We would like to have a small musical performance as part of the wedding. Can the harpist accompany a singer/instrumentalist to perform our chosen song?”

Harpists are a bit like pianists: they make excellent accompanists! If you haven’t already hired a singer/instrumentalist for this section, your harpist should be able to help you source one. Usually this will be someone they’ve worked with before; this makes preparation even easier.

If you already have someone lined up, be sure to let your harpist know the chosen song well ahead of time, and go over all the details with them—ideally, they will be able to organise a short run-through of the song with the singer/instrumentalist before the performance. Keep in mind that Encore’s harpists are seasoned professionals, so they may be confident accompanying the other musician without a rehearsal. However, it’s important to check this with the harpist beforehand.

“I also think we’d like the harpist to play at the reception drinks—can they do this?”

Yes! Drinks receptions were made for the harp. Make sure to let your harpist know early though: they’ll need time to move their harp to the new venue/area, and ensure they have appropriate access.

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No event is too high velocity for the harp! Zita Silva, Encore harpist, providing the soundtrack to some acrobatic exploits

Hiring a harpist for a corporate event:

A corporate event, whether it’s cocktails and canapés or a Christmas party, is always better off for having live music. It adds a touch of grandeur, making everyone in attendance glad they gave Netflix a miss, for one night at least.

“We’ve got a lot of guests attending—will the harpist be loud enough?”

Harpists will usually perform un-amplified, as they can project loud enough to be heard by most guests, even if it is a large event.  If you are still concerned that they may be too quiet, they can help arrange amplification and a PA system for you. Your venue may also have some suggestions on achieving the best result for your event, so be sure to check in with them too!

“Our event is black tie—will the harpist also come in formal attire?”

Absolutely—harpists, whether male or female, will have a range of performance outfits to choose from that will allow them to perform comfortably, while still looking completely fabulous.


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Encore harpist, Isabel Harries—available to hire for your event!

Equipment & Setup

How much space does the harpist need?

Concert harps, the larger of the two, need an area of about 2m x 3m. Celtic harps need an area of about 2m x 2m.

Harpists will always be glad for any extra space you can provide—performing in a cramped space can be very uncomfortable, and may even affect their performance. We recommend you contact your venue and make sure they have a suitable space prepared for the harpist on the day of the event.

What equipment do I need to provide?

Most harpists will bring a music stand and a stool with them. However, occasionally they may need you to provide a chair. There should also be good lighting in the space where they are playing.

Do I need to provide food?

Harpists will appreciate bottled water and tea/coffee/biscuits upon arrival. Meals are always welcome, though not required.

Can the harpist play outside?

It is possible, but protection against rain/sun must be provided. This isn’t just as simple as holding an umbrella over a harp if it starts to rain!

The ground must be dry otherwise it damages the instrument, and most harpists aren’t comfortable playing on grass for the same reason. As a general rule, if there is a flat, firm, dry surface then your harpist should be happy.

What dress code can I expect?

The harp is as much of a visual feature as a musical one, so feel free to discuss this with your harpist, who may be able to coordinate with your colour scheme. For weddings, female harpists will tend to wear a cocktail dress whilst men may wear a suit. Alternatively, you can request that they wear standard concert dress (i.e., all black).

Do harpists need a PA sound system?

Generally not, unless you will have a very large crowd. Some harpists will be able to provide their own PA—best to check with them beforehand.

Harp under cover
Encore harpist, Catrin Meek, demonstrates the harp’s space and weather protection needs

How long will the harpist play for?

Harpist sets are usually 45-50 minutes long, with a 15 minute break between sets. This gives them time to give their fingers a rest, get rehydrated, and then bring the musical magic once more!

How much setup time does a harpist need?

Harps require approximately an hour to set up (including carrying the harp from the car to the venue, re-parking if necessary, stowing the cover, tuning all 47 strings, and setting up the bench/stand).

Parking

Harpists require parking, ideally as close as possible to the entrance. If there is no parking immediately by the door, then they should be able to unload by the door and later move their car. Please note that it is common practice to reimburse the harpist for any parking costs incurred—many will research this beforehand and include it as part of their travel expenses.

Can harps move from one area to another?

Yes, but they are moved on trolleys, which can be difficult to negotiate over winding staircases. Assistance may need to be provided from staff at the venue. Definitely discuss any moving requirements with the harpist ahead of time!


Repertoire

What are the most popular classical pieces for harps?

  • Canon in D – Pachelbel
  • Air on a G String – J.S. Bach
  • Air and Hornpipe from Water Music – Handel
  • The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba – Handel
  • Meditation from Thaïs – Massenet
  • Moonlight Sonata – Beethoven
  • Pavane – Faure
  • The Blue Danube – Strauss
  • Claire de Lune – Debussy

What are the most popular jazz pieces for harps?

  • Come Away With Me – Norah Jones
  • Misty – Erroll Garner
  • Fly Me to the Moon – Frank Sinatra
  • Summertime – George Gershwin
  • La Vie En Rose – Edith Piaf
  • Dream – Johnny Mercer
  • Isn’t She Lovely – Stevie Wonder

What are the most popular folk pieces for harps?

  • Arran Boat Song
  • Down By The Salley Gardens
  • Greensleeves
  • Morning Has Broken
  • Scarborough Fair
  • She Moved Through the Fair
  • Skye Boat Song
  • The Foggy Dew
  • The Londonderry Air (Danny Boy)
  • The Water is Wide

What are the most popular pop pieces for harps?

  • My Heart Will Go On – Celine Dion
  • Can you Feel the Love Tonight – Elton John
  • What A Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong
  • Here Comes The Sun – The Beatles
  • Kissing You – Des’ree
  • Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon and Garfunkel

Rachael Gladwin demonstrates the versatility of the harp: an amazing rendition of songs from a variety of genres

Encore picks:

Best harp pieces for a wedding (for the romantic types):

  • Ave Maria – Schubert
  • All Of Me – John Legend
  • Bridal March from ‘Lohengrin’ – Wagner
  • Hallelujah – Leonard Cohen
  • Wedding March – Mendelssohn
  • Fields of Gold – Eva Cassidy
  • Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring – Bach
  • I’m Yours – Jason Mraz

Best harp pieces for a corporate event (a mix of old and new):

  • Fireflies – Owl City
  • Flower Duet – Delibes
  • Autumn Leaves – Johnny Mercer
  • Ain’t No Sunshine – Bill Withers
  • Happy – Pharrell Williams
  • Thinking Out Loud – Ed Sheeran
  • Mamma Mia – Abba
  • Spring (from the Four Seasons) – Vivaldi
  • Rolling In The Deep – Adele

Best harp pieces for a funeral/memorial service (to reflect and remember):

  • Amazing Grace
  • Trumpet Voluntary – Jeremiah Clarke
  • My Way – Frank Sinatra
  • The Lark Ascending (with violin accompaniment) – Vaughan Williams
  • It Is Well With My Soul – Philip Bliss

What is popular background music for harps?

A lot of the music on the above list works just as well as background music for other events. Most of the time, the harpist will have a specific set of repertoire which they use for events (many of which are included above), and you should be able to trust their judgement! However, if you have a special request, then most harpists will make every effort to include it in their set.

Can the harpist play my favourite song?

Definitely! Harpists love adding new pieces to their repertoire, and if they can’t find an arrangement, will often tailor one themselves for your event. This may add an additional fee to your booking, but is well worth the extra expense to hear your favourite song played in a fresh way.

Encore harpist, Glenda Allaway, performing a beautiful rendition of ‘Over the Rainbow’ by Eva Cassidy


Booking a Harpist

How far in advance should I book?

We advise booking as soon as possible, especially if you have specific musical requests. On the other hand, we handle last-minute bookings all the time at Encore, and can easily find a harpist for you at short notice!

What’s the typical price for a harp?

Each harpist will set their own price, and this should range from approximately £250 to £400—£250 is a common minimum price for an hour. Harpists will often charge most for the first hour, then discount any subsequent hours as most of the work is travel and setup.

Do I have to pay travel fees/porterage?

Many harpists have a set radius; any travel outside of this area will be added to the price. Harps are very large and difficult to transport (harpists will have to have a large car!), so there is usually extra cost, known as porterage, included in the price. We have harpists all over the country, so we can usually find an available harpist close to your venue.

How do I handle contracts and payment?

The easiest way to handle contracts and payment is to book through Encore. Our bookings process is very straightforward, and once you have confirmed a booking with your chosen harpist, contracts and payments will be handled painlessly and effortlessly by our secure payments system.

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Two of Harps—a very unique duo, one of the only of it’s kind in the UK, and available to hire on Encore!

So, at very least, you’re now a bona fide harp expert (and armed with a great topic for small-talk with granny at the next family gathering)!

If this guide has piqued your interest in hiring a harpist, you have three options:

  1. Compare prices and contact over 130 Harpists available in the UK
  2. Request fast quotes from our singers here, or
  3. Contact our friendly bookings team to discuss your requirements: [email protected]

Well, I hope this guide has answered and solved all your harp-related quandaries. However, if you did happen to have any unresolved questions, please get in touch—we’d be happy to help!

(Featured image: Felicity Meakins—another wonderful harpist—available to hire through Encore)

Harry Burgess

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