The harp in Paraguay, a story linked to religion and love of music

The origins of the harp as a musical instrument are known to date back to a geographical location that is on the other side of the ocean, seen from the point of view of Paraguay. But how did it come about? How did it become so important to this nation? We invite you to take a walk through this interesting story.


Leaving a continent

If we talk briefly about the history of the harp, we can mention sovereigns like King David of Israel who performed musical pieces with this instrument around the year 1040 and 966 BC. There are also even older discoveries that lead us to ancient Greece in the years 2800 BC. However, this instrument did not remain in one place, its attractive sound and the practicality that it implied in some of its most portable versions, allowed travelers to take it on their journeys through different parts of the continent and in this way it was that it spread, reaching places like China or India. But with the discovery of new lands on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, it did not take long for the harp to be included among the objects that they managed to cross together with the explorers, 

When looking for the specific moment in which this instrument made its appearance in America, and especially in the heart of the American continent in its southern part, we find that the version most accepted by historians is the one in which the Spanish conquerors were the protagonists. The story tells that in 1526 Martín Niño, one of Sebastián Gaboto’s pilots, arrived in these lands and because among the data relating to this character there is reference to the fact that he was a harpist, it is he who is attributed the influence in the colony where he settled.




Influence of religion

On the other hand, one can imagine that such an important influence can hardly be attributed to a single person. In this way, we have to look for other factors that were present and were essential, so that this particular artifact was used in such a common way.

To understand this, we must start from the fact that we cannot deny that music is a fundamental part of the customs of any country. This information was also known by the missionary orders sent from Europe to convert the American peoples to Catholicism. So they used this as one of their main resources to get closer to the indigenous groups of the country and used the instruments they knew best to transmit it, such was the case of the harp .

Now, it should be mentioned that among the most important religious orders that arrived in Paraguay were the Jesuits, who were mostly men of vast knowledge in various branches, who in their effort to get closer to the new parishioners, made great studies about of the language, but they also founded music and song groups in various communities, where both young people and adults were included. The missionaries, many of them skilled musicians, were the ones who used the harp as part of the variety of instruments used for their choral and musical ensembles. Thus, the harp was included in both religious rites and popular tradition. 

The process for it to finally become a national emblem took many years, in which more and more melodies were added to the repertoire of pieces that are considered traditional. Finally, as of today, we can say that the harp has become so deeply embedded in the essence of this country, but not before having undergone some interesting transformations that are worth studying.


Instrument adaptation

After the harp arrived in America with the physical characteristics that defined it at the time, the most skilled craftsmen of the place did not take long to find a way to get a new specimen. Let’s remember that at that time it meant waiting even years to get another one from Europe. So the artists tried to make the instrument in their own way, with the tools and limitations they had, in this way the first adaptations began to emerge. It was to be expected that one of the main changes would be in the wood, since they did not have at their disposal the same type of which the original copies had been manufactured. In this way, pine and rosewood became the best options to give it resistance and good acoustics.

From this moment on, the harp that we know as classical would take a new direction and adaptations, which were not transmitted to the Paraguayan. As a result, we have that the Paraguayan harp is preserved as a diatonic instrument, in comparison with that one, which by adding pedals and other improvements became chromatic. However, we can find very beautiful melodies written for this type of musical scale.




Notable performers of the Paraguayan harp

Once the harp was instituted as an instrument capable of meaningfully conveying the sentiment of this particular country, it was not surprising that various notable players emerged. Although, we can mention many throughout history, we will limit ourselves to talking about some like Sixto Corbalán, who maintains a balanced balance between the traditional music of his native country, but printing his own style in each piece.

It should be noted that despite the fact that it is usually strange to enjoy harp ensembles, both Sixto and his brother Juanjo have managed to be increasingly requested in presentations of this instrument, captivating a growing audience. But if we mention this famous interpreter, we cannot fail to name his teacher Nicolás Caballero, virtuous and charismatic, who has given the world a large number of happy and picturesque performances such as the “hummingbird dance” or “grinding coffee”.

Now, it is expected that in the future we will continue to enjoy the talent of many more interpreters, since little ones who have adopted this instrument and have managed to acquire great ability at their young age, as is the case of Josué, are already beginning to make the news. Benítez, who in his interpretation of “Pajaro campana” already has more than 100,000 views on his YouTube channel.

As we can see, in the Paraguayan harp tradition a bright future can be envisioned, that is why today, there are many who yearn to skillfully interpret the complex and enchanting melodies written especially for her, and there is no lack of users who They seek to get hold of the best harp by searching among the many options available on the net.


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