Will the tradition of the Paraguayan harp be lost? Get to know this project that seeks to preserve it

Each instrument poses a challenge for manufacturers, as the process is often long and meticulous; Furthermore, every little detail is important. The Paraguayan harp is a perfect example of this, since each finished piece is a true work of art and not many master the technique or know the secrets to face such a challenge, which led artisans to worry about the preservation of this tradition. In Paraguay.


A generational heritage

It is common in the manufacture of Paraguayan harps that the workshops of luthiers specialized in this trade maintain a strong family tradition, where knowledge has been transmitted from parents to children, nephews, etc. In a succession that can be counted at the rate of more than 3 generations on some occasions. This has led families over the years to implement new techniques, improvements and keep secrets that make each of these workshops forge a recognized reputation. We see this phenomenon also occur in other countries with other instruments, but in Paraguay, where the sound of the harp is part of its musical culture and is an intangible and invaluable heritage, this has begun to create a problem around the manufacture of harps. Further, The reality is that many of these traditionally artisan families, for various reasons, see the amount of elements that are interested in the profession diminished, which puts at risk the transmission of knowledge to future individuals, who manage to maintain this legacy over the years to come. This has worried the authorities, the luthiers themselves and other cultural organizations in the country.

On the other hand, it is known that to date, the most recognized workshops are not enough to satisfy the growing demand they face, since sometimes they receive orders from not only the country, but also from interpreters residing abroad, which has led to think of alternatives that help train a greater number of people in the delicate work of giving this instrument its unmistakable and beautiful sound, under the peculiar characteristics of the Paraguayan harp.




A proposal to preserve cultural heritage

Faced with the possibility that in future years the number of people who master the skills to even be able to make the best Paraguayan harp will be diminished, a group of people, including Luz Borja, undertook the task of looking for solutions to recover and reactivate this activity. In this way, the first school that will train new luthiers in the country is created, under the direction of Luz Borja herself.

The proposal has been well received by the applicants and it is not surprising, since the international projection that this instrument has achieved in the country is remarkable, with countries such as Japan and Spain being some of the most requested harps from manufacturers. In addition, the number of students who enter music schools in the country each year, to learn to play the instrument, continues to grow and each of them will need at least one harp to practice and in their professional life as a performer, they will probably require of others more.

With this new school, which already has 12 students between men and women, an important step is taken to keep the legacy current and ensure that this instrument continues to be an icon of its country, at the same time that it manages to train a new generation of professionals in this trade.


Maintain quality, the first priority 

To give us an idea about the knowledge that an aspiring luthier specialized in Paraguayan harps must acquire, we must first recognize that the best artisans have taken decades to form through the observation and direction of their teachers. The complexity involved in this profession is due in part to the fact that it is essential to have a musical foundation, since interpreters tend to create a special relationship with the luthier, so that he understands their specific needs. 

On the other hand, it is a priority to have a special knowledge about the qualities that each wood can contribute to the final sound of the instrument, as well as to be aware of the techniques to achieve the correct assemblies between pieces, as this manages to prevent the instrument from lose resistance over time, a risk that is due to the excessive stress to which the instrument will be subjected. In turn, this involves experimenting with various formulas to make the necessary glues. And if that were not enough, the apprentice must acquire the sensitivity to give each piece the traditional appearance and aesthetics that the best interpreters seek.

Taking all this into account, to meet the needs, the school includes in its curricular proposal musical history, evolution of the harp to become the current Paraguayan harp, wood botany and chemistry related to varnishes and adhesives, among others. a lot of knowledge, with which we can see that the training of the new luthiers will be quite complete.




Mass production of harps vs artisan workshops

Now, some might think that a solution could be the mass manufacture of this instrument, in order to satisfy the needs, but the reality is that although there are factories that seek the production of the instrument on a large scale, the truth is that the finishes can be very different. The best players mention that harps of this type tend to be less resistant and generally once they have suffered some damage they cannot be repaired. That is why those made by hand, as a completely handmade work, are still preferred.

However, it should be noted that, in the best of cases, considering favorable climatic conditions and having all the wood of the special types required at hand, a harp of this type can be manufactured in around 22 days, according to Nicasio. Díaz a luthier with 30 years of experience. So if you are looking to get the best harp of the moment ( In this link you can find some purchase options ) manufactured manually, most likely you will not value it in the same way as before reading this article.


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