I got an errant side email from The Roommate while I was at work the other day: “By the way! I need to show you a picture when you get home…I THINK you’re gonna like it :)” I didn’t get home straight away like I normally do; I had to stop at Kroger to pick up some items for a sickly neighbor, I trudged into the apartment, navigated a howling Spook-monster, de-robed and got into gray gauchos, a black peasant shirt with a light blue bandanna. While sitting down on my bed the roommate comes into my room and shoves his open cell phone in my face. I stare. I sit back and he laughs at me. I said “Wait. I need to process what I just saw” I took off my glasses, grabbed his phone, and put it 1 inch from my eye so as I can certainly not mistake what I was looking at (my vision is poor, that’s as close as it has to be for me to truly see detail). I shook my head in disbelief. This is exactly the conversation that followed:
“The Antique Shop down the street”
“I dunno, $89?”
“When do they close?
“Not sure. 5?”
“What time is it now?”
And before he knew it there was a jangling of keys and a streak of teal that ran out the door as I grabbed my teal hoodie and flip-flops.
Heeding no sign man-made or commonsense to speak of I tore down the roads buzzing with rush-hour traffic. The turn into this antique ‘mall’ (as it is so-called) is monstrous to get into. Eternity passed in two minutes as my foot tapped the pedal obsessively.
My car sped into the parking lot, spattering gravel everywhere. I ran out of the car and into the store, which was blissfully still open. I got a number of stares as I raced down the isles in my ill-matching outfit, clutching my cell phone to my ear to get directions from The Roommate. After several agonizing minutes of combing, I found it.
It was much smaller than I anticipated. I plucked a few strings, checked out the body, lifted it, turned it, tapped it, plucked some strings again. Satisfied that it was playable, I purchased it right away. When I initially asked the proprietress if she had a “Chinese harp” as The Roommate had described it, she said she wasn’t sure. When I returned to the counter with it in hand she said she recollected something of the sort but it wasn’t labeled as harp. It was, in fact, labeled as “Music Stand”. Tsk, tsk. She asked me if “Chinese harp” was really what it was, I said no, I think it’s Thai. When I got home, The Roommate said “The website said it’s from…um…..M-Y-A-N-M-A-R…?” (The cute ones are usually dumb, folks. Go easy on him because I sure as shit don’t.) I rejoiced, but did my best not to rub it in, at my musical-geographical accuracy. Burma is quite close to Thailand and the “paisley” end to the neck lead me in that direction.
This is a Saung (pronounced sawng-ah) also known as the Burmese Harp or Myanmar Harp. Of the three possible body types this one is called Thezin Khwe; it is reminiscent of an orchid stem. It is a later model that uses 16 strings; older models have 3, 7 or 14 strings. A famous harpist, Alanka Kyaw Zwa U Ba Than (Than?! Than what?!), added two more strings during World War II.
It was clearly made to be some tourist-trap buy for the unschooled. The body is actually quite flimsy and made mostly of plaster. I can see a bit of a crack at the base of the neck (where it needs to be strongest) but otherwise it is in fine shape. It is even strung in the traditional fashion with only rope and no modern tuning pegs.
Now my only obstacle, apart from keeping it in a Spook-proof area (aka. the top shelf of the closet), is how to tune it! I’m actually very hesitant to try it myself; I’m afraid I might break the already delicate neck. Which makes me wonder if this thing should really be played at all!
In the mean time, until I figure out what the hell I’m doing and get the thing tuned, enjoy some of this great harpist’s masterful playing.