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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Dumpster Harp Is Rare Instrument

Rare Egan Harp, Damaged and Discarded, Is Brought Back to Life -

Colin Moynihan writes:

To a certain type of New Yorker, every Dumpster is a potential treasure chest, right up there with thrift stores and stoop sales.

But if the scavenger gods offer only a finite number of prizes, Julie Finch might have claimed one of them.

Last month Ms. Finch stood on her toes to peer into the Dumpster outside her building on West 26th Street and found a blue wooden harp distinguished mainly by caked layers of grime and dust and a snarl of broken strings.

“It was this old thing with wires going in all directions,” she said. “It didn’t look like anything anybody could play.”

Still, as a lover of found objects, Ms. Finch felt duty bound to take the harp home. She offered it to a neighbor whose brother is a composer, but the man’s wife objected after seeing its sorry condition. So Ms. Finch used wood-floor soap to clean the harp and discovered not only clusters of hand-painted gold shamrocks climbing the column and soundboard, but a brass plaque bearing the name of the instrument’s maker, John Egan, and an address on Dawson Road in Dublin.

Egan, who is thought to have made instruments from the late 1700s until about 1840, is seen by many as the father of the modern Irish harp. In the 19th century his instruments were used by nationalist balladeers, like the poet Thomas Moore, who wrote “The Harp that Once Through Tara’s Halls.” Today universities and museums collect them.

“The ancient Irish harp tradition, which goes back to medieval times, was dying out around 1800,” Simon Chadwick, honorary secretary of the Historical Harp Society of Ireland, wrote in an e-mail message. “Egan invented a completely new romantic type of Irish harp, which was very successful, and which formed the basis of all subsequent revivals.”

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