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When pop music meets the traditional Welsh instrument harp

Sam Hickman, the young harpist, makes it possible to mix popular music with her lovely harps.

Sam Hickman are playing pop music songs with her lever harp.

Sam Hickman is playing pop music songs with her lever harp.

It sounds a little crazy that pop music hits the ancient traditional Welsh instrument, isn’t it? But actually, that is what this 22-year-old harpist does every day. Sam Hickman, who has been busking in Cardiff for five years, enjoys every moment when mixing pop music with her lovely little harp. Her latest video on YouTube is performing Ed Sheeran’s ‘Thinking Out Loud’ with her little harp, which was recorded for a December bride.

“I started with a lot of pop things and some jazzy things because it doesn’t change the key that often and it is good fun,” she said. “If you want to do descending chromatic skill with Celtic harps you have to fiddle with a lot of different levers while you are doing it.”

Playing traditional Welsh music with her harp is really enjoyable for her.

Playing traditional Welsh music with her harp is really enjoyable for her.

Harps with traditional Welsh music

Talking about harps, one thing that can’t be forgotten must be those enchanting Welsh folk tunes. “It is so nice to be able to play those Welsh traditional folk tunes even if I haven’t known the words and it sounds lovely because all have these gorgeous tunes that are really synonymous with welsh culture.”

Those traditional folk tunes were evocative of her childhood. “There is one called ‘Suo Gan’. I have no idea of what it means but it’s absolutely gorgeous. My mother used to sing it because my mother is from the valleys. She used to sing to me when I was growing up. I don’t know the words and she doesn’t know the words. And it seems like everyone is kind of knowing it because everyone’s mother sang it to them and that’s really lovely one to do. I’m doing with my students at the moment. And she was like, ’Yeah! It is great!’” She was waving her arms cheerily.

This traditional Welsh instrument actually has a connection with some other instruments such as, pianos. In fact, in a pinch harpists can read and usually play off of music written for piano. “I grew up with a piano and I have played violin for few years,” she said and then pointed to a violin case in the corner. On the other side of the room, a delicate little harp and an elegant big one are standing on the carpet. At the age of about 14 Sam got the first harp which was given by her parents. “I began with a little tiny 19 string one. It’s a little tiny lap harp. I was actually really poor during the first year at university and I literally only knew about three songs: ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, ‘Hallelujah’ and Adele’s ‘Someone Like You’. That was all I knew and what I played for two hours. That is amazing! Last year I got my decent big one.”

Sam performs the trickiest skill, crossing over the fingers.

Sam performs the trickiest skill, crossing over the fingers.

The trickiest skill

At this point, Sam walked to her big harp and played a fascinating tune with her flexibly fingers idly plucking the strings. Is it quite difficult to do that? “The trickiest skill is crossing over,” she said. “And whenever you have to keep your elbow up nicely. It probably is the biggest challenge I am facing because I didn’t have a lesson or anything. I just taught myself. Sometimes it’s really easy and sometimes you just like I have no idea what’s happening.”

“I think what is really concerning is that many young people who have never actually heard one plays it. Sometimes it is weird that lots of people ask me what the little harp is. I think it’s time to make people know what it actually is and get them to listen and response to it.”

“But it’s stupidly popular in Wales. Among all the generations definitely love it,” Sam said with a broadened smile.

Sam Hickman’s ’50s Harp Lesson’