The new Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments (Second Edition) was finally published in December and has been shipping out in the last month. It contains the first valid entry for the instrument we now know as the harp guitar, authored by yours truly. It turns out that this will be the last print edition ever to be published of the musical instrument “bible,” so we made it just under the wire!
Readers of this blog may well be wondering, “What’s the big deal? We all know what a harp guitar is.” Ah, but there was a time when no one actually knew, nor was there any source where it was realistically defined or explained. Just eleven years ago, in fact; it’s why Harpguitars.net was created (remember that original seemingly innocent question?). My readers are also probably largely unaware of the uncharted path it was towards today’s status. There has been a lot of confusion, and also reluctant hold-outs in scholarly circles who continue to refuse to accept the use of today’s common “harp guitar” term for instruments not originally called such. No longer; “harp-guitar” (yes, the editor chose the hyphenated spelling) is now a sanctioned dictionary word that means…well, exactly what we think it does. Anyone around the world can now safely use the term (if they choose) for 8-string Stauffers, Mozzani chitarra-lyras, European kontragitarres, what-have-you. And as libraries and universities around the world fill up with this indispensable 5-volume set, it’ll one day be ubiquitous!
I can’t share the entry with you (contract copyright terms and all that), but you can become an online Grove member or buy the set for posterity (I have a limited number of 30% off vouchers, if anyone’s interested; act soon, as price goes up to $995 on March 20th). Suffice it to say that I somehow condensed my entire site into 500 words. Enough to get the gist across, I think! I can’t take all the credit; Arian Sheets of the National Music Museum (who got me the gig) helped edit it, as did the Grove Editor in Chief. In fact, I didn’t see the finished entry until just now.
But wait, there’s more!
Just this single entry in the prestigious Grove was honor enough for a lifetime, but “harp-guitar,” after all, was already out there as an existing word. More incredible is seeing a dictionary entry of a term I basically made up. Yes, “fretless zither” (under “Zither, fretless”) is also now official! Again, Arian proposed the idea, got it accepted and helped edit my work (based on the original online “thesis” I did with colleague Kelly Williams in 2003, and for which Andreas Michel of the Leipzig Museum was inspiration). Too cool.
Those two articles had been turned in by May, 2012, when at the AMIS meeting in New York I happened into a casual chat with editor in chief Laurence (Laury) Libin, who promptly drafted me into several more topic revisions, both credited and uncredited. It wasn’t really that much, but for this he very kindly thanked me in the Preface, one of just four on his “strings” committee. I also got a thank you for supplying a few dozen photos (ironically no harp guitars), a simple favor that I was too-generously rewarded for by receiving a complimentary set. Uncredited entries I tweaked (or helped proof) include “Autoharp,” “Bissex,” “Guitarpa,” “Harp-lute” and “Harpolyre.” I was also proud to have a co-author signature added to entries for “Edward Light” and “Angelo Ventura” (inventors of harp-lute family instruments) and especially “Lyre Guitar” (apparently Laury and Arian both thought the organology presented in my Harpguitars.net article made more sense than the previous version). Those in the loop will perhaps note the rather delicious irony of my new “co-author” byline.
Once she had the Grove’s attention, Arian also managed to get several other new entries approved, with our colleagues drafted for their expertise. She herself did “Chris Knutsen,” Tom Noe penned “Hermann Weissenborn,” John Thomas supplied “Larson Brothers,” Bruce Hammond did “Joseph Bohmann” (sourcing Harpguitars.net, the only one to do so), and Erik Hoffman wrote a new J.G. and J.A. Stauffer entry. Apologies if I’ve missed any; I think these are all that I was aware of.
It’s a great day for guitar historians, and a new dawn for the harp guitar!