Greg Joly, wind harp artisan, had a secret that began when he was a small child of eight and discovered a box-like toy with strings. “I didn’t know what it was exactly, but I liked the sound it made,” he recalls.
“I had this wonderful image of building a box, where I would be immersed in the sounds of the strings.”
Growing up, Greg learned to play the piano. With his ears sharply attuned to the chords and harmonics, he became a professional piano-tuner. But deep within, Greg kept searching for that elusive childhood sound.
“I was at the Courtenay Fair in 1982 and heard it in a recording,” he says. “I had to know what made that sound.”
The sound was that of Aeolian wind harps built by Benjamin Bloomfield.
“The sound of the wind harps truly inspired me,” Greg recalls. “Benjamin suggested several books from the University of Victoria Library. I was ‘on fire’ soaking up all the information I could find to build my first two-string wind harp.”
Aeolian wind harps have been known since 6th-century Greece and are a stringed instrument played solely by the wind. They resurfaced in the Renaissance age and were seldom heard of again until Henry David Thoreau, the 19th-century nature writer and poet wrote: “The sounds of the Aeolian harp and the woodthrush are the truest and loftiest preachers I know now left on this earth.” Apparently inspired by the sounds of the wind on the telegraph wires, Thoreau built his own wind harps in an attempt to capture what he heard.
Greg’s childhood fantasy became reality when he graduated from building his smaller two-stringed wind harps to designing and building his Grand Harp that’s mounted on a swivel base, allowing the harp to be turned to catch the wind.
When this elegant wooden structure has its side panels opened wide, the wind releases the harmonic notes of the strings inside. Next, Greg built a cylindrical wind harp that allows a person to sit with his head inside to experience the sounds of the wind on the strings. Then he created his most ambitious wind harp, the Harmonic Sanctuary, which houses two or three people, wrapping minds and bodies in notes played by the breeze of the wind.
The strings are of different diameters or gauges. As the wind blows among the strings, a chordal sound is produced. Within one string, there are many tones called harmonics and these series of notes produces a harmonic series.
“Each string doesn’t play a different note,” Greg explains. “They are all the same note but when the wind blows and causes a vibration of any one string, there is a breakdown of the one sound causing it to go from quite deep to very high. That’s the harmonic series.”
Listening to wind harps is different from listening to wind chimes because even the wind on the small door or window of the wind harps produces a sound effect, which affects each individual's ears differently.
One of Greg’s favourite stories is of an older gentleman who was intently listening to the sounds of a wind harp recording on the headphones.
“He turned to me, teary-eyed and said, ‘This is what I heard when I was on the Other Side.’ Apparently, this gentleman had undergone a clinical death experience and remembered this deep sense of peace. I’ve heard from others that listening to the primordial wind songs touches people in an inspiring and spiritual way.”
Collaborating with Irish artist Mark Garry, Greg’s smaller wind harps have been part of a successful Irish visual/sound art show called “Wind Harps” set in Dublin’s Blackrock Park.
Now, Greg’s goal is to be commissioned to build his wind harps, especially his Harmonic Sanctuaries, in one or more of Victoria’s local parks as a place for quiet reflection.
“It has been my vision for the last 10 years to build a 22-person Harmonic Sanctuary, somewhere safe with public access for people to enjoy, to quietly meditate, to take refuge from the elements,” says Greg. “I’m good at designing and building it to suit the location. I want my first large, commissioned wind harp to be built with maximum exposure and public accessibility.”
He describes his 22-persons Harmonic Sanctuary as 11-feet (3.4 m) in diameter, similar to an enclosed gazebo so it would be like a giant sound box. The Harmonic Sanctuary is designed to withstand the elements as it is built for outdoors and can play in breezes or heavy storms.
“I didn’t invent wind harps, but I extrapolated all the information I could to build my Harmonic Sanctuary,” says Greg. “I like to have people experience the actual wind harps, to hear the genuine wind songs. It’s not meant to be for a ‘beer and chips’ gathering, but a place for inner reflections, a joyful spiritual re-awakening.”
For more information, contact Greg Joly at 250-475-1106 or by email at email@example.com
To view his wind harps and to hear a sample of its songs, visit: www.harmonicwindharps.com
JULY 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER ISLAND
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