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Jaws Harp

The Jaws Harp<p>
The Jaws Harp


Found throughout much of the world from New Guinea to Spain, the Jaws' Harp (or alternatively Jew's Harp) is not a harp at all and it has no historic association with Jewish traditions. Known in the North East as the gew gaw and technically categorized as 'plucked idiophones', these instruments are made from bamboo or more commonly from forged metal (usually iron, sometimes silver). They have a thin frame with either a rectangular, onion/lyre or elongated shape. One end of the frame is closed, the other end left open. Attached to the closed end is a single key or tongue which you pluck with your finger. Usually made from a different material as the frame, it produces a buzzing tone of surprising variety! The instrument was often made by blacksmiths and was specially heated to give a good note. Holding the closed end in your mouth, you can make different pitches and sounds by changing the size and shape of your mouth which acts as a natural resonating chamber.

On this short audio clip recording we hear Jack Elliott playing the Strathspey 'Brochan Tanna' on the Jaws Harp.

This short audio clip is available in Mp3 or Real Audio format.

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There is remarkable mystery and myth surrounding these unassuming instruments. In New Guinea, it is used as a traditional ceremonial instrument, often played exclusively by men at religious events. Among certain Asian communities, it has been used to serenade loved ones; when left as a gift it might be considered a proposal of marriage. In Austria during the early 19th century, silver jaws harps or 'maultrommel' were reportedly banned by authorities who considered them instruments of seduction.

In the North East of England the harp has been popular with a number of musicians. Below is a picture of local musician Billy Conroy playing the Jaws Harp. Bob Clarke of Powburn often featured his harp in pub sessions, while Jack Elliot of Birtley would entertain his mates underground with an impromptu concert in the lunch break.

Local musician Billy Conroy playing the jaws harp<p>
Local musician Billy Conroy playing the jaws harp








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