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8th August, 2005

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Thanks to Jubal… and Isabelle… and God

They may have been a rascally bunch, those sons of Lamech, but we can be grateful for at least one of their legacies; Jubal, evidently one heavyweight genius, invented the archetypes of the harp and flute (Gen. 4:21). Since his days, billions of people have enjoyed untold pleasure from the gorgeous sounds of exquisitely plucked harps of innumerable designs. I love the instrument; my all-time favorite piece of music is Dittesdorf's harp concerto.

Last night, my wife and I attended a harp concert performed by a brilliant French exponent of the instrument, Isabelle Perrin, currently on tour. What a delight. She played some old favorites by Respighi and Debussy together with a number of not-so-well-known pieces by Alvars, Tournier and Prescetti, as well as a new composition by her friend, Bernard Andres, titled “Elegy on the Death of a Shepherd”. Isabelle told us that Bernard and his wife had been walking one day past the cottage of a dirt-poor shepherd friend when they heard, coming from his hut, strains of music they had never heard before. They were mystified, as they knew he had no electricity to play CDs, but for some reason did not stop to enquire. When they got home, Bernard sat at his harp and tried to copy the sound; his wife said he had got it spot on.

Shortly after, the shepherd's daughter arrived to tell them he had just died; he was dying as they passed by. We were puzzled, and asked Isabelle after the concert about it; she explained that the source of the music remains a mystery.

Hearing her play, one can understand how King David, musician extraordinaire and designer of musical instruments, soothed the savage beast in Saul's breast with his playing. The harp's gorgeous timbre made it a fitting instrument for the temple orchestra. Solomon procured the best-quality almug wood ever seen for making harps to worship God (1 Kin. 10:12).

We were deeply moved during Isabelle's performance. By the sheer beauty of the sound; by gratitude towards God for making such dazzlingly-beautiful tones and melodies possible; and by awe towards God for creating the human brain with such ability. For sixty straight minutes her fingers skipped from string to string, plucking, damping, sliding, delighting her listeners. How can a mere few cubic centimeters of gray matter execute such precision movements of ten fingers in unison for an hour without error? Forget about mutations and natural selection.

How great Thou art.

A four-thousand-year-old, blind Egyptian plays the harp

Isabelle Perrin with her harp


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