My First Guitar

firstharp

Liliana Osses Adams, in a site dedicated to the history of the harp, relates that the earliest known image of a musician dates back about 15,000 years, and is found in the Cave of Les Trois Frères in the Pyrenees in southwest France. The animal skin and horns suggest a shaman figure, or sorcerer, and he appears to dance and play a single-stringed harp.

A similarity exists of course between this early musical instrument and the early hunting instrument, the bow, and there has been speculation as to which came first. While it appears that the bow and arrow are earlier, with the first known examples dating to the end of the Gravettian period, about 20,000 years ago, it could be more gratifying to suppose that the ancestors turned to music before they turned to hunting. However, this requires picturing some clever brute deciding to use his harp as a weapon, so better to imagine an ancient individual (one much like myself) who, in the act of stringing a bow in preparation for the hunt, discovers that his instrument of death can also, like the already very ancient flute, produce beautiful sounds, and yet produce them with the fingers, leaving the voice free to sing along. What song the syrens sang, writes Sir Thomas Browne, is not beyond all conjecture, but what song I sang as I plucked the first harp is “a question above antiquarism.”

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