Wind harp music new to library garden

John Kovac, of Front Royal, stands beside the Aeolian harp he constructed for the Norman H. and Elsie Stossel Upchurch Children's Garden in front of Samuels Library along Criser Road in Front Royal. The harp has 12 strings and is topped by a PVC harp of about 22 strings. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – A strong, blustery wind passing by Samuels Public Library in Front Royal might make the new Aeolian harp sing from its perch out front.

John Kovac installed his latest musical creation earlier this month in the library’s Norman H. and Elsie Stossel Upchurch Children’s Garden. Although Kovac only needed a couple of days to actually build the harp, it required more time for construction planning.

Kovac’s harp is the newest addition to the children’s garden, which library Director Nicki Lynch said will continue to expand since its dedication on Sept. 12. The library is still seeking donations so that children learning about music can accompany the harp with a set of tuned drums, griffin chimes and pagoda bells.

The top portion of the harp resembles a conventional harp made out of PVC pipe – something of Kovac’s trademark specialty – and is strung with metal strings. The bottom portion consists of a larger clear acrylic pipe surrounded by red, white and blue Tynex strings on traditional harp zither pins.

When a good gust blows through the strategically placed instrument, it creates a smooth tone somewhat similar to that of musical glasses or a glass harmonica.

“Nicki thinks she’s been scammed because it hasn’t made any noise yet … because it takes a really stiff wind to do it,” Kovac said laughingly.

Kovac said wind harps strung out of boxes within windows were popular in Victorian times. He said one Irish legend of the harp’s origin started with a woman Canola, who found musical inspiration in wind blowing across a decaying animal carcass. Now, Aeolian harps create music as large, artistic sculptures in windy areas.

Since starting out in 1991, Kovac has made about 500 different harps and said this is probably his fourth wind harp. Others that he’s created in the past have been made out of wood and have since become homes for bird nests. Lynch said Kovac has been a great asset to the library between his installation and introduction of the Vibes at the Libes monthly music program.

Library patron Elsie Upchurch chose to donate funds to the library so it could check the children’s garden off its wish list. Lynch said children have enjoyed doodling on the paved sections with sidewalk chalk, playing among the statues and using the huge chess pieces for games.

“The kids love it, they play chess all the time,” she said. “Even the younger ones are busy hauling them around.”

She said the library hopes to install some of the other instruments using donations in November and eventually wrap the garden around to the other side of the library.

Kathy Jacob, youth services assistant at the library, said the harp adds a new and unexpected musical facet to a garden that encourages children to explore many topics.

“It fosters the imagination and gives them another opportunity to play and learn and explore through the things that are out there,” she said.

Kovac said he hopes the sturdy materials he crafted the harp from will keep the instrument standing and singing for years to come.

“It’s really amazing … when you hear it, it’s hard to believe what it sounds like,” he said.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com