A notation mystery

Dear Harp Spectrum….

(or Solving a Notation Mystery!)

by Joyce Rice

Q. “What does an R-in-a-box sign mean?”

Harp Spectrum, based in Seattle, has received many questions from all over since its birth in 1999. Sometimes I was able to answer them from my own files or experience, harp society directories, and contacts. Weʼve eventually provided lots of information in our Links section or in one article or the other. I think itʼs wonderful that so many people are interested enough in the harp to ask such questions. Isnʼt it amazing, though, how one would Google most or all of those below today?

-Can you help me find a harpist for my wedding in Scotland?

-Do you have any idea where I could buy a how-to book on building a small harp?

- I am looking for some information on an automatic harp.

- I'm searching for all the (harppartitures) harpscores ever made by any harpcomposor. I onley need the title, (the year of making) and the name of the composer. [I didnʼt even try this one.]

- I am looking for resources regarding playing and carrying a small harp at the same time.

- I would like to get a general idea of how much a harpist should charge for services like orchestras, weddings and other gigs.

- I have been given an instrument that is called a piano harp. The date patented is 1894. It is obviously played sitting on the knee - at least I think so. Do you have any ideas about it?

- I am looking for a cross strung harp with the exact range of a classical guitar. Since I am not a harpist (I used to be a guitarist) and I plan to teach my self because it is impossible to find a harp teacher close to where I leave (that is in Crete-Greece) I am looking at a not so very expensive instrument.

- I am in my first year at high school [in Australia] and I am doing a project on the harp for my music class. One of the questions I have to answer is regarding the sound of the harp. The questions are:

Is it soft, medium, loud or all of these?
Is it low, medium, high or all of these?
What does it sound like, smooth, sharp, dull, bright or other?

- Do you sell or can you tell me where i can buy an electronic stringless harp? i saw it at ripley's "believe it or not"...thanks. Can you have one built for me? No strings, just light beams, which create angelic music and also there is an accompaniment and a jack for external recording.

- I'm looking for 12 strings harp tunes ...Could you help me ?

- I'm trying to find a music CD of Nicanor Zabaleta's XVI century Harp Music album released in the early 60's.

-Is there a name for a group of harps?

-Can harps play chromatic scales?

-Who made the first harp, and when?

- I am a 12-year-old music student from Ireland and I have to do an essay on the Belfast harp festival of 1792 do you have any information?

-Where can I find Irish music that might have been contemporary to the Nine Years War that ended in 1603?

-I'm a clarinet player looking for tips about writing for harp. Is it like writing for piano?

But one question came up that Harp Spectrum and its huge staff (hm-m) couldnʼt answer, so I went looking and eventually involved 7 harpists

before an answer appeared. Hereʼs how it went.

Oct 28, 2008, at 6:09 PM

Hi Joyce,

Do you know what the capital letter R standing inside a half box like this _l means? It is in the Bach-Grandjany etudes book in the Bourrée.

Kim DeLibero

Wed, 29 Oct 2008 12:09 pm

Hi Kim,

I referred your question to a harp friend here in Seattle, Mark Andersen, who studied in France, and he says:

"Traditionally that R in the half box was the older way of denoting a harmonic in France. I assume that's what it must be here."

I hope that explanation makes sense.

Thanks for writing,


Oct 29, 2008, at 4:08 PM

Hi Joyce,

Thanks for the reply...but it doesn't fit the situation. If you get any more feedback on this, let me know. I appreciate your help.


Thu, 30 Oct 2008 5:54 pm

Hi Kim,

Mark contacted Marie Jamet, the harpist daughter of Pierre Jamet, a noted French harpist and teacher. She said that she, too, has only seen it in old music when it was denoting a harmonic, and that the half-box meant that the harmonic was to sound an octave higher than where it was played. Their only other idea is that it could be a rehearsal letter, but you would have thought of that. Could you scan and send it to Mark?


Nov 15, 2008, at 2:24 PM

Hi Joyce....

Did you or Mark make sense of that notation which I faxed him from the Bach - Grandjany Etudes? I do have an idea what it probably means...but wanted to know if you knew something definitive.



Sat, 15 Nov 2008 2:30 pm

Hi Kim,

He also showed it to our Seattle guru and composer Lynne Wainwright Palmer, a former Salzedo student, and she didn't recognize it, as far as I can recall, except to think maybe it meant a rolled chord. What have you come up with?


Nov 15, 2008, at 5:15 PM

We're thinking it means to reinforce the sound, which is how I learned the piece originally, but without that notation. They fall in appropriate places for that. What do you think?


Sat, 15 Nov 2008 9:39 pm


Mark emailed the music to Marie Jamet, and says: Marie's best guess was that it meant to roll the chord. I would probably think that Carl [Swanson]'s addition to that would be the only possible solution.....a rolled chord that ends on the beat.

So I guess that's all I/we can find out for you. If you ever get anything authoritative, I hope you let me know!

Take care,


On Nov 16, 2008, at 11:40 AM

I don't think it is a rolled chord, because those are indicated in the edition in the usual way.


Sun, 16 Nov 2008 11:50 am

Erk. I guess we're back to square one. I'm going to ask Isabelle Perrin. Quelle mystère!


Nov 16, 2008 7:20 PM

I know! Whatever happens on this puzzle, it was fascinating to find out that it's a mystery in such a much-used publication. You have been a champ trying to track this down. Hope to meet you one day.


Sun, 16 Nov 2008 1:12 pm


An intriguing aside: I've been mailing back and forth to Mike Parker about a possible Harp Spectrum article on the sound-hole baffles that were common 200 years ago, and he mentioned that there was a "K" marking in some music of the period that directed using the 8th pedal to move the baffles. [Mike says] if Grandjany had been using a baffled harp maybe the R would have some connection, but certainly he wasn't, as they wouldn't have been included in modern (20th c.) harps. Krumpholtz liked them, Bochsa hated them, and even though they were included for 100 years they're long gone now except in museums or in Mike's back room! It's fun trying to track this down. Just think - you're adding to harpists' education! Funny, actually, that no one has asked the question before, or maybe they just didn't put it out there for the public.


Nov 16, 2008, at 2:54 PM

Well, Joyce, I'm gratified to know that I'm not alone in not knowing!!!!!!! Thanks for all your efforts, and keep me posted!


Fri, 5 Dec 2008 8:40 pm

Dear Kim.

Guess what?! The mystery of the R in the half-box has been solved! It was by a roundabout route, though. I wrote to Isabelle Perrin, who tells me:

I sent a message to Linda Rollo about this and she had a very old edition of the Bach-Granjany Etudes that says:

1. for either right or left hand: roll very rapidly, almost unbroken
2. for both hands simultaneously: roll very rapidly, almost unbroken.

It is a little foot-note at the bottom of the page that is missing in the newer editions.

Wow, that's a good lesson for publishers: always include everything that's on the page!


Dec 6, 2008, at 2:48 PM:

Excellent, excellent, excellent!!!!! Thanks for your perseverance!!!!! We should have known Linda Wood Rollo would probably know. I'm an IU grad, and know Linda is extremely knowledgeable. I really do appreciate your effort and interest, Joyce.



Sun, 7 Dec 2008 11:31 pm

Subject: Re: notation mystery

I guess it also helped that she had the old edition of the music! Anyway, I'm glad the mystery is solved.



On Fri, Aug 23, 2013 at 3:35 PM, Joyce Rice wrote:

Hello Linda,

In 2008 you managed to come up with an answer that was vexing Kim DeLibero [now Glennie] about a notation that she had in the Bourrée from a Grandjany edition of Bach Etudes. The question was kicked around quite a bit by various harpists, and then Isabelle Perrin asked you and you had the answer. I thought it would be fun to write up the mystery for the Harp Spectrum website and wondered if you would have a final response. Hereʼs how the stream went…..

Aug. 24, 2013 1:23 PM

Dear Joyce: Thank you for your fascinating email! I had completely forgotten about that question of the notation in Mr. Grandjany's music and my being able to solve it!! It is a shame that the omitted words haven't been put back in the recent editions and maybe someone could ask the publisher to do that. It could easily be pasted in just below the top line. There is plenty of space. Fischer may print in such large quantities that it will be awhile before another reprint comes around, but you never know. Certainly worth a try! I will look forward to reading your article for the Spectrum. All best to you!

Sincerely, Linda Rollo

Final word: I have written to Carl Fischer – letʼs hope they will help us! -JR

Thanks to sleuths Mark Andersen, Marie Jamet, (the late) Lynne Palmer, Mike Parker, Isabelle Perrin, Linda Rollo and Carl Swanson for their help. We're delighted that a solution was found.

[Back to top of page]