PERHAPS EVERYONE does not keep a resident harpist, as Miss Manners does. If this is the case, it is a pity, because while it is true that there is some difficulty and expense involved in keeping a harpist in one's house, there is no more soothing music to cleanse one of the day's toils. Also, it helps keep harpists off the street, where the weather is often bad for their instruments.
For those who do, or who may occasionally encounter a harpist outside of the concert hall, in a restaurant, nightclub, shopping mall or other public place, Miss Manners would like to pass on a few rules of etiquette to be observed between harpist and harpee, as it were. She has consulted a number of harpists, in addition to her own, on such matters as tipping, flirting and talking, auxiliary activities associated with music played under informal circumstances.
To some extent, these rules may also be applied to those playing other instruments in such settings. (Indeed, Miss Manners has gotten to where she hardly bothers opening her mouth any more to say something that does not have universal application.) But harpists seem naturally to inspire a certain level of basic respect, possibly because one knows, or at least hopes, that one will have to meet them again in the hereafter.
For example, lady harpists report that improper overtures made to them by customers are more properly made than even to the same ladies when they are playing the piano or singing in a public accommodation. Harpists tend to attract notes that read, "I am madly in love with you," rather than "How about it?"
Needless to say, the same rule applies to all musicians, as to all workers serving the public: One does not take advantage of someone with a professional desire to please by attempting to shift this to a personal level. Nevertheless, if you must write impassioned notes to strangers, the old-fashioned ones about love are better than the more technical ones.
A less charming form of respect, to most harpists, is that they are less frequently tipped than are other musicians. The assumption seems to be, because of the aristocratic, not to mention heavenly, associations with the instrument, and perhaps because of its costliness, that they would disdain the money. A little thought would prompt the question of what brought them out of their drawing rooms to play in your favorite restaurant.
It is proper to offer a musician a tip, and if it is unwelcome, the musician may say graciously that it is his or her pleasure to play for you. If one makes requests, one offers one, three or five dollars, depending on the expense of the establishment. "Clair de Lune," known in the harp business as "Clear the Room," deserves top price.
A drink is not a tip, although one gentleman harpist has worked out the ingenious arrangement of having the waiter bring him a ginger ale so he can seem to accept, and then crediting him with the drink. When he has enough credits saved up, he entertains his own friends at the nightclub.
Harpists tend not to drink, or to converse, while playing, and the opportunities to do so should only be offered between pieces. General conversation among the customers is expected in nightclubs and restaurants, and should not offend the musician.
Harpists know that their instruments are irresistible to others, everyone having had a secret desire to play the harp, and will occasionally allow people to pluck a string or two. They do not, however, tolerate their doing this unasked. One lady said that she particularly did not like it when a drunk walked through her harp strings.
Awe and respect (except in that matter of tips) is to be expected and encouraged toward all musicians, no matter where they are playing. They are the ones, after all, who obeyed their parents, as you did not, when told to practice. As a result, their cultural level tends to be higher than that of the disobedient, and their income level lower.
MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q. We have granddaughters registered in their mother's maiden name, although the parents are married. (This woman is not a celebrity, famous under her own name.) We just haven't been able to figure out why, and feel they should be registered in the father's name. At this point, the children receive mail in the mother's name, and will probably be sent to school that way. Please, what is your opinion?
A. Miss Manners' heartfelt opinion is that if you attempt to argue this point with your daughter-in-law, you will never hear the end of it, if you live to be 1,000.
You are going by custom, which gives legitimate children the surname of their father, and illegitimate children that of their mother. Your daughter-in-law, and presumably your son, are going by logic, by which the paternal nomenclature can be shown to be arbitrary, as the children have two parents.
Perhaps the realization that no slur was intended on your family will resign you to letting this matter pass without comment. If not, the fact that you will lose a dispute should.