Harpercraft is one of the traditional crafts on Pern. Major crafthall is located in Fort Hold.


A detailed description of the Craft on the basis of the The Dragonlover's Guide to Pern

This section of the Fort Hold complex was once the ground-level living quarters for those who had claustrophobia or a fear of heights. The Hall ceilings were cut immensely high, because the colonists had no idea what the rooms would be used for in days to come. That has worked out to the Craft's advantage, giving superb acoustics to the chorus room. The Hall is constructed around a central courtyard entirely made of stone. The windows are flanked by jointed metal shutters kept in good repair. The Great Hall has windows nearly three man-heights high.

The communications center high above the plain has continued in its function, exchanging radio sets for drums, right into the present day.

Unlike any other Craft or guild on Pern, harpers do not have any other official Crafthall except for the one in Fort Hold. The Harper Hall holds a great responsibility beyond those of simple education and entertainment: It is the receptacle and the preserver of Pern's history. Not only does a harper learn the Traditions, but he learns also how to teach them to others.

In order to maintain an atmosphere that is conducive to learning, the founder of the Harper Hall, Rudi Schwartz, established classes in a hall of the residence chambers specifically for teaching children during the day. The high ceilings made it an ideal room for scratch bands of musical enthusiasts to rehearse in the evenings.

The Harper Hall started out as a small Craft and ended up as the propaganda point and communications center for Pern. It has become the clearing point for information, as well as a Craft, responsible for the job of sorting out rumor from real news.

The harpers began as the teachers who gave children their basic instruction before sending them on to other assignments for which they showed aptitude, and as the musicians who entertained the Hold in the evenings after the day's work. Gradually the Craft evolved in a similar direction to the druidic tradition on ancient Earth: prognosticator, judge, and bard.

The Harper Halls purpose is the dissemination of information. The network of journeymen and Masters across Pern keeps all the Holds, Halls, and Weyrs in touch with one another. Musically skilled people can begin their apprenticeships in distant Halls, though the Harper Hall does not recruit outside students for its information-gathering service. Masterharpers prefer to study likely candidates at close range. A single misplaced or indiscreet message can badly damage the Hall's credibility as an unbiased judge.

Apprentices sponsored to the Craft by their local Masters are forwarded to the Harper Hall for further evaluation. If an apprentice is accepted by the Hall, he or she is given exhaustive instruction in voice, instrument making, composition and writing, and chorale singing, and must demonstrate proficiency in playing at least one instrument besides percussion. If, after his initial instruction, he shows talent in one branch of the Craft, the student may become apprenticed to the specific Master in charge of that specialty.

Not all apprentices are promoted to journeyman. Those who are take on new responsibilities, such as administrative duties. If they remain in the Harper Hall, they may be put in charge of some of their Master's apprentices. Chorale journeymen learn to arrange music and conduct a group of singers. Those who play instruments or sing well may be asked to pass those skills on to paying students and must learn to teach.

If a journeyman leaves the Hall, he may go to a large or major Hold, where he might be one of several harpers hired by the Holder. Telgar, Benden, High Reaches, Tillek, and Ista each have one or two Masters and a number of journeymen, depending on the number of children and elderly. In addition to teaching the children, the harpers entertain those too old to work.

A Hold may be without harpers if the Lord Holder is too stingy to pay a reasonable wage and no one will work for what he is willing to pay. In some small holds, a harper may be assigned to work for room and board, depending on the hold's importance to the Harper Hall.

A harper negotiates his own contract with the Holder seeking to employ him. He may choose privileges rather than marks, or a combination of perquisites and money, such as a few marks, a runner beast, a choice apartment, and certain edible (or drinkable) delicacies. Haggling for services can go just as smartly as any dicker at a Gather. If a harper is permanently assigned to a post, he is expected to settle down and marry a local girl. If he is temporary, he will probably make himself popular with the ladies, not limiting his attentions to a single one who will be brokenhearted when he leaves. One of his duties is to help arrange marriages for young men and women both inside and outside the Hold.

Journeyman harpers, known as "route riders, " teach at some of the lesser cotholds as they drop by each in turn, staying overnight and going on the next day, so they can cover an entire territory at least once a month. It is a strenuous position. Their job is to sing one or two songs, pick up any information, and pass the news from hold to hold.

A tactful journeyman may also be asked to dispense justice and officiate at weddings. If the disputers who requested his services are not satisfied with his decision, they can appeal to the Masterharper. Beyond him, they may go to the local Lord Holder or still higher, to a conclave of Lord Holders.

If a Lord Holder reverses a harper's decision, it is only courtesy to let the harper know why. The Lords need the Harper Hall as much as the Hall needs the goodwill of the Lord Holders.

Because of their position as justiciars and information bearers, harpers enjoy a sort of invulnerability that forbids anyone to hurt or mistreat them. It is the depth of bad manners to injure a harper. If a Holder is stingy or dishonest, the Hall withdraws its harpers from his Hold and blackballs him until he changes his mind, but if a Holder is actively brutal, all the other Crafts will join in the boycott and withdraw their Masters from the Hold. Traders might cease to stop there as word of the boycott spreads. The Crafthalls pride themselves on their autonomy, and they stick together when threatened. An economic sanction is a powerful coercion on Pern, as the sources for commodities are limited.

However, if a harper feels that a Holder is in dire need of a lesson, he may spread a satirical song about him. It is often a greater punishment to be laughed at than to have one's pockets pinched by a boycott.

Literacy and education are handled on the apprentice system all over Pern. From the colony days forward, everyone has been taught by rote the fundamentals of reading, writing, and basic accountancies by his fosterer or Craftsmaster. The Hold harper takes over and teaches history and more specific subjects. From him children learn the Traditional songs and how to sing them. The songs are more than just musical entertainment—they embody the history of Pern, advice, warnings, and listings too tedious to learn without music.

Women in the Holds do not always learn to read, nor do some farmholders. Drudges are rarely taught to read. They are usually the mental defectives, given what tasks they can easily handle, most of which do not include the written word.

The harper's job of prognosticator altered somewhat to teaching the Pernese how to determine when to expect Thread and to prepare for it. The Sagas and Traditional songs instruct them what to look for and what to do.

Seas boil and mountains move,
Sands heat, dragons prove
Red Star passes.
Stones pile and fires burn
Green wither, arm Pern.
Guard all passes.
Star Stone watch, scan sky.
Ready the Weyrs, all riders fly;
Red Star passes.


The harper's job is to maintain the history of a place so that men will know their background and be able to learn from their ancestors' actions. He learns from the extensive Archives kept at the Hall by the Master Archivist, and passes along Traditions to the new generations who need to learn the perspective that history gives.

Children who live in outside holds learn from their parents in the warm season, and winter in a large or major Hold, where a harper teaches them. Children who live too far away or in a hold too poor to afford its own harper or to have many books and records are taught by a woman or elder of the family. They are further educated by roving journeymen harpers who cover a route, going from small hold to small hold all year round.

A child's education continues until he is fourteen, which is considered the age of reason and responsibility. At that time he begins full-time work. Unless he shows particular promise for music, he will attend no more classes with the harper. Holders marry around age sixteen, and the girls have their children as soon as possible. By this age they will have absorbed as much education as they are going to get.

Under the Masterharper in the Harper Hall, there are administrators and music Masters, journeymen, apprentices, students, and, provided by the Halls headwoman, cooks, stewards, and drudges. Outside the Hall, the Masterharper has charge of the Masters and journeymen who work in Holds and Weyrs, and oversees their judgments in cases of law, of which records are sent to him as soon as possible. Information gathered by the journeymen and Masters out of the Hall travels from Hold to Hall, or directly to the Harper Hall if it is sufficiently important.

At present, the Healercrafthall, too, occupies part of the Harper Hall. Over the long history of Pern, it has occupied several different locations as need dictated. It made the greatest sense, as Pernese became more spread out over the smaller Northern Continent, to base the healers where requests for their assistance could be relayed the most quickly. Apprentice or journeyman harpers act as messengers, translating the beaten measures and bringing news from the Drum Heights at greater speed than by any other means than dragonback or fire-lizard message tube.

The Masterharper has his own apprentices and journeymen, who report directly to him at all times, whose talents run beyond those of simple musical proficiency. He makes use of those who can make quick and reasonable decisions on their own. An apprentice cannot always report to his journeyman or Master in a sticky situation, and needs to be able to think on his feet. The Harper Hall «plays more than one tune» for Pern. Not only does it provide entertainment for every occasion, it effects important social change by helping people to accept new ideas.

Robinton, the most famous Master-harper of Pern, has technically retired, but his opinion, his expertise, and his good humor will be sought until he dies. He is a rueful, self-directed man who has a total understanding of his world and is just a little disappointed in those people in it who do not live up to their potential. He has a keen eye for human foibles and has the knack for expressing complicated concepts so that anyone can understand them. Robinton is a natural actor, a merciless imitator of other peoples voices and mannerisms. This trait got him in trouble frequently during his youth but became useful when he was asked to fill roles on behalf of the information-gathering branch of the Harper Hall. It was this side of him, as well as his musical talents, that eventually saw him elected Masterharper. His musical skills do encompass a great range; he composes and arranges instrumental pieces, as well as singable ditties.

Robinton has never married but has enjoyed a warm relationship with Silvina, the headwoman of the Harper Hall. They produced one son, Camo, who turned out to be retarded. Robinton could not bring himself to father any more children, lest they all turn out to be like the first. His misfortune is a source of melancholy to him.

It takes a man with a strong mind and a commanding personality to be the Master-harper. The Long Interval robbed the Hall of much of its purpose. If there was no need for dragons or Threadfall procedures, what need was there for harpers, except as teachers of the young and as evening entertainers?

With Robinton's assistance and faithful support, Benden Weyr was able to reestablish its authority on the eve of Threadfall. Privately, he has always had a mad crush on the Weyrwoman, partly because she is unattainable, and partly because she is unconsciously sexy. Publicly, he swears a greater allegiance to Benden wine, the finest pressings on Pern. He is not a classic alcoholic—he suffers none of the behavior changes or the physical marking of that disease—but he is a dedicated and consummate tippler with a virtually unmatched capacity. (Only the two Winecraftmasters of Benden and Tillek, and Mastersmith Fandarel, can boast greater tolerances.)

When Robinton retired, due to ill health, Master Sebell ascended to the position, though not the title, of Masterharper. Robinton moved to Cove Hold, where he instructs apprentices and journeymen sent to him from the Hall, and assists Lord Lytol in the excavation of the archaeological sites discovered by Lord Jaxom and the white dragon Ruth of Ruatha.

Instruments and Tools

Composition Masters rarely waste hide and ink on apprentices. Most composition and design work in the Harper Hall (and in the Smithcrafthall) is done on sandtables. These tables are long, rectangular boxes divided widthwise into two compartments and set on raised trestles. The boxes are filled with very fine sand, almost powdered stone. The sand is dampened down with hand sprayers filled with water, which are kept on the dividers or in a bracket attached to the side of the table. Using a stylus, the composer or designer presses characters into the sand. A brush or the blunt end of the stylus is used to fill in errors. When the work is finished, the sand is allowed to dry, and then the surface is sprayed with liquid clay, a substance like plaster, to preserve the score or design. If the table is needed by another composer, the casting can be removed and brushed clean. When done carefully to a very specific depth, the casting can be daubed with ink and “printed” on hide. The clays are dissolved and reused over and over.

Songs are composed for all occasions: births, deaths, Lord Holder accessions and confirmations, weddings, and festivals; and to spread news.

The Instrument Maker's Workshop

Part of the harper's trade is the making and repairing of instruments. A harper can better understand the tonal qualities of the music he plays if he knows how to put together the instrument that produces it. A poorly joined guitar is more likely to produce false tones, thereby reducing the credibility of its player; a harp with an incorrectly made frame cannot stay in tune.

In the Harper Hall, apprentices begin their education in the crafting of instruments by learning about the tools they will use. All the traditional woodworker's tools are here: knives; saws; drafting equipment; oil, water, and glue tubs; brushes; awls; vises; forge and anvil; plus many designed especially for making musical instruments. The apprentice begins by making only the simplest ones: pipes, tabors and sticks, tamborines. When these are adjudged by the Instrument-Craftmaster to be fashioned correctly, the apprentice moves on to more complex joinery.

Journeymen should know how to make any instrument from frames, skins, metals, and lengths of wood. Masters who specialize in instrument crafting must know not only how to make the instruments and cases from scratch, but how to make the tools, and choose and prepare the raw materials, as well. Legend has it that the Instrument-Craftmaster can glance at a herdbeast in a field and judge how well its hide will sound stretched over a drum frame.

The Instrument-Crafthall is laid out in a large, L-shaped stone room. Heavy, smooth stone floor tiles are fitted together with scarcely a crack between them. The walls are lined to the ceiling beams with instruments in all conditions: partially made, ill made, and Mastercrafted. Sandtables stand here and there around the room for use by the students and teachers when working on their designs. At his own worktable, the Master keeps piles of cured record hides showing how instruments were crafted throughout Pern's history, telling which designs were favored and why, citing regional preference, and so on. There are also tomes written by past Masters discussing which woods and metals are best for specific uses. Journeymen are encouraged to use one of these traditional designs when crafting their personal gitars, as these will usually be the standard by which their skill is judged.

Instrument players in the Harper Hall have a wide choice of instruments. The instrument makers are allowed, even encouraged, to experiment in style. There are varieties of gitars, some with the traditional bell, some with big, curved bells like lutes or mandolins. There may even be a sort of banjo made by a talented journeyman. Students are taught to make many different kinds of flutes from reed, wood, or metal, or combinations of the three. They learn to make all kinds of percussion instruments—tambourines, tabors, conga, and bongos—and the full range of orchestral drums: snare, trap drums, kettle and bass.

Kettle drums, big-bellied frames made of copper or bronze, are used in the Drum Heights for sending messages. Ceramic, wooden, or brass-tongued xylophones and thumb-pianos make good accompaniment for certain kinds of songs. Menolly demonstrated her prowess to Master Jerint by constructing a bodhran, a shallow hand drum formed by stretching skin across a round frame with a crosspiece beneath for the player to hold. The bodhran is played with a knucklebone or two-ended stick. It is one of the most versatile of drums, and a skilled player can get many different sounds out of it.

Brass horns are of antique design because the Pernese cannot make anything more sophisticated at their level of mechanical development. They have coronets and trumpets, straight horns, a form of trombone, and bugles, but no flugel or French horns, or any other that need complicated valves. The technology does not exist to duplicate the synthesizers that came with the Landing group. Those wore out long ago or are still sealed in the Catherine Caves in the Southern Continent.

Harps exist in many styles. A wealthy Hold might have a floor harp, but even a lap harp is rare because of the lack of valuable hardwoods. Lyres or dulcimers, which are economical in size, are much more common. A journeyman in the Instrument-Craft will learn what to look for in suitable metals and woods. The newly formed Woodcraft in Lemos exchanges information and techniques with the Harpercrafthall. It is at Master Robinton's urging that such information not be so tightly held as craft secrets so that one man's death cannot throw a whole world into confusion, as it has in the past.

Positions and responsibilities

  • Teacher‎ — these professions, used after the landing, were later abolished and merged into the Harpercraft.
  • Harper — the general name of specialists.
  • Composer, singer — directions of musical career.
  • Voice, instrument and musical theory Masters — special teaching positions.
  • Drummer — workers of drum towers, code experts.
  • Archivist — the keeper of archives, monitors the safety and updating of records.
  • Spy — special representatives, almost never make music, wander the world, secretly collect information for the Masterharper, usually have codename.


First Pass / First Interval

The Harper Hall is located at Fort Hold, the first Hold established in the northern hemisphere after the Second Crossing. It was initially known as the College, and was the central training point for medical and teaching personnel.

First Interval / Second Pass

As the level of technology dropped, the community struggled to justify training personnel to use techniques that could no longer be utilized, including genetics and computer science.

The battle for survival under the onslaught of Thread demanded a reorganization of priorities. The decision was then made to utilise music as an easy medium to teach and communicate within the low-tech society.

The theme of tradition, which runs throughout McCaffrey's writing, is based on Teaching Ballads and Sagas taught by the Harper Hall to all Pernese.

  • Craftsmaster: Clisser (Head Teacher‎).

Second Interval / Third Pass

Sixth Pass

Eighth Interval / Ninth Pass

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