Written by Kerrie Alexander
After some serious soul searching while on a solitary retreat in the Southern Highlands about 25 years ago, Brandden Lassells decided to do a full 360 degree turn on his career.
Born in the USA, the now Hervey Bay resident has a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture and Town Planning, and a Master of Fine Arts degree.
His advanced studies include architecture with the likes of Paulo Soleri, furniture design with Wendell Castle and ceramics-sculpture with Frans Wildenhain.
His life experiences and career paths have varied from teaching at university level to building designer-craftsman houses, to being a potter and furniture maker, to project manager of major construction projects in Sydney.
He migrated to Australia in the late 1980s as an adventure, fell in love with the country and subsequently become an Australian citizen.
The 81-year-old has had a life full of very rewarding careers but at the time of his retreat he was still yearning for something more.
At a mature age, he found the harp and became intrigued by the design and many variations of the old-school instrument.
“I was having some health issues at the time and I went there (retreat) and decided what I wanted to do with my life, and that was to build harps,” Brandden said.
Incredibly, he didn’t master the art of playing it but that’s okay, he didn’t need to.
Brandden sketched out some ideas on how to improve the sound through design and spent several months travelling around the world to train alongside other Luthiers.
“I was just fascinated by the sound of the harp,” Brandden said.
“I tried to play it but wasn’t all that good at it, but I thought I could make a better one.
“So, I set off around the world learning from other harp makers, sweeping floors, sanding, picking up anything I could learn.”
Brandden returned to Australia, hired a factory in Gosford NSW, and started building harps.
Word soon got out about the fantastic sound and fine craftsmanship of the harps that he produced.
Before long he had a waiting list and was selling worldwide based on this reputation.
“In my entire career of making harps I have never not had a waiting list,” he said.
“There was a three-year wait at one stage until I hired some people to help me.
“The biggest thing is the sound of them. I find the sound so rewarding and I just love getting them finished.
“Giving them to customers finished is very rewarding.”
Since the late nineties, he has made over 300 harps and is now only one of four professional Luthiers in Australia.
It takes around a month to build the instrument from start to finish and price can range anywhere from $2000 to $15,000 and more, depending on its build.
Brandden has trained a number of people over the years, some of whom went on to only do harp repairs, and others just found it too hard and gave up.
That was until a chance meeting with a young Gympie creative named Ziko Hart who had already developed his own style of African harp but was yet to master the art of other variations.
It was a match made in heaven and a relief for Brandden who feared that he would never find another harp builder to carry on his legacy.
Ziko now works with Brandden three days a week at his Booral property where the shed and home are totally taken over by everything harps.
Brandden is one of very few people able to carry out repairs and restorations, and with a lack of mobility, he mostly looks after the administration side of the business.
Ziko spends from dusk to dawn in the shed creating these immaculate works of art, some of which are totally unique to the now Hervey Bay-based business.
“We are one of a few in the world that make the Cross Strung or Chromatic Harp, and the only ones to make a replica of a very early concert style Cross Strung harp.
“Everyone else said they couldn’t be made but we make them and ship them all over the world.”
The two have also developed a totally carbon fibre harp that only weighs about 6kg in comparison to a wood harp that would tip the scales to about 15kg.
“The carbon is more durable; the way we do it we get a good sound out of it. People are impressed with the sound we get out of it.
“We are the only one in Australia making a totally carbon fibre harp and there’s only one other person in the world that makes them.”
If you are in the market for a harp let Brandden and Ziko make your dream become a reality. They can supply classical pedal harps, a lever folk or Celtic harp or their custom-made carbon fibre harps or a readymade harp from other world-famous suppliers.
Visit harps.com.au to find out more.