Irish Harpists Bring Unique Music to Anchorage

Three of the world’s best Celtic harp players are in Alaska for the next few days, and will be performing  in Anchorage and in Valdez.  KSKA’s Ellen Lockyer has more about this trio of modern day traveling troubadours and their unique performance, called “Legends of the Celtic Harp.”

The sound could be older than a thousand years, or as new as right now. It is the sound of a Celtic wire harp, an instrument that has not changed much over time. Renowned Celtic harpist Patrick Ball along with fellow harp players Lisa Lynne and Aryeh Frankfurter, will bring the glamour of Ireland to Anchorage through music and storytelling.

Harpist Patrick Ball is a riveting spoken word artist who plucks the wire strings along with his storytelling. He’s reviving a tradition that has about disappeared in Ireland

“But fortunately, before they all died out, all these scholars and their students would lug around these great big wax cylinder recording devices, and they recorded all these old storytellers,” Ball said.

Ball spent time in Ireland, learning the old stories. He is drawn to the haunting music of long ago, like this melody attributed to Ireland’s last great troubadour, O’Carolan

Ball says wire harps have resonated through Irish history. Hundreds of years ago, Irish harpers played for kings, and were lavishly honored.

He says the Celtic harp was being played long before that.

“These wire strung harps are legendary instruments. We know these harps were played at least a thousand years ago. And the first question that arises is how did anyone make wire strings a thousand years ago? But anybody that’s gone to a museum or studied metallurgy or artistry or that kind of thing knows that they had astonishing skill with metal,” Ball said.

But two centuries years ago, use of the instrument stopped. Some years back, Ball chanced to hear the beguiling strains of the Celtic wire harp, re-created by a local man at a California fair. The sound struck something in him.

“And I just happened to be at the fair, and suddenly I heard this astonishing sound, which nobody had heard in 200 years. And so I got one pretty shortly thereafter, and so I was able to blend the ancient wire-strung Celtic harp with the stories that I had heard in Ireland,” Ball said.

Since then, he’s mastered the instrument and produced 12 albums of the ancient music he loves. He’s a storyteller, too, and he can’t resist telling this joke, “So a heavy metal bass player, an electric violin player and a Celtic harpist walk into a bar…”

Well, actually that isn’t a joke. Former rocker bassist Lisa Lynne, and Aryeh Frankfurter, the erstwhile progressive rock electric violinist, have joined Ball for this Alaska tour.

“We’ll be doing more music under the stories. We’ll be playing. We’ll be playing as he’s speaking stories. There’s a lot of instrument switching. ”

Lisa is a multi instrumentalist and composer whose melodies call to mind Medieval and Celtic folk music.

“But I grew up playing acoustic guitar and various acoustic instruments and I was a professional bass player before a professional harpist,” Lynne said. “So all these skills sort of translate to our huge collection of instruments that we have at home”

She has recorded for Windam Hill and New Earth record labels, and has her own production company Lavender Sky Music. And her work in music therapy has gained her national recognition, as well.

“I used to be so into popular music and rock music in the 70s. And I just can’t connect to what’s happening so much in pop radio now. But that love of music and the love of the Renaissance is what carried us all into doing it now. And I’m actually very proud now to be sort of troubadours of the modern time reminding people what real fingers on real strings with nothing but the air and the strings sound. People are really hungry for that. It’s refreshing, it’s timeless,” Lynne said.

Luna De Amor is one of Lisa’s compositions, played here by her with harp accompaniment by Aryeh.

Lisa and Aryeh have worked and toured together for years, and have recorded an album blending their original compositions and traditional melodies.

Aryeh started playing violin at age 3 and took it from there. He plays a number of instruments, including the harp and the unusual Swedish nickleharpa, an instrument he discovered in Sweden while performing there.

“And I was immediately enchanted. As soon as you see it, you become sort of hypnotized by its tone and by how it’s played,” Frankfurter said.

Classically trained, Aryeh has eight harp-oriented CDs and a DVD to his credit and lends his arranging and composing skills to all kinds of musical groups, from Medieval to rock. And it’s that journey from Medieval to contemporary that all three musicians have devoted their careers to, bringing the soothing sound of long ago to our own hectic times.

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