(Previousy published in the Southern Oregon Mail Tribune.)
Patrick Ball was introduced to the Celtic harp in the ’80s at a Renaissance fair. As a student of Irish history, a storyteller and a musician, he was attracted to the harp’s rich, bell-like qualities. Since that time, Ball has recorded nine albums and traveled internationally, presenting his theatrical histories and playing a wire-strung Celtic harp made by luthier Jay Witcher. Now, Ball has teamed with San Francisco-based harpists Lisa Lynne and Aryeh Frankfurter for a new project, “Legends of the Celtic Harp.”
“The whole drift of the narrative concerns the history and the legends of these particular instruments,” Ball says
More than 200 years ago, the wire-strung harp disappeared from the Celtic repertoire as a result of Irish subjugation by the English. With the expulsion of the age-old instrument, much of the music, which had never been recorded, was lost.
Since the 1970s, musicians and historians have sought to resurrect the instrument along with its forgotten melodies.
“These harps had lots of myths and lore attached to them, so there was no shortage of stories,” Ball says.
The first half of the program weaves myths, memoirs and vignettes with works by anonymous composers as well as pieces by Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738), a blind harpist known as the “last of the Irish bards.”
“He lived in an oppressive time but wrote these astonishing, beautiful and uplifting pieces,” Ball says.
For the second set, Ball will relate the story of Gwilan, a young Irish harpist who traveled between rural villages, serenading folks with her wonderful gift of music.
The story was written by Ursula K. Le Guin and is set in A.D. 1000.
When Ball first heard the story, he says he immediately thought of Lynne’s music.
“It was almost like a soundtrack to this particular story,” Ball says.
In addition to collaborating on “Legends of the Celtic Harp,” Lynne and Frankfurter are independent musicians with their own record labels and studios. The two perform as a duo and as solo musicians.
Lynne and Frankfurter also share parallel histories. They each have about 15 solo albums, were introduced to the harp at Renaissance fairs and have backgrounds in slightly more “upbeat” music.
In the ’80s, Frankfurter played electric violin in a progressive rock band, and Lynne played bass in a heavy-metal band. The musicians have long since discovered their affinity for the harp. Lynne’s music has repeatedly placed in the Top 10 and Top 20 on Billboard’s New Age music chart.
For the show, Lynne plays a nylon-strung harp, mandolin and bouzouki, and Frankfurter plays nylon-strung harp, Swedish nyckelharpa and Irish cittern.
“Irish folk harps should not be confused with the big, golden, pedal harps you see in orchestras, which were developed much later — in the 17th century — when Renaissance music went into classical,” Lynne says.
Celtic harps have a much warmer, earthy sound, she says.