Written by Lisa Lynne
Fronted by illustrious Celtic storyteller and wire strung harpist Patrick Ball, our trio blends stories and music to create a theatrical experience that is rich in history, humor and, of course, music. Aryeh and I play nylon-strung harps as well as Swedish Nyckelharpa, Cittern, Irish Bouzouki, mandolin, fiddle, guitar and Bodhran. We all have vibrant careers separately, but were delighted when Patrick saw our duo show and shared his idea with us to create something new together. We have been having a great time traveling and performing for over three adventurous years. We have been to almost every state in the US, including Alaska and Hawaii. We just returned from a performance in Ireland as well.
We have three unique shows together. Our original show Legends of the Celtic Harp traces the stories, myths and historic writing about the harp as it travels through the centuries. Our seasonal show is called A Winter Gift. Our current tour is our newest show called The Door Between the Worlds about the mysterious Celtic “Otherworld.”
As we move through the country by van or plane or even boat, I think a lot about the troubadours of the past. A story in our Legends show tells the epic saga of “Gwilan’s Harp,” by Ursula K. LeGuin, is a tale of a young girl’s journey with her harp and her life of music and rebirth in Ireland circa 1000 AD. Unlike Gwilan, for us there is no horse and cart. We have cruise control and a GPS. But the mission is the same—to share in the love of harps, music and connection.
We have such a shared appreciation for the Celtic harp and the tradition of stories. There is no one more suited to deliver than Patrick Ball. With a master’s degree in Irish history and a deep love for spoken word, he is among one of the most beloved storytellers in the world. The San Francisco Chronicle calls him “an American master of the Irish instrument, a peripatetic modern day bard.” He has been frequently recognized by the National Storytelling Association and various arts council’s awards as well. The man has sold over half a million albums, and Aryeh and I smile every time someone brings him their vinyl copies of his early work to sign. Patrick is a joy to work with and he is just as funny offstage as he is onstage.
Aryeh is a masterful musician. We have been working together as a duo for eight years now and we are a duo in life as well. I had admired him from afar long before we met for his wondrous hybrid of World and progressive music. Aryeh started violin lessons as a toddler. Classically trained on violin (his mother is a violin maker), her later also taught himself to play many other instruments including Celtic harp. He was invited to perform a large concert in Sweden by some fiddlers and it was there he discovered a love for Swedish music—particularly the Nyckelharpa that he now considers his main instrument. He still plays a lot of harp in our shows, but he has become known for helping to introduce this rare instrument from the 14th Century to folks in the States. He is a top-notch sound engineer and producer as well and when we’re not on the road you can find him most happily working away in our recording studio.
As for me, I started guitar as a young kid, electric bass as a teen, playing with heavy metal, classic rock and Top 40 cover bands to make my living. I discovered the harp in my early 20’s and taught myself by playing along to my Pink Floyd albums. I went to Musicians Institute of Technology in Hollywood for further studies of bass, but when I put together my first harp band, it was clear that this was my true love. I did a lot of unusual gigs and ended up busking on Venice Beach selling handmade recordings. I traveled around the country for years playing at malls and festivals in the U.S. and Canada, I started my own record label, and then signed with Windham Hill.
The tragedy at Columbine changed my direction when one of the families was finding my music useful to help their critically wounded daughter sleep. I visited them with my harp at the hospital and then told the harp chat group online I wanted to get the young girl a little harp of her own. Donations came from harpists around the country and with the help of Triplett we got her a full size Celtic harp. This inspired me to start music programs in various hospitals in California starting with City of Hope National Cancer Center. We had concerts in the lobbies with artists such as Kim Robertson, Sylvia Woods and Alfredo Ortiz, hands-on experiences, daytime music in the patient care areas and loaner harps for the patients. This program continues to be successful, and I enjoy sharing what we have learned with others. Whenever possible, I still fill my van with 20 harps and do tours of cancer centers, schools, rehab centers and similar facilities.
A typical day on the road.
We’ll pull up to our venue for sound check around 4:00PM, or earlier, grateful to have GPS. Some venues are impressive state of the art theaters; a fancy place where helpers with dollies await our arrival. Or it may be a dusty old church we’ve rented so we un-load and roll everything in on our own. Aryeh likes to be left alone to set up the stage and sound board, and we have chosen to do our own sound from the stage. The unique qualities of the harps provide challenges so we have learned it’s better, faster and less stressful if Aryeh controls the sound. This set-up makes my Triplett harp, Aryeh’s Dusty Strings harp, Patrick’s Jay Witcher wire strung harp (made for him in 1980) and all the other instruments sound their best.
I will then start setting up our sizable CD table, which includes about 30+ CD offerings between us, with rich table cloths and golden framed signs. We have sheet music books, t-shirts, posters and, sometimes, my mosaic work. We have descriptions for each CD, email lists, postcards and upcoming event brochures. It’s quite a presentation but crucial for our bottom line as selling merchandise is key to supporting these tours. During intermission and after the show we are always here to chat with folks and sign merchandise.
Sometimes we may be a bit tired from a long tour, but from the first moments we start, and the first musical sighs and laughs of the audience, it is heaven. Patrick kicks into high gear. He is like the captain of a big ship that everyone boards. Aryeh and I are quickly switching instruments throughout the show but we still can marvel at all the smiling faces. The show features us playing together and separately and Aryeh and I will tell a story or two as well. The audiences are diverse and the stories and music connect with people from every walk of life. It’s always a success and I feel like the luckiest gal in the world by the time we hear the generous ovation and do an encore. After the show if the venue is small enough I put my harp on the floor and invite audience members to play along with me. I play a left hand pattern and enjoy watching their delight as they pluck out a perfectly random harmonious melody, while their companions snap photos and videos of the moment. Patrick will chat with his admirers and we start the process of breaking down and loading up.
After the show we head to our accommodations for the evening. The venue might provide a hotel, but usually we are given shelter by local supporters and if we are lucky there’s a lovely spread of food and wine waiting for us. We are always famished after a show so my best intentions for eating healthy on the tour go out the window yet again. The hosts are generally wonderful, but we’ve had a few interesting experiences too. We rise the next day, find caffeine, drive for hours and do it all again. Along the way if we have down time we hang out in a coffee shop doing online work or find a local thrift shop to browse for unexpected treasures.
When we put together a tour, we usually start with what is known as “anchor” dates. These larger venues are usually somewhere Patrick has long-term relationships with the theater or cultural arts series. With a couple of those confirmed we look at a map and find various smaller venues that make sense on the map. Those are often called “satellite” dates a couple of hours away in any direction. Aryeh writes letters to churches and sometimes harp chapter leaders around the country. If they agree to help us create an event, sometimes with workshops, then we create the route. If we fly, Aryeh and I are usually able and grateful to borrow harps from the local community, but Patrick always takes his harp as the wire strung harp is such a rare instrument. We often work in school programs so we get to entertain kids from kindergarten to high school. We have special stories for them, and explain each instrument and origin which I love.
After the dates are confirmed I get to work on all the publicity six weeks before the dates. I write press releases, print and mail posters ahead. I fill out calendar sections in newspapers and city websites and reach out to folk radio program hosts. I also seek out the arts and entertainment writers and bloggers. Writing to them personally often results in a newspaper story or radio/TV appearances. I seek out local folk musicians, Celtic groups, literary groups, college professors for music and world studies and harp teachers to say hello and give them all the information regarding the tour. It takes a lot of computer time but that’s the only way to make a tour work. I have worked hard to figure out the best ways to keep track of all the accounting and other do’s and don’ts. It has been such a learning process that I’m now writing a book about how to create successful concerts and tours for both the performers and the presenters. My new book will be a guide for both artists and venues to use for successful events. I hope the book will be out this year to help independent musicians take advantage of new opportunities we have in the music business.
If you’d like to be on our email list, please sign up at my website. www.LisaLynne.com. You will receive a quarterly newsletter packed with fun stuff, videos, music downloads and our show schedules.To learn more about us visit www.LegendsOfTheCelticHarp.com
Come see us in Indianapolis on Saturday, December 3, 2016 at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center. We will be performing “Winter Gift.” Learn more about the event click here. Tickets are available online or by phone, 317-828-7855.