LEGENDS OF THE CELTIC HARP
Caltech’s Beckman Institute Auditorium, 400 S. Wilson Ave., Pasadena
8 p.m. Saturday, July 7
By Jim McConnell
There’s a little bit of heaven known as Irish music. And what would heaven be without harps?
Patrick Ball, Lisa Lynne and Aryeh Frankfurter will bring their strings to Caltech on July 7 as part of the Caltech Folk Music Society’s ongoing series of concerts. The show is “Legends of the Celtic Harp” and it promises to be a unique musical experience.
The presentation blends music with the spoken word, tracing the history of the Irish harp, the Irish people and their love of storytelling through music.
In addition to the harp, Lynne plays Irish bouzouki and mandolin, Frankfurter plays Swedish nyckelharpa and cittern, and Ball plays the whistle. All are acclaimed musicians and recording artists who unite to revive the tradition of harp playing, something that dates back at least 1,000 years in Ireland.
“Lisa, Aryeh and I were friends before we were a musical group,” Ball said. “To be able to perform with friends, that’s pretty special. Plus which, of course, Lisa and Aryeh are masters of their instruments. I feel honored to play alongside them.”
There is a singular style to the trio’s sound, due to their gifts and the instruments they play. Ball plays the traditional 32-string Irish harp, an instrument with brass strings and no foot pedals. Lynne and Frankfurter also play Irish harps, but theirs utilize the more conventional nylon strings.
“I play my harp with my fingernails, (while) Lisa and Aryeh use their finger tips and wear finger pads,” Ball said. “Actually, Lisa wears those false fingernails, so those sitting close to the stage may wind up with a souvenir.”
Ball admits the brass strings are tough on the fingers, but he feels the sound he achieves is well worth the pain.
“The beauty of the brass strings is that, if I play correctly, I get a bell-like sound,” he said. “And I love the blend of that sound with the nylon strings, it gives each harp an individual voice.”
Ball handles the spoken presentations, which can cover an extensive range of subject matter. Music, history, the perils of driving SoCal freeways: it is all fair game for Ball.
“The traditional Irish minstrel was very much a storyteller,” Ball said. “So this helps revive and preserve that tradition. But what we do also has a modern context, in that we use the music to emphasize the stories and the stories to emphasize the music, not unlike the musical score for a movie.
“As far as what I might talk about at Caltech, I have some set pieces but I admit I may range rather wide. We’ll see how it goes. It’s good to keep a sense of adventure in the shows.
“We have appeared at Caltech before (most recently, in November 2010) but each of our shows definitely tends to be different, so we’ll have a few surprises for our fans.”
Among those surprises, Ball hopes, will not be the breaking of a string.
“Using brass strings has its hazards,” he said. “They have to be strung tightly, and when they break, they made a noise every bit as ugly as the music is beautiful. It’s the one aspect of our sound we don’t care to share with the audience.”