Sun 12 Jan 2014
The Dance Palace started off its new year of shows Saturday evening with a dazzling musical/theatrical performance by Legends of the Celtic Harp, comprised of musicians Patrick Ball, Lisa Lynne, and Aryeh Frankfurter.
Publicity photo of the trio distributed by the Dance Palace.
Advance publicity quoted an unnamed reviewer of one of the group’s performances as writing: “Legends of the Celtic Harp is a blend of music and oratory falling somewhere between concert and theater. It spanned nearly the range of human feeling, from humor to tragedy, tenderness to rage, reality to mysticism, and more besides.”
From that description, I didn’t know just what to expect, but I went anyhow, and I’m sure glad I did.
Patrick Ball, who’s performed in West Marin previously, is both a master of the Celtic Harp and an engaging storyteller.
Although they have been called among the best in the world, Ball modestly said the name Legends of the Celtic Harp does not apply to the group itself but to the material in their performances. Indeed, Ball — usually accompanied by music — retold fascinating stories from Irish legend about harps and “harpers.”
Speaking with a wonderful Irish brogue (learned while spending time in Ireland), the harpist recited Irish poems and even a prayer. Ball, who holds a master’s degree in History from Dominican College, not only told tales of ancient harpers, he occasionally threw in a traditional Irish dig or two at the English. (England colonized Ireland in the 12th century, resulting in eight centuries of rebellion against the British throne.)
Lisa Lynne publicity photo.
Harpist Lynne, who played other stringed instruments as well, told a miraculous story of how her life had been changed by playing the harp. She started out as a bass player in a Heavy Metal band, she said, and later moved on to a biker band. While still in these bands, she began introducing harp music into their sets and found that audiences loved it.
In 1999, the nation was stunned by the Columbine (Colorado) High School massacre, in which two boys shot to death 12 students and a teacher, as well as injuring 24 others, before committing suicide. Not long after this, the family of one of the injured students, a girl who had become paralyzed below the waist, contacted Lynne. It turned out the one thing bringing the injured girl any comfort was a recording of Lynne’s harp music.
Lynne then traveled to Columbine, played for the girl’s family, and helped get a harp for the girl. It was the first thing the girl was given when she was able to sit up, and she took to it immediately, Lynne said. By this point in her story, half the Dance Palace audience was in tears.
Very quickly, word got out that a harp’s happy, soothing sound comforted and brightened the lives of people in hospitals, nursing homes, and even facilities for juvenile delinquents.
Through a program she helped launch, Lynne said, harpists now play for patients throughout hospitals “except in post-op wards.” They don’t want patients freaking out at hearing harp music as they wake up from surgery, Lynne explained, drawing prolonged laughter from the audience.
As it happens, Aryeh Frankfurter is Lynne’s partner, and he sometimes played a Celtic Harp with Lynne and Ball. More often, however, he played an instrument most of the audience had never seen before, a Swedish Nyckelharpa.
The Nyckelharpa is bowed like a violin but uses piano-style keys, not fingers, to fret the chords. The reason we’re not familiar with it, Frankfurter said, is that the instrument is played primarily in Swedish folk music.
After the performance ended, I spoke with several people who, like I, had wondered ahead of time what exactly to expect. All of us, it turned out, had been enchanted by what we’d just heard.
Unfortunately, there won’t be another chance to hear Legends of the Celtic Harp around here soon. Although they’re from the Bay Area, the trio spend most of their year on the road. Their next stops are in Oregon. Ball then plays Mendocino and Willits before the trio head to the Southwest and then on to the East Coast.