Review: Legends of the Celtic Harp

From left, Patrick Ball, Lisa Lynne and Aryeh Frankfurter are the Legends of the Celtic Harp.

Patrick Ball jokes that he, Lisa Lynne and Aryeh Frankfurter are harpist legends only in their mothers’ minds. They call their program Legends of the Celtic Harp, because it includes both the stories and the music of that once almost-lost instrument.

However, after hearing them play Saturday night in a Storytelling Arts event at the Indiana History Center, I would call them legendary too. Their concert was sublime.

The three musicians actually brought several stringed instruments on stage. Besides Patrick Ball’s wire-strung Celtic harp and Lisa Lynne and Aryeh Frankfurter’s gut-strung and/or nylon-strung Celtic harps, Frankfurter had a Swedish nyckelharpa (or keyed fiddle). He and Lynne also each played a round stringed instrument that was new to me but was either an Irish bouzouki, a cittern or a mandolin, according to publicity.

Patrick Ball was the main storyteller of the trio. I've enjoyed many of his solo concerts in the past, but in those the playing and speaking had to take turns. This time around, both could truly entwine. Ball’s telling style is dance-like: sometimes he rises up on the balls of his feet or weaves his fingers together in an open basket as if to both value the words more and offer them more generously to the audience. His skilled voice and timing give the words in his stories the passion and precision of poetry.

The first part of the program was a rich and moving mix of folktales, historical accounts and pieces of music by various composers from Druid times in Ireland to the present, shared chronologically. Along the way we became convinced of the power and beauty of harps if we weren’t already.

We learned a little about these three artists too. Frankfurter satisfied our curiosity about the nyckelharpa he sometimes played. It's an unusual instrument — sort of a long, thin, stringed box with several levers and buttons, plus a bow for drawing across the strings. Frankfurter was a violinist before he became a harpist.

At another point, Lynne shared that she was a bassist in a metal band when she heard a Celtic harp at a Renaissance Fair and fell in love with it. Now she not only plays harps but composes music for them, and teaches sick people to play harps for healing purposes.

Even the artists’ clothes were harmonious: all luxurious materials in plum and black.

The second half of the program was devoted to a longer fiction piece about one harpist’s life and the harps that came into it, each with its own personality and gifts. It was written by Ursula K. LeGuin and told by Patrick Ball with her permission. Lisa Lynne composed music for it to be played on their several instruments. The piece as a whole was sad and inspiring and wonderful.

For their encore, Ball said he would recite an Irish blessing that his mother had laminated for him on a plaque. We laughed together about the kitschiness of that, but then Ball added something like, “I don’t know if blessings are real. I was raised to believe they are but I don’t know. I do know that the love of a mother for her son can be a powerful thing.” He recited, and the other two played, and I left feeling both transported and grounded.


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