Harpist Maeve Gilchrist grew up alongside the Forth in Portobello, Edinburgh, the daughter of a Scottish father and an Irish mother from Tipperary. Yet she’s lived in America since 2003, when, at the age of 17, the former student of Broughton High’s City of Edinburgh Music School was accepted for Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Her interest lay in bringing jazz-style improvisation to the Scottish clarsach, although at Berklee she was exposed to extensive international influences. Upon graduation she joined the faculty of the Roots Music program, then moved to New York, making inroads on the booming American folk scene.
“New York was an inspiring place to be,” says Gilchrist, “although last November I moved up the Hudson River to a village called Cold Spring. It’s lovely to have easy access to the mountains and the hills, and when Covid hit I was counting my blessings, as some of my colleagues have been so restricted in their small apartments.” She’s got by of late through extending her online series of Harp Talk workshops into teaching sessions. Largely recorded before lockdown, her new solo album The Harpweaver has also just been released.
“It’s like a sonic postcard home,” she says. “It’s the music I heard in my grandparents’ house, the tunes I imagine would have been played in immigrant communities in Boston and New York, but arranged in the context of these new tools I’ve gathered. It feels so relevant, the idea that if we can’t be with those we love, at least we can experience the catharsis of familiar sounds.”
Gilchrist’s Scotsman Session is The Storm, part of a suite written last year for the Irish charity Music Generation, which subsidises traditional music lessons for school children. She works with the charity in the town of Port Leash, population 22,000, where there are now 107 young harp players.
“I wrote it for 37 of them,” she says. “In Portobello, we called the white crests on the waves the ‘white horses’ – seeing these girls so powerful, but still so feminine and fluid, they made me think of those white horses. The harp was outlawed in Ireland at the end of the medieval period, because it was deemed so powerful in stirring the spirits of the people… I was trying to embody the foreboding, churning momentum that happens as we get carried into a storm.”
Maeve Gilchrist’s new album The Harpweaver is out now, and available to buy at www.maevegilchristmusic.bandcamp.com Find out more about her music and her online Harp Talk workshops at www.maevegilchristmusic.com
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