Hello, This is The Chieftains Calling...

October 17, 2002: “It is with deep sadness that The Chieftains must announce the sudden death of fellow band member and much loved friend, Derek Bell, MBE. Following a recent concert in the U.S., Derek had remained behind for minor surgery and a number of routine health checks. He had just been given the all clear to return home, so his death has come [as] a great shock to all those close to him. Apart from his renown as a traditional musician and long-standing member of The Chieftains, Derek was enormously respected in the world of classical music. His passing has left a silence that will never be filled, and anyone who has had the honour of meeting him will know that the world will just be a much less interesting place without him. We will all miss him terribly.

Ar dheis De go raibh a anam (our sympathy to his wife and family).”

Thus reads the announcement by the grieving Chieftains on their website (http://members.shaw.ca/chieftains/derek.html).

In January through March 2003, the Irish traditional band The Chieftains performed a series of concerts around the United States. In tribute to their late harper and great friend, they invited some harp players in their tour cities to join them in memory of the man who had earned such a warm place in players’ and the world’s hearts.

Harp Spectrum has invited all the participating harpers and harpists to remember the experience and share it with you.

What follows is a little about Derek Bell and about The Chieftains, and, finally, comments by the tour harpers on how it felt to play in Derek’s honor and with his friends, even to the very piece, ‘Carolan’s Concerto,’ that Derek, himself, had played 31 years before to honor the memory of another fellow Irish harper.

Derek Bell
Derek Bell

Harpo Marx playing the harp in the movies was Belfast native Derek Bell’s first acquaintance with the instrument, but it wasn’t until well after graduation from London’s Royal College of Music in oboe, piano and composition that Derek actually learned to play one. And even that was rather by accident. After a while in his job as manager of the Belfast Symphony Orchestra, where one of his tasks was keeping the harps tuned and maintained, he decided to learn to play them. He took his first lessons from Sheila Larchet-Cuthbert, and within a year or so, in 1965, became principal oboist and harpist with the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra. As well, he began researching old brass-strung baroque Irish harps, and then writing arrangements.

In 1972 Derek, dressed in proper costume, played as Turlough O’Carolan in a St. Patrick’s Day radio commemoration of the 18th century blind harper. The musicians consisted of solo Irish harp, a baroque string orchestra, and a line of solo Irish folk instrumentalists calling themselves The Chieftains, including Paddy Moloney, with whom Derek was to become best friends. On the program was ‘Carolan’s Concerto’. In 1975 Derek joined the band as a full-time member, playing harp, piano, and various percussion instruments, meanwhile continuing his classical composing career and recording many solo albums.

“Derek [was] a truly gifted musician and his talents…enhanced the sound of The Chieftains. His good nature and eccentricity added to the dynamics of the group both professionally and musically. His mischievous antics and wild argyle socks in contrast to his conservative suits and sweaters kept the show lively especially as the group tried to rein him in during one of his infamous piano solos.” (This quotation and more can be found at the Chieftains’ website, https://www.thechieftains.com/derek-bell)1

The Chieftains & Marysue Redman
The Chieftains & Marysue Redman

On their first album in 1963 the group that became known as The Chieftains played arrangements and interpretations of traditional Irish music, and since then they have gone on to entertain around the world, including China in 1983. Paddy Moloney, piper, and Seán Keane, fiddle, remain from the original group, although the other current players are, by now, longtimers, too: bodrhán player Kevin Conneff joined in 1976, and flutist Matt Molloy in 1979.

In 1975 The Chieftains became a fulltime professional group, and their accomplishments are many and varied: movie scores from ‘Barry Lyndon’ in 1975 to ‘Gangs of New York’ in 2002; appearing on TV programs and with symphony orchestras worldwide; playing in the U.S. Capitol rotunda in 1983 and on the Today Show in 1986; Grammy nominations and awards, and gold albums. They received a lifetime achievement award from Irish Music Magazine and are Ireland’s “Musical Ambassadors”, a title conferred by the Irish government in 1989.

And, as we will see below, through it all The Chieftains members have remained friendly and warm, lively and welcoming, even after 40 years.

(For more on The Chieftains, please visit the website above.)


The 2003 tour began in Phoenix, Arizona, and proceeded generally counter-clockwise around the U.S., ending with concerts throughout the eastern states.

Laurie Riley: Phoenix, Arizona

Laurie Riley
Laurie Riley

In mid-December, my cell phone rang while on "roam”. I don't answer roam calls. Later, back in cell range, I found no message had been left. I used to ignore calls like that, but I decided to check caller ID. It turned out to be a real number and a real person answered.

"I'm glad you called back," he said. "Are you aware that Derek Bell, The Chieftains' harpist, passed away recently?”

Yes, I was aware. The news had set me to remembering how I had first heard his playing on an album before I knew what a harp was, back in 1978 when the Chieftains had recorded but five albums (now they have 40, and two Grammies). In 1981, when I got my first harp, I learned the basics of playing by visualizing what Derek was doing as I listened to his music. In later years we had occasion to meet a few times. In 1997, when Michael [MacBean] and I were returning from a week in Ireland, we ran into Derek at the Dublin airport and had a brief and typically quirky conversation. We boarded the same plane to Boston, and that was the last I saw of him. It never occurs to most people, I suppose, that someone we know and/or respect might not always be around. I could not imagine the Chieftains without Derek, and I am sure that most of their fans cannot, either.

On the phone, the man continued... "They have a tour scheduled, and need a harpist for their Phoenix concert. Can you do it?"

Not long ago I had vowed to retain my new-found low-stress lifestyle. But I heard myself say “yes”. It was as though I had bypassed the conscious part of my brain.

According to the agent, they wanted a harp to more-or-less solo in a medley of tunes of which Derek was most fond. That meant I would have to re-learn four tunes I had not played in twenty years, one of them the complicated ‘Carolan's Concerto’. I usually learn two, maybe three tunes each year, giving myself from three months to a full year to practice before performing them; now I had one month to learn four tunes to play at Symphony Hall. Three of them were not to be found on any currently available CD, so it was a good thing I remembered the melodies. Luckily, the fourth, which I didn't remember, was available. In the ensuing month the pieces took shape under my fingers. No matter that Paddy Moloney, the group's leader, gave me different keys for the tunes than his agent did, or that we "might" do an extra tune or two.

Paddy is a dynamo of a person, and probably the world's best-known Irish piper. He stands all of about four-foot-eleven, and weighs maybe 90 pounds. The older he gets, the thinner he looks, but the force of his personality more than makes up for his diminutive stature. I was pleased to find that he is as sincere and genuinely personable as he is professional. He runs the band with an iron will, does all the talking (which in his case is considerable), and also the lion's share of the organizational work. From what I can see, the other guys just show up and play the music….it's quite enough to do that, and they do it very, very well. They also have a road manager with them at all times.

January 13th. I located Symphony Hall and took my harp inside early. Only the sound engineers were there. I found the darkened stage set up with a semi-circle of chairs, and dim lights over the rest of the hall producing an orange glow from the fabric of a thousand or more plush seats. It was silent, expectant. I took a moment to drink in the quiet. Then I retreated to my motor home and took a nap.

Arriving for the sound check at 5:30, we had a very short time, due to union limitations, to get in our one and only practice of the medley. The fourth tune would have to be ad-lib.

Backstage, I struck up a conversation with a young lady who turned out to be the hired makeup artist. Having left most of my makeup at home by mistake, I was happy for her attention. She made me look like a china doll. Big-stage makeup is shockingly, obviously colorful, but necessary. Next in line for makeup was the manager, who told me that during the sound check she was brought to tears hearing the harp - this would be, after thirty years with Derek, their first concert since his passing. It was clear that they all cared very much about each other. I was awed at the honor of sharing the stage with them.

The concert began tamely with the four of them (piper, fiddler, flutist, bodhrán player), and quickly escalated as, one by one, a singer, a guitarist, another fiddler, a cellist, and several dancers took the stage. Most of the first half of the concert was quite a din and party. When I was called upon to start the tribute medley, my harp sounded naked in the sudden quiet. After several stanzas, Matt Molloy's heart-rending flute joined in, then the entire group. I likewise began the second piece, and Paddy on Irish pipes began the third - the Concerto. You know what happens when someone has played a piece of music almost every night for forty years? It gets fast! Having expected that, I was ready, and it was fun. Little can compare with playing together with fine musicians, making a sound whose whole is bigger than its parts.

Later I was called back to begin the encore, and once again was joined by the plaintive flute. It was one of those rare, transcendent moments, two beautiful instruments, in perfect unison. This musician, whom I would not even have a chance to speak to, was of one soul with me. Music is so much more than just playing the notes. It is a communion with ourselves, our fellow musicians, our audience. When the band joined us, it soared. We followed with some rollicking reels, while dancers flew by, inches from my harp. Much applause and many bows later, we left the stage to its original quietness.

Paddy, with a hug and an Irish kiss on the cheek, having said many times that it was "lovely" (the Irish catch-all word for anything pleasing), expressed gratitude and asked for contact information for the future. I won't hold my breath, but it's nice to think that this experience could be repeated. I learned when I was in Ireland in '97 that if someone says, "That's lovely" and nothing more, it may or may not be just a polite comment, but when they say that and then add more to the comment, it's sincere.

The band, guest performers, and entourage left together in one vehicle. As Bungee and I drove away alone, I said to his inquisitive little dog face, "It was a success." I am not sure he truly appreciated that. My dog just doesn't always get it, never mind the cats. Still, there is nothing quite like the satisfaction of a successful performance.

Bio: Laurie Riley, a resident of Arizona, has been a professional musician since the age of ten. She has toured throughout the US, in Canada, and in Ireland. She plays selections from around the world, from historical times, as well as compositions of her own. "The richness of various cultures' musical styles offers endless ways to express what I play,” she writes. “There is something new in each tradition."

Laurie was instrumental in designing the modern double-strung harp, which has become popular in recent years among harpers. She has produced ten albums, five books, and five instructional videos. She also judges harp competitions and teaches for harp organizations in the US and abroad. See her website at www.laurieriley.com and check out her article here at Harp Spectrum!.
Contact: laurieriley689@gmail.com.

Mary Bouley: Tucson, Arizona

BIO: Mary Bouley is an accomplished Celtic harpist. She performs annually for the Emerald Isle Society's Emerald Ball and Tir na Nog. Mary has been playing harp for over 25 years. She studied under Patricia Harris, principal harpist for the Tucson Symphony Orchestra. Also, Mary studied under world-renowned harpist Suzanne MacDonald. Contact: mbouley@dakotacom.net.

Therese Honey: Fort Worth, Texas

Therese Honey
Therese Honey

The First Call
I had been recommended by a prominent harpist in north Texas, but I realized that I had a concert scheduled that same night with my Irish band, Wyndnwyre. Luckily, my bandmates said "Go for it!" and Mary Radspinner (of Melody’s Traditional Music and Harp Shoppe) graciously agreed to be my substitute for the Wyndnwyre concert. Thank you, Mary! I didn't want to tell anyone in the Irish music community about it at first for fear that it would be bad luck. My husband plays Irish flute and he was very exited for me, but when I told my mother, she didn't know who The Chieftains were. "What do you MEAN??? You don't know who The Chieftains are???", I exclaimed! I really laughed when she replied, "Don't worry, I won't make that mistake again!" One of my friends thought The Chieftains were a hockey team.

The Big Chieftain Speaks
Paddy Moloney phoned and told me the tunes and about the arrangements. (Paddy Moloney phoned little old me!) He also spoke of Derek Bell and how much the band was really like a family after decades of performing together. Paddy said that when Derek passed, The Chieftains cancelled the remainder of the tour until after the holidays. It didn't feel right to them to bring in another harpist, yet it wasn't a Chieftains concert without one. Carolyn Lavelle, cello, voice, keyboard, was chosen to join the tour and the call went out for harpists around the country.

Up to 447
Paddy told me about tuning at 447 to match the pitch of the pipes. However, I have a confession to make: I forgot. Oops. When I arrived at the hall early, the tour manager mentioned it and I said, "Oh, yeah, I've tuned up...." This is why it is always a good idea to arrive early to a gig!

The Tunes
I had played all of the requested tunes, but I didn't really know ‘Carolan's Concerto’. I had 5 weeks to arrange it, learn it, memorize it, and play it at The Chieftains’ speed. The other tunes were under my fingers, but not fast enough for this gig. The agency sent the CD and I practiced with it regularly. I haven't practiced this much in a very long time and I really enjoyed the process. Everything else in my life became secondary while I prepared. I had an irrational fear that if I missed a single day of practice, everything would go wrong!

The Costume
The uniform for performing on the pedal harp is obvious: black, black, black. Historical harp is less formal. Celtic harp becomes harder: most guys wear jeans or khakis, yet I don't feel comfortable performing in casual attire. So, my dress couldn't be a "gown" nor could it be really casual. Another crucial item: would it make my butt look big as I sat at the harp? The style I had in mind was "hippie with a lot of money" and I finally settled on a navy crushed velvet dress with suede boots.

Getting there
My husband drove us up to Ft. Worth from Houston, about 250 miles, the day of the concert. We checked into the posh hotel first and I turned to my husband and said, "This is the life." We are not talking Budget Motel. A tour like this could be a hardship I could withstand any day.

The Performance
I've played in 2000-seat halls before, but always acoustically. This concert was amplified and hearing the reverb from the back of the hall just an instant after plucking the strings was distracting. Paddy told me at the sound check that the arrangements had changed and I was worried I would forget them. We didn't even run through one of the tunes, ‘Give Me Your Hand’, before the concert. Has anyone mentioned that The Chieftains are noted for playing very, very fast? Meanwhile, the tour manager was grumbling about one of the dancers who had failed to show up for the sound check and finally arrived minutes before the concert started. This dancer is a famous Irish dancer and it's not as if he needed much rehearsal, though. I had to laugh in private to see that even a Big Dog is late every now and then. When it came time to play, the stagehand brought my harp onstage, and I followed with my chair. Plop the harp down, start the races and dash off! When it came time to play, The Chieftains were looking at me from 10 feet away, waiting for their cue as I started all of the tunes. Gulp. The audience seemed so far away in the dark that I never noticed them. I had my eyes glued to Paddy Maloney and Matt Malloy the entire time for the cues. We have a saying in the South: "If you cain't run with the Big Dogs, stay on the porch." I never really was too nervous; I just wanted to savor each moment of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Now, here's another confession. Fellow performers have learned that I like to do things onstage or from the sidelines to discombobulate them during a concert, while the audience doesn't see what I'm doing. I kept having this urge to do some of this during this concert! I did manage to control myself, but with difficulty.

At intermission and when I wasn't playing I sat in the wings and knitted socks. It relaxed me and kept my hands warmed up. Paddy came over to see what I was knitting and commented on it. I am 6'1" and he might have been as tall as my shoulder, so it was better to talk sitting down. I was able to watch most of the show from the wings and it was terrific. The Chieftains were joined by other talented singers and dancers, and it was a thrill for me to perform on the same stage with them.

I was surprised at an unexpected result from this. The day after the concert, Wyndnwyre was invited to perform at an Irish festival in north Texas two weeks later. It seems that suddenly two performance slots had become available, and our schedule requirement was agreed to very quickly. I'm sure it was a coincidence. While at the festival several people wanted to chit-chat with me yet these folks have never bothered before. Even my cynical self was surprised.

My feelings about this wonderful experience are intangible and I find it difficult to express them. I was honored to have been invited to join this group of exceptional musicians, and it was a joy every moment.

BIO: Therese Honey is "Honey on the Harp", an award-winning harpist with an extensive background in classical and early music. She began her harp studies at age seven with Beatrice Rose, former principal harpist of the Houston Symphony. Therese specializes in medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque music on historical harps, as well as in Celtic and other folk music of the British Isles on Neo-Celtic harp. She performs as a soloist, joins forces with Istanpitta for medieval and Renaissance music, and plays in the trio Wyndnwyre for Celtic and 13th c. music. Therese is also a well-respected harp teacher and workshop presenter. Website: www.therese-honey.com

Star Edwards: Denver and Colorado Strings, Colorado

Star Edwards
Star Edwards

When the call came from the Colorado Celtic Harp Society in November of 2002 that the Chieftains were trying to contact me about playing with them, my eyes flew to Derek Bell’s obituary that I had pinned to my studio wall, and my thoughts returned to 1984. That year, after a concert by Derek, I interviewed him for an article in the Folk Harp Journal [“A Master Harper”, September 1984, #46, p. 31]. He was such a charming guy, loving all the girls (members of the Colorado Folk Harp Society who had attended a concert by him and met him after the interview) and kissing everyone, a whimsical, joking character. Would I play in his name? You bet.

I was to join them in January concerts in Denver, where I live, and Colorado Springs. The Chieftains sent a list of songs, and a CD to give me an idea of likely tempos. Good – I already knew all the pieces and have been playing them for years: ‘Sheebeg Sheemore,’ ‘Fanny Power,’ ‘Carolan’s Concerto,’ and ‘Give Me Your Hand,’ although some were in different keys from where I usually play them. Their tempos were OK, too, but – surprise! – ‘Fanny Power’, which I do fast, they play slowly, and they play ‘Give Me Your Hand’ quite a bit faster than what is generally done here!

I was looking forward to this, and I liked the challenge. Also, I wanted to set a good example for my 22 students on handling stress, learning new tempos, and working in a new situation. It was a little intimidating sitting in for Derek, but I was determined to know my chops real well and try to relax and do the best I could. I usually play in a trio with percussion and guitar, and one of my CDs, “Emerald Crossing”, has pipes, whistle and bodhrán, so this wasn’t new territory.

We met before the first concert and had a run-through. Oh no! They were all tuned higher than my harp! After the run-through I dragged my harp backstage and quickly tuned it up. The next day I knew better.

We had dinner and I sat with Paddy Moloney, Caroline (the guest cellist), and a couple of others. We talked about news from Ireland. I knew that Paddy and Derek had been best friends; this was very hard for him.

Chieftains dancers
Chieftains dancers

The concert started and these seeming low-key folks suddenly became high-energy. I thought, “This is going to be quite an experience!” In the first set I was included in ‘Sheebeg Sheemore’ and ‘Fanny Power’, then I went off-stage. Some dancers came on, using the whole of the little stage and even weaving around my harp! The old floorboards started bouncing up and down, and my venerable Caswell harp began to wobble! I gaped, horrified, from backstage, but she survived. Tomorrow I’d be sure to pull her out of harm’s way.

Paddy had told me to invite my musical friends on stage to jam in the final number, so four from the Irish Festival came up. Being part of the Chieftains’ energy and playing with the guest artists had been wonderful. A highlight was Matt Malloy’s seamless, breathtaking flute solo. Or maybe it was his kiss on my cheek, and his assurance that “We’ll see you again!” But most important of all, I had so much fun, and that’s what music’s all about.

BIO: Star Edwards studied with Therese Schroder-Scheker and Laurie Riley in the early ’80s. She has written 5 harp books and 2 CDs. She plays solo and has a trio that includes percussion and guitar, playing Celtic and World folk. Her professional career includes a performance on the Perry Mason episode, ‘The Case of the Skin Deep Scandal’, and ‘The Princess and the Dwarf’ movie starring Warwick Davis and John Rhyes-Davies. She resides in Denver, Colorado, teaching, and performing harp.
Website: www.starharp.com.
Contact: starharp@comcast.net

Sylvia Woods: Santa Rosa, Berkeley, Thousand Oaks, Escondido, and Cerritos, California

Sylvia Woods
Sylvia Woods

I had only met with Derek in person a few times since our paths first crossed in the 1970’s, but we’d corresponded and spoken on the phone several times over the years. And so, of course, I was greatly saddened when I heard of his passing. He contributed a great deal to the harp world, and all of us who play Celtic harps owe him a huge debt of gratitude.

In early December 2002, a member of The Chieftains’ staff contacted me, asking if I could help them find harp players in various parts of the U.S. to join them on their upcoming tour. I was pleased to be able to give them names of harpers and teachers in various cities. [Sylvia also very helpfully sent a lengthy list of hints to many of the players who followed her.] One of the Chieftains’ requests was for one harper to do all five of the California concerts. That sounded like fun, so I volunteered to do those gigs myself. Two were to be in northern California (about an 8-hour drive from my house), and three in southern California “near” (an hour or two away) where I live.

I was quite amused by the woman who was scheduling all of this. First of all, she was surprised when I asked to be put up in a hotel in San Francisco for the two nights we were up there. She had no idea how big California was, and assumed that I’d just “drive home every night after the gig!” Then, when she was telling me which tunes we’d be playing, she said (and this is an exact quote) “the name of one of the tunes is translated from the Irish as ‘She's Big and She's More.’" Of course, that would be ‘Sheebeg and Sheemore!’

I was grateful that I knew all of the tunes, and had been playing them for years. My only problem was that I usually play them in different keys, so I had to re-learn them in Chieftains’ keys. Still, I felt very lucky that I didn’t have to learn any of them from scratch. I was also pleased when Paddy Moloney asked if I knew Carolan’s ‘Farewell to Music,’ which apparently was Derek’s favorite tune. It is my favorite piece as well, and so I was honored that they asked me to play that as a solo each evening. I think it is truly one of the most beautiful and haunting harp pieces ever written. It was very moving to be able to play it in memory of Derek.

While watching the finale from backstage the first night, I noticed that when band members played their solos, they often did something silly. So after the concert I volunteered to join them in the finale the next night, and shoot an arrow from my harp. (In case you have never seen me do this . . . I have a rubber-tipped arrow that I shoot off of one of my strings in the finale of my solo concerts, while singing my song “Harper’s Are Not Bizarre.”) Once they understood what I was talking about, it was decided that I should try to shoot Kevin, the bodhrán (drum) player.

So on the second night I was re-introduced right before the finale. When my solo time came I started playing my piece called ‘Brandiswhiere's Triumphant Return.’ After a little while, Kevin started making lots of noise (dropping his sticks, kicking his drums, etc). So I stopped and said "Excuse me, but you're ruining my solo!" and shot my arrow at him. Then I continued playing. They all thought this was great, so we kept it in for the next three nights. It was fun to be able to contribute something “extra” to their concerts.

Each night the Chieftains became friendlier and talked with me more before the concerts. I found them all to be very gracious and accepting.

On the last night I commented during dinner that I was pleased that EVERY night we were served soup as one of the courses, since I’m a big soup fan. I was told that this was part of Derek’s legacy to the band. He ALWAYS ate soup before a concert, and so it continues to be part of their pre-concert meal. I feel very honored to have been a part of this tribute to Derek Bell, who has done so much for us all.

BIO  Sylvia Woods has been one of the leaders of the renaissance of the folk harp for over 40 years. In 1999 the "Harp Column" magazine named her one of the 45 "Most Influential Harp Forces of the 20th Century." Her 1978 "Teach Yourself to Play the Folk Harp" book has become the standard beginning book throughout the US and many other countries. She has written over 25 harp music books and 50 pieces of sheet music. She is the owner of the Sylvia Woods Harp Center and now lives on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. You can contact Sylvia through her www.harpcenter.com web site, by emailing sylvia@harpcenter.com


Ann Heymann: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Ann Heymann
Ann Heymann

What an honor to be asked to perform with the Chieftains—particularly since it was a tribute to the inimitable Derek Bell. Though our paths didn't cross frequently, Derek and I had kept in touch through correspondence, and any envelope wearing the bold scrawl of 'Professor Ann Heymann' across the front was definitely a day-brightener! Back in January 2002, [husband] Charlie and I (along with harpmaker David Kortier) were examining the historical clairseachs in Dublin, and Derek took the train down for a weekend visit. Never seeming to age, he was very much himself, and little did I know that this was to be our last visit.

My instrument is a Trinity College replica, and though Derek used the wire harp on certain recordings, I think this may have been the first time the Chieftains actually performed with one in concert. Though the planned medleys were comprised of Irish harp standards, I was concerned about required key changes that, however modest, were impossible on my clairseach, which has no levers. I needn't have worried, however, as Paddy Moloney was most accomodating and graciously agreed to make the necessary alterations. Though my exposure to the rest of the group had been limited to occasional sessions (going back to pre-Derek 1972 when I played tin whistle), everyone was very nice and it was wonderful to share news of friends and common acquaintances.

The Chieftains are great musicians and always put on a strong performance, so my little contribution was but a small part of the whole. Nonetheless, the 'lads' sent me off with a number of compliments that will ring in my ears for quite some time, and I was not only relieved to have played as well as I did but rather thrilled by the whole experience!

Derek--always mighty, you are missed by all.

Bio: Ann Heymann continues to spearhead the Gaelic harp revival. From the start she chose to play in the traditional manner and assisted by historical manuscripts and parallel traditions, she developed the virtuosic and idiomatic 'Coupled Hands' performance style as heard on her "Queen of Harps" recording. Ann and her singer/multi-instrumentalist husband Charlie perform internationally as Clairseach and lecture on their research in Gaelic harp mythology and bardic poetry. Author of "A Gaelic Harper's First Tunes", Ann is a popular workshop and master class instructor whose innovations include being the first modern musician to utilize pure gold strings on her replica instrument.

Contact: heymann@clairseach.com
Website: www.annheymann.com
See her article on Denis O’Hampsey elsewhere in this website.

Kristin Fallon:, Des Moines, Iowa

Kristin Fallon
Kristin Fallon

I played with the Chieftains on Thursday, January 30th at the Civic Center in Des Moines. I was contacted for the job on my birthday, December 3rd! One of the staff members at the Civic Center e-mailed me about performing with the group and I was thrilled to do it.

That evening we had a brief sound check and short rehearsal. At 6:00 we all had dinner together. The band members were very friendly. I sat next to Matt Malloy and we started talking about Ireland. It turns out that he grew up in the same town that my husband’s grandmother lived near.

In the show I ended up playing harp with the Chieftains AND dancing a set dance with the dancers on the second half of the show, because they couldn't find any local Irish dancers in Des Moines. Dancer Danny Golden approached me about dancing with them. I said, “Sure, I go to barn dances and I know how to square dance.” He told me that Irish set dancing is much like square dancing, but in 6/8 time not 4/4. We ran through a dance a few times in the basement of the Civic Center. Paddy Moloney said I was a good sport to do the dance. I had a great time and my family and friends were really surprised to see me on stage, dancing.

Thanks for letting me share my story. It was a chance of a lifetime I will never forget!

BIO: Kristin Maahs Fallon graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with a B.M. degree in harp performance, studying with Mary Beckman. During five summers she attended the Salzedo Harp School in Camden, Maine under the direction of Alice Chalifoux. Kristin has taken four levels of the Suzuki Harp teacher training with Mary Kay Waddington. Currently she teaches harp at Edmunds Academy of Fine Arts in Des Moines and privately. She plays with many Midwestern orchestras and choruses, professional shows and recital series, is a member of the "Odyssey Trio" of harp, flute and cello, and plays with the Celticband "Knotwork".
Contact: kbmaahs@iastate.edu

Marysue Redman, Chicago: Illinois and Indianapolis, Indiana

Marysue Redman
Marysue Redman

When I got a message on my answering machine in December from the Chieftains’ management company about playing with the band, at first I thought it was a joke – how could they possibly know about me? But it was true - it turns out Sylvia Woods had given them my name. Then I got really excited and thought it would be so much fun to play with them.

I’m mostly a pedal harpist. I started playing the harp at age 17, later than many, and went to work playing the harp as a “party person” right out of college. I quickly got bored playing the same music all the time, and didn’t really like reading music, so I started to study with other instrumentalists to learn how to improvise and read from lead sheets. I’ve been playing weddings and background music (solo and ensemble) for the last 20 years now, and I’m still having fun with it.

Although I usually play some Irish music on my jobs, I did have to learn ‘Carolan’s Concerto’ for the tour concert. The Chieftains had sent a tape, and the three Concerto arrangements that I owned didn’t sound like the taped version, so I just made my own. I’ve been a fan of the Chieftains for a long time and I knew I couldn’t match Derek Bell stylistically, so I just decided to look at it as “me, doing my thing”. There were a few things that were different on the tape - I play ‘Sheebeg & Sheemore’ and ‘Give Me Your Hand” more slowly than they do on the tape, and one of the measures in ‘Sheebeg & Sheemore’ had different chords than the tape. During the break before the show, the guitarist, Chris, was nice enough to play the right chord and melody for me so I had a chance to change it before we clashed on stage. I was pretty prepared for everything but the time change in Indianapolis [most of Indiana does not go to Daylight Savings Time with the rest of the country], which no one had told me about, so I was late for the rehearsal. Luckily they saved the harp parts for the end, and when I walked in, they said, great, sit down and we can run your pieces. I had about two minutes to tune my harp (a wonderful Triplett Eclipse lever harp), then all the faces on stage looked at me expectantly and just waited. Silence. And then Paddy told me I’d be starting. Ah, great, I thought. Walk in the door, sit down and play in front of the Chieftans with no warm up. Oh well, here goes! The rehearsal actually went pretty well.

There were a couple of dancers, two brothers, who were traveling with the band, and local dancers were added in both cities, as well as some extra musicians in Indianapolis. It seemed to be pretty freewheeling, so I asked the guitarist, part of the tour also, “Do you care what I do in the other pieces aside from the harp medley?” “Play whatever you want,” he answered, so I joined in and just played by ear.

I’ve had some opportunities to play at some pretty high profile functions in Chicago, (such as the Chicago Mayor’s Inaugural Ball), but usually as background music. This, however, was on a stage, in front of an audience (hmm, no one was eating or drinking while we played). It was quite a different experience. I was really hoping that I’d have fun playing the concert, and set a good example for my students. I remembered my words in all those lesson where I tried to teach them how to play well and have fun while being nervous and excited. And I did have fun and was pretty pleased with how I played. I also have to say that everyone was incredibly nice, and the core members were phenomenally gracious and kind, which really helped make a relaxed atmosphere. [Marysue was pleased to play again with The Chieftains on July 15.]

BIO: Marysue Redmann studied with Mary Jo Green, at Interlochen Arts Academy, and the University of Illinois, and received her Masters in Harp Performance at Northwestern University studying with Elizabeth Cifani. She spent two years studying with Pierre Jamet of the Paris Conservatory. She has performed as a soloist and in chamber ensembles in Europe, the Middle East and the United States, and worked extensively in folm and TV. In 1991, Redmann began volunteering playing the harp at Evanston Hospital in the Oncology Department, for which she received WBBM FM/s “Citizen of the Week” Award. The program now hires eight musicians plus music therapists on staff at three hospitals. Contact Marysue at marysue@chicagoharp.com

Victoria Schultz: Melbourne, Gainesville, Jacksonville, and Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

Victoria Schultz
Victoria Schultz

I remember seeing The Chieftains on Arts and Entertainment when I was a child, and thinking even then, “It would be like a dream come true to play with that group”. And then, in November 2002, someone from the Chieftains organization called me! Actually, I was sure the call was a prank until Paddy Moloney himself called to assure me it was for real.

Having listened to the music on my website, they wanted to see what I knew about Celtic music and its style. Since I’m from the MacIntosh clan, had had a couple of lessons in Ireland, and sung and played a lot of Celtic music, I was able to “pass the test”. They told me I would play in Melbourne, Gainesville, Jacksonville and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, four concerts in five days.

In early December they sent a CD so I could get used to their ornamentation and tempos, and by Christmas they had sent the names and keys of the pieces we would play. They played ‘Carolan’s Concerto’ faster than I’d ever heard it played, but I know that all harpers have their own interpretation. It’s just that I’d have to do it their way this time.

At this point, I want to say ‘thank heavens for Sylvia Woods’. She played early in the tour and sent ahead a bunch of hints like the order of pieces and the fact that we needed to tune up to 447! She also advised us to prepare some chords if we couldn’t keep up to their tempos, and to leave our sequins at home. I decided to wear my Celtic green dress.

My concerts were scheduled for the end of February. I wanted to do my best so I cancelled everything and practiced. I memorized all the pieces and got them up to tempo. I even called The Chieftains’ manager to get an idea of what to expect for repeats, solos, when I would have the melody, etc. “They’ll let you know at the sound check,” I was told. I play pop as well as Celtic and I’m good at playing by ear, which I thought would help, and it did because the band played things differently every night!

Although they’ve been world famous for over thirty years, The Chieftains are down-to-earth guys who just love this kind of music. They made me feel like one of the gang, very much at home, part of the troupe and not like an outsider. Paddy gave me a nice compliment as encouragement before each concert, and Caroline, the cellist, a big grin before my solo. By the time they got to Florida they were halfway through the 30-concert tour, and had lots of happy stories and joyful memories to share.

We shared goodbye hugs at the end of the Florida tour, and they talked about my playing with them another time. You mean the most thrilling thing in my life might happen again?

BIO: Victoria Schultz, a descendant of the Clan MacIntosh, has a Masters in Music from Drake University in piano and voice, is a composer, and has received harp instruction from Rosalind Beck, Deborah Henson-Conant, Carol McLaughlin, and Grainne Yeats, among others. She has performed as an orchestral harpist and pianist with the Florida Symphony Orchestra, at hotels and Disney World, and with top touring artists. She teachers privately and at the University of Central Florida, and has solo albums and a harp method book.
Website: www.victoriaschultz.com

Harriet Peters: Charleston, West Virginia

No photo available
No photo available

When I received the call from the booking agent in British Columbia in early December to play with the Chieftains in Charleston, West Virginia on March 4th, I immediately said that I could not possibly do it. Here I was, a small town Celtic harper who primarily teaches and plays for local weddings, church services and business receptions being asked to play with the world famous Chieftains. How could that be? At first I just stammered and said that there was no way I could play with such a prestigious group, but the caller said she would call me back the next day for an answer. My husband's first reaction was "Of course you should do it!" Easy for him to say!!! So when the agent called back the next day I agreed that I was silly if I did it and silly if I didn't, so I might just as well do it.

I started practicing and rewriting the music right away and was doing fine until the CD came. I couldn't wait to play along with it, but found it very intimidating and thus stopped practicing for a week until I got Sylvia Woods' email which gave me renewed hope. I started practicing again. Luckily I had plenty of time to learn the music and build my self-confidence.

I must make a confession. Sylvia's email about ‘Carolan's Concerto’ said that by the time I changed my levers the band would be into the piece and I should just do what I could. So I took that literally and decided to write an accompaniment to play with it instead of the actual piece, because, although I was confident playing the other three, I was very intimidated by this one. I actually wrote 4 different accompaniments for it until I found the one that I was most comfortable with - which I found six days before the performance!!! But it went very well and added a nice dimension to the piece (I thought!!!). So that's the REAL story!!!

I found all the members of the Chieftains to be friendly and accommodating and it turned out to be the most memorable experience of my harping career. With the help of my nerve pills and prayers, and good wishes from many family members and friends, I got through it with flying colors and even got good reviews in our local newspapers! I am grateful and humbled to have had this wonderful opportunity, and I appreciate The Chieftains taking a chance on someone like me.

BIO: Harriet Gommoll Peters is a native of Media, Pennsylvania and a graduate in Music Education from West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon, West Virginia. She majored in piano and later did graduate work at West Virginia University majoring in organ. Being a late bloomer on the Celtic Harp came as a result of Lynne Barnes moving to Cumberland, Maryland - the first Celtic Harper Harriet had known. Harriet has been a piano teacher for 38 years, an organist and choir director in churches her husband has pastored, and now a Celtic Harper for 15 years. She lives in Hurricane, West Virginia. Contact: revharp@newwave.net

Gretchen van Hoesen: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

BIO: Gretchen Van Hoesen has her B.M. and M.M. degrees from Juilliard, where she studied with Marcel Grandjany and Susann McDonald. She has been the Principal Harpist of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra since 1977. She has appeared as soloist with renowned conductors and numerous orchestras, and performed several premieres. Gretchen is on the faculty at Carnegie Mellon and Duquesne Universities and teaches privately; her students have won numerous awards and prizes. She has two recordings with soprano Jan DeGaetano and others: “Lullabies and Night Songs” and “The Phyllis McGinley Song Cycle”. She has also recorded “Pavanes, Pastorales and Serenades for Oboe and Harp” with her husband, James Gorton, PSO Co-Principal Oboe. Contact: lavenderharp@yahoo.com.

Martha Gallagher: Schenectady, New York

Martha Gallagher
Martha Gallagher

I had a wonderful experience preparing for and performing with the Chieftains. From the start I realized that this had the potential for being one of those gigs that you get REALLY NERVOUS about. I didn’t want to be nervous, I wanted to enjoy it. I figured that the best thing that was sure to come out of this gig would be the thrill of performing with such talented, well-known and respected artists. I wanted to soak up every moment of my time on stage with The Chieftains.

So, I practiced and practiced and practiced; I didn’t want to have to think about the music (notes), I just wanted to be in the moment and play the music. After hearing from Sylvia Woods that, true to Chieftains’ style, they were ripping through ‘Carolan’s Concerto’, I worked up a chord-based version, in case I couldn’t keep up with the flying melody (hang on to your harps, girls, we’re in for a mad dash!)

Of course the big question was - WHAT TO WEAR?! I generally dress pretty brightly onstage, as I like to be visual as well as aural. This was The Chieftains show, so I didn’t want to dress too loudly, appearing like I was trying to claim it as my show. However, I was damned if I was going to wear black and fade away into the stage curtains. I was a guest artist so, even if I wasn’t well known, I was still a guest artist and should appear as one of high caliber and a performer in my own right. So I decided on a lovely, tastefully bright blue and green silk shirt, with black pants - ah, just right!

I arrived at the gig an hour before the sound check, just to get comfortable and get my harp tuned. Well, I got the harp tuned, but I was getting a bit nervous. When everyone arrived, I introduced myself. (I felt that they were visiting my area of the world so I should be the gracious hostess.) They were all very nice but, by this time (March 6), they seemed pretty tired. I think their tour started Jan. 4, and they’d been gigging pretty much every night. Everyone else’s sound was done first, so I waited while they all ripped off incredible riffs, just warming up - a teensy bit intimidating.

When it was time to go through the pieces I’d be performing with them, Paddy turned to me and said, “ You’ll be starting us off, m’darlin’.” On the inside my heart stopped beating and I think I stopped breathing, but, being a pretty fair actress from all my many years performing, I think I kept a fairly calm exterior as I replied, “Lovely, all right then, off we go,” or something to that effect. I played things a bit too fast, but when they joined in I was able to get myself in sync. (When I mentioned to guest artist Chris Jones, a real sweetie, that we, the harp players, had heard that they were taking some of the tunes fairly quickly, he laughed and said something to the effect of, “ So, that explains all those speedy harpers!” I guess our own anxieties revved the tempos up a bit!)

My husband and daughter came backstage after the sound check to wish me luck. “I’m starting off the set of tunes solo,” I told my husband nervously. He took one look at me and, bless his heart, he knows how to read me. He took hold of my shoulders, looked me in the eye and said, “You’re getting all worked up and blowing this out of proportion. Have fun! It’s just a bar gig without the smoke!” referring to all those times of playing sessions in pubs and taverns. All I could do was crack up and laugh, relaxing right away. Bless his heart indeed!

Dinner was eaten family-style backstage. It was one of the best gig spreads I’ve ever seen, vegetarian fair as well as huge hunks of meat, potatoes, and all kinds of fresh, ripe fruit. Too bad I wasn’t feeling hungry! Everyone looked pretty tired and there wasn’t much conversation. So I plunked myself down and made small talk, so they could more or less listen or space out, but so that there wouldn’t be that awkward silence when everyone feels that someone should say something.

Then I hung out in my “dressing room” - a freezing cold back room that I was sharing with a dozen or so young girls who were dancing in the show. They giggled and yakked and put on makeup, not seeming to be concerned with the fact that they’d be onstage with THE CHIEFTAINS! Their moms were all over the place getting costumes and wigs ready, while their dads wandered in and out (as I was changing my clothes) with a beer in hand and nothing to do.

I watched the show from backstage and about two songs before I was to go on my stomach started to flip-flop. I didn’t want to be nervous - it’s no fun - so I sternly reminded myself that I not only had been working on the music diligently for months, but I had been working towards this moment for years, and it was time for me to step up and take my place at the next level of performance. Plus, I truly wanted to enjoy and savor the time onstage.

It worked. When I carried my harp onstage, I felt like a queen. The applause was warm and generous and everyone onstage looked like they were pleased to have me there. (By the way, once onstage, The Chieftains absolutely shone, not a sign of being tired; true professionals who love what they do.) I believe they all got a kick out of hearing a voice from the audience say loudly, “Go, Aunt Martha!” Not to be outdone by her cousin, my teenage daughter sang out from up front, “Go Mom!” I waved to the audience and Paddy laughed as he said, “In your own time, m’darlin’”.

I truly revelled in the gorgeous sound of my harp as I started, and when Matt Molloy joined in on flute, I looked over to see a man who seemed to be enjoying making music with me as much as I was enjoying making music with him. The medley of O’ Carolan tunes was beautiful and I enjoyed every single moment of it. The audience of about 3,000 erupted into wild applause (with whoops and hollers from friends and relatives) and I felt like I had come into my own. I had met the challenge, risen to a new level and felt wonderful! When I returned for the encore I realized that the only downside to this concert was that I wanted to play more. Hey guys, I know all those songs, let me join in on all of them!!

Friends and family who had come to the concert, some traveling 2-3 hours to be there, were all glowing with pride. My parents were bursting. My daughter charmed The Chieftains, having them pose for photos with me and discussing cameras and such with them. I was higher than a kite for days after, maybe weeks. I just felt so good.

The next time I took the stage, for a solo performance, I felt completely different. Even though I’ve been performing for over 25 years, I felt like a butterfly just emerging from the cocoon. That wonderful feeling has stayed with me and inspired me with some new and exciting musical ideas.

Yes, I got to perform with The Chieftains. It looks good on the promo material. But really, for me, it was a once-in-a-lifetime-so-far chance to perform with talented and wonderful folks and to stretch myself closer to the person and performer I really am. I think my daughter said it best when she told me, after the concert, “ Mom, you were great! You played beautifully! You looked so young and beautiful and happy!” Well, I feel that way!

BIO: Martha Gallagher has a B.A. in Music Performance, Composing, Arranging, and Recording. She has a classical music background and has been a rock and jazz-blues singer as well as a presenter of educational programs on harps in elementary and secondary schools. She performs and records with an ensemble of folk harp, flute, hammered dulcimer, fiddle, viola and percussion, which plays a mix of original, Celtic, jazz, folk, and world-inspired music. Her CDs are “Tween Heaven and Earth” and “Adirondacks”. She has toured around the U.S. and Canada, performed and shared music at the Edinburgh Harp Festival, and will soon take her music to Buryatia, Siberia. See her website at www.adkharper.com.

Carol Thompson: New Brunswick and Newark, New Jersey, West Point and New York City, New York, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Carol Thompson
Carol Thompson

The Chieftains all still feel the loss of Derek Bell very keenly, and I played as a tribute to him. These concerts were the first time since they became The Chieftains that they have not had Derek with them, and his sudden death is still very much a great sadness. Although the harp has been an integral part of their group since its inception, it is very clear that there can never be another Derek Bell, whose zany personality and diverse musical ability were very special to all of them, and they are still really in mourning.

BIO: Carol Thompson studied pedal harp with Dorothy Knauss of Allentown, PA, a student of Alfred Holy. After years of playing classical music, she followed her lifelong interest in medieval and renaissance history, also discovered the music of her Anglo-Welsh-Austrian heritage, and learned to play neo-Celtic harp and the triple harp. Carol records with Dorian Records in Troy, NY. Soon, Mel Bay will publish her arrangements. She has performed in much of the United States and in England and Ireland, and teaches privately and at the Eastern Conservatory of Music and Arts in Whitehouse, NJ.
Contact: ctharp2@ptd.net

Sue Richards: Washington, DC

Sue Richards
Sue Richards

I first heard of Derek back in the 1970s, when I would tape The Chieftains’ cuts off the Irish program on the radio and later buy their records, and try to learn those tunes. One year they played at the local concert hall in Madison, Wisconsin, where I was living, and a phone call came, saying that Derek's harp had been misplaced on the airlines, and could I lend him mine? Wow, sure! I met him that night and his enthusiasm is a fine memory. I later learned that this happened to him a lot, and people all over the country have lent him their harps.

In early December, during the rush of the Christmas season, an agent called me about playing with The Chieftains, and a couple days later Paddy himself called to talk. It was amazing hearing that voice on the end of a phone, talking to me! I would have gone to any lengths to play that gig, so they didn't have to worry. We talked about music and keys, and he said that they would send a CD to learn from. My heart fell when he said the Concerto was one of the tunes because there are two O'Carolan tunes I have never learned, and that was one. But whatever, I am game. The agent told me they had been given a list of AHS pedal harpists in each city. I only got the job because the harpist called in DC happened to know and refer me. I told the agent, who was in Canada, that I was available for some of the other dates, and they declined because they didn't want to pay travel and hotel. So a few days later a CD arrived, with minimal instructions. We were to play ‘Si Bheag’ in D, ‘Fanny Poer’ in G, and ‘O'Carolan's Concerto in D’ as a medley. The CD had several medleys with NO tunes identified. Si B and Fanny were played in F, and Fanny later in G. No written music. I just laughed. As a trad [traditional] musician, I was very familiar with the tunes and had no trouble, but I really felt for the pedal harpist with no clue. Bless Sylvia Woods for sending a post to all the Derek subs, offering music and telling exactly what to expect.

First I ordered a dress to wear: purple, of course, with a handkerchief hem. And for the next two months I practiced the Concerto as though I were possessed. I would play it first thing in the morning, last thing before bed, and whenever I could in between. I never looked at music. It was in my head for weeks. I remember the 'hump day', when I really felt good about it, and knew that it might have a chance. I was sure that they would play it faster than on the CD, so I went as fast as my brain would go. I really wanted to play along rather than accompany. And I began to like the tune.

My heart leaped every time someone told me that they had bought those expensive tickets to the Kennedy Center to hear me with the Chieftains! What if, what if...

I arrived at the Kennedy Center way too early, terrified but also awed with myself for playing there, and wishing Mom were still alive to hear it. I walked around for a while. The stage was big, but I am used to large stages by now, playing with Ensemble Galilei. The only run-through was at sound-check an hour before the concert, after all the other instruments were set. They asked “Could you do the ‘SiBheag’ and ‘Fanny’ solo for the A parts?” “Fine!” Then they only played the Concerto through once with everyone in the band blasting away so that no one heard the harp at all, and it seemed slow! Glory! They were very complimentary about the sound of my harp and playing. Then, they asked if I could play ‘Give Me Your Hand’ at the encore. Well, yes, thank you, I can, I cut my teeth on that tune, listening to Derek and the band. So it was thrilling and felt like coming full circle for me, having been inspired by Derek so much in the '70's when I was just taking up the small harp and getting into trad Irish music.

After ‘Give Me’ they continued on in a wild medley of tunes, expecting me to drop out and sit there, I suppose, but hey, I am a session musician so I banged away and had a fine time. I was grinning and definitely having the night of my life. My friends and family cheered from the crowd. There were many nice moments, especially when Matt Malloy joined me in a duet on Fanny Poer, and time seemed to stop. That sound is so wonderful, and the stage lights were so bright, and we seemed to be the only people there. Also nice was that Carolyn the cellist made a special effort to put me at ease on stage.

I had assumed that the harp medley would be the tribute to Derek, but it wasn't. The cellist played a wonderful air as the official tribute.

Backstage, there were no rooms for me to dress or tune up, so I hung out in the hallway and felt very awkward. (Therese, I knit sox too!) All the people were really nice, and all were really genuine. Dinner was fabulous, but the musicians and dancers seemed tired by this time in the tour, and were pretty low key. I did not get to hear the show live, only on TV monitors with terrible sound and picture.

All in all it was the night of my life. Strangers now come up to me and say that they heard I played with The Chieftains. It has done wonders for my résumé! Most of all, The Chieftains are the introductory experience to Irish music for a lot of people, and as such are an institution not to be taken lightly. They are wonderful musicians. My fantasy is that one day they will call back and invite me on tour. "Say, Sue, you did a real nice job at that concert. How about going along with us on a world tour?" Would I say yes? I don't know, but it would be real cool to be asked!

[In fact, Sue did play with them on the next tour, on July 9 at Wolftrap. "It was great! They remembered me and were very friendly and easy to work with. It was the same O'Carolan set that we did before. The program consisted of the first set by Ricky Scaggs and his Kentucky Thunder band (wow!), and then The Chieftains did their set after intermission. So it was not as elaborate as before when they did the whole night alone. But they still managed to do lots of dances; cello, fiddle, flute, and some other solos; rollicking reels and the O'Carolan set, and a tribute lament (the same as in March) as well. They skipped "Give Me Your Hand" and went straight into jigs and reels for the encore, and I sat in on that. It was great fun."]

BIO: Sue Richards has wanted to play with The Chieftains all her life, but instead has her own career, making CD's and touring with Ensemble Galilei and Ceoltoiri bands. For most of her musical life she has collected and played traditional Irish and Scottish music, and has performed and taught from coast to coast, Alaska to Florida to Maine. She has three solo CD's on the Maggies Music label and records with EG on the Telarc label. She founded the Washington, D.C. folk harp society, and has been active in the Scottish Harp Society of America.

Website: www.suerichards.net

Kathleen Guilday: Boston, Massachusetts and Storrs, Connecticut

Kathleen Guilday
Kathleen Guilday

My first opportunity to play with The Chieftains came in 1993, when they invited four Boston area harpists - Mairead Doherty, Barbara Russell, Sharmane Simard, and me - to join them in Symphony Hall to highlight the release of their recording "The Celtic Harp." It was an especially meaningful evening for me as I had been introduced to traditional Irish music, the harp, and The Chieftains during a single memorable afternoon in the 1970s, and the sounds of the early Chieftains formed my first impressions of the music that I now have been playing for more than half a lifetime. I can still remember taking a seemingly endless series of buses out to a small travel agency in a remote Boston suburb to buy my first Chieftains album, which had been hand-carried over on the plane from Ireland. After obtaining a harp and taking several years of lessons, I eventually moved to Ireland and lived in Dublin during the late ‘70s.

While in Dublin I had the opportunity to spend some time with Derek Bell, who was in residence at the Clarence Hotel during a ballet production of "The Playboy of the Western World" for which the Chieftains provided music. I had met Sheila Larchet Cuthbert, who knew Derek and who encouraged me to contact him, offering to write a letter of introduction. I rang up Derek at the Clarence and asked whether I could stop by, and he assured me quite warmly that I would be more than welcome. I later discovered that the letter of introduction had not yet arrived. When I turned up at his door Derek Bell apparently hadn't the slightest idea who I was, but threw his arms around me and pulled me into the room as though I were a long lost friend. Our discussions over the next few days -- for Derek kindly kept insisting that I return -- ranged from oboe reeds to the Bells of Belfast (I have an ancestral Belfast Bell), and from match tricks and schoolyard humor to the music of the spheres. There definitely was, for me at least, never a dull moment, and our conversation even turned from time to time to the harp. When we did talk about the harp Derek Bell listened closely, suggested and encouraged, and I am sure that over the years countless eager emerging harp players were embraced with the same fresh enthusiasm.

Years later I lent Derek a harp to use during a Boston College commemoration of the Belfast Harp Festival. He had composed a piece for harp and chamber orchestra especially for the occasion but was unable to bring his own instrument to Boston so asked that a local loan be arranged. I was embarrassed that the harp, which was not one that I used regularly, had a number of noisy levers. However, when I retrieved it after the performance I discovered that the structural rattling had been augmented by some small plastic Playmobil people rolling around inside that my young son apparently had stuffed through those very tempting holes in the back! Derek had in the meantime thanked me very graciously for the use of the instrument with no reference to any peculiar sounds.

The invitation to join the Chieftains once again in Symphony Hall brought back many memories, and I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to take part in a formal tribute to Derek Bell. For me the most significant aspect of that tribute was the Chieftains' decision to invite a number of harp players to participate as they toured the country. The Chieftains have always fostered the spirit of inclusiveness that lies at the heart of the Irish musical tradition, and I think that it was with this gesture that they truly honored the generous and wide ranging spirit of Derek Bell.

[Kathleen also played in The Chieftains' next tour. She says, "I played with The Chieftains again on Tuesday evening, July 8, in the FleetBoston Pavilion, which is a huge permanent tent on the Boston waterfront. Despite the wilting heat I had a great time and it was lovely to have been asked back. I felt much more confident with The Chieftains this time around -- I guess being asked back was confirmation that it went well the first time. We played exactly the same program, and I had already met the sound people and the other musicians and knew the routine, so I just sort of slipped back into place.]

BIO: Kathleen Guilday has been performing traditional Irish music on the harp for more than twenty-five years, both solo and as a member of various Boston area groups, and often appears with fiddler Laurel Martin. Kathleen studied in Ireland with Noreen O'Donoghue and Máire Ní Chathasaigh, and won the senior All-Ireland harp championship at the 1985 Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann. Currently a member of the Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann Boston music school faculty, Kathleen can be heard on Seamus Connolly's recordings "Notes >From My Mind" and "Here and There," and on Joe Burke's album "The Tailor's Choice." On St. Patrick's Day 2000 Kathleen entertained the Clintons and Prime Minister of Ireland Bertie Ahern at the White House. Contact: kguilday@comcast.net

PS: As many of these players hoped, The Chieftains are scheduling a mid-2003 tour and have contacted them if the band is passing through their areas again!

************* HINTS Sylvia’s lifesaving email:

Sylvia and the Chieftains
Sylvia and the Chieftains

Dear fellow Chieftains harpers,

Hi, all. I've played 4 concerts with the Chieftains this past week, and have 1 more to go tonight. I have gotten phone calls and e-mails from a lot of you asking questions about the tour. After speaking with Paddy (of the Chieftains), and Dan (their road manager) we thought it would be a good idea for me to e-mail all of you with things I've learned by playing with them this past week. Of course everything written here is subject to change . . . so be sure to check with them as necessary. I hope this information makes your life easier . . . less stressful . . . and more FUN!

#1. Before the show

Most of their shows are at 8 p.m. (You should check with the venue to be sure.) If so, the sound check is at 6 p.m. I always try to show up by 5:30 at the latest so I can find the stage door, get my harp onto the stage, and get tuned before the sound check. They do the sound check for everyone else before the harp, so you really won't be needed until 6:20 or 6:30. But I always like to be there and ready to go BEFORE they need me.

You'll be sitting next to Caroline, the cellist. Don't sit too close, or she'll poke you with her bow! She's very sweet. They have Derek Bell's pick-up that will clip into the back of your harp, so you don't need to worry about amplification. They'll have a chair for you. If it is extremely important to you how high you sit . . . and it is not a normal chair height . . . you should bring your own stool.

Be sure to tune your harp sharper than normal. Because of the pipes, they tune to about 447 instead of 440.

When you get there, you should introduce yourself to Dan (their road manager) (he has short black hair and stuff hanging around his neck), and Paddy Moloney (the leader of the band). I'm attaching a photo in case you don't know the members of the Chieftains. It is always nice if you know who is who! From left to right: the regular band members are Matt Molloy (flute), Paddy Moloney (uillean pipes, whistle),Kevin Conneff (Bodhran . . . which is a hand drum, in case you don't know), and Sean Keane (fiddle). Of course Derek Bell with the harp in the photo is the member who passed away. Other musicians on this tour are Caroline the cellist, and Chris (a guy) the guitarist. If you have any questions about chords, Chris is the best one to ask [since he plays a chordal instrument]. There are also other miscellaneous dancers and singers.

After the sound check you will probably be fed. (That depends on the venue.) If not, you'll be given time to get food close by.

Your dressing room will probably be with the dancers.

Just remember, if you have any questions ASK. No one will volunteer information or help if you don't ask for it. They all have lots of other things they're worried about.

#2. The music

Paddy is the one who will tell you which pieces they are playing in the medley that night, and anything else you are playing. Some of you may be playing "Give me Your Hand" as part of the encore, but I'm not sure if all of you are doing that. Check with Paddy.

The last tune in the medley will generally be "Carolan's Concerto". If you can't play it as fast as they can, don't worry. By that time the entire band is playing, and so you'll be covered up! Just play chords or whatever you can if you can't keep up. If you need the music for any of these pieces, here's what we have for sale. These are all in the correct keys that the Chieftains want.

In my "40 O'Carolan's Tunes" book you'll find: ‘Fanny Power’ in the key of G; ‘Sheebeg Sheemore’ in the key of D; ‘Carolan's Concerto’ in the key of D. ‘Give Me Your Hand’ is in Kim Robertson's "Celtic Harp Solos" book in the key of G.

Don't worry about changing levers between the pieces. They know that you have to do that. They'll just start the next tune, and you fix your levers and come back in whenever you can. You'll go over all of that in the sound check. To save time, it would be a good idea to only flip the C levers that you'll actually be using in each piece, so you might want to figure that out in advance.

#3. During the Show

The O'Carolan medley is about 45 minutes into the first set. It is right after "Down the Old Plank Road". (Double check on this when you arrive, just in case they change the order.) Paddy first told me that Dan would let me know when to go on, but actually Dan is on stage playing keyboards during "Down the Old Plank Road", so he can't help you. So just be aware of where they are in the program, so you know when to go on stage. Dan will have a set list. Paddy will introduce you before your pieces, and then you can walk out and move your harp into position. (It will be back by the guitar most of the time, so it is out of the way of the dancers.)

Be sure to check with them as to when you'll go on stage at the end. Once again, Paddy will introduce you and call you back on stage. If you are playing ‘Give me Your Hand’ in the encore, you MAY actually start it, and then the rest of the band comes in. This was a surprise to me, so I kept waiting for them to start!!! Check with Paddy about this as well. After ‘Give me Your Hand’ you'll want to scoot yourself and your harp back a bit so the dancers don't run over you during the reels that they play after that tune.

By the way, the reels change nightly. It depends on if they have local Irish musicians that are going to play along.

#4. What to wear

The Chieftains tend to wear slacks and nice shirts, or sport coats. The guitarist wears jeans (since he's from Nashville!). The cellist wears a brown dress in a kind of a western style. I wore black pants, a black shirt, and a silk cape. (If any of you have seen me in concert in the past few years, it is what I always wear). So wear whatever you want. You just don't want to be TOO fancy. You can leave your tiara at home!

#5. After the show

Sometimes the Chieftains leave almost immediately after the show. Sometimes they stick around for autographs etc. But don't expect to be hanging out with them and going out for beer. "It ain't gonna happen".

#6. Miscellaneous other stuff

Dan is the person who will pay you, so talk to him about that. He's usually backstage during the performance (except when he is on stage), so you can usually talk to him then.

Everyone is really very nice, but they won't go out of their way to talk to you. So, if you want to talk to them, you need to take the initiative.

If I think of anything else I'll send you all another e-mail.




Also see “How I Came to the Harp or How the Harp and I Came to Each Other,” by Derek Bell, American Harp Journal, Winter 2000, p. 27-29; and “Derek Bell, Harper-Composer” by Nora Joan Clark and Sylvia Stauffer, Folk Harp Journal No. 119, Spring 2003, p. 47-49.

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