Festival director, performer, speaker, workshop leader, tutor
Siobhán Armstrong is one of Europe’s foremost historical harpists and plays an extensive collection of copies of medieval, Renaissance and multi-row baroque harps. A versatile musician, she is at home playing seventeenth-century opera in some of the world’s most prestigious opera houses, performing as a soloist on a Hollywood film soundtrack and gigging at some of the world's best-known traditional music festivals. She founded The Historical Harp Society of Ireland in 2003.
Listen to Siobhán here.
When performing Irish music, Siobhán is unusual in choosing to place herself at the point where ‘historical’ meets ‘traditional’. For more than twenty-five years, Siobhan has been rediscovering the playing techniques, aesthetics and lost repertory of the early Irish harp. Sharing this with others as a performer and as a coach is now at the heart of her artistic and educational work. Siobhán is an experienced and enthusiastic tutor, working with beginner to professional harpists on historical and modern harps. She also coaches instrumentalists, singers and chamber-music performers in a variety of European art music in conservatories and universities around Europe.
She is currently writing up a PhD thesis at Middlesex University, London, on the subject of eighteenth-century Irish harp performance practice. With her ensemble, The Irish Consort, she has embarked on a ground-breaking project to produce a series of recordings documenting music in Ireland between 1500 and 1800. The first recording in the series was released in March 2019: Music, Ireland and the Sixteenth Century on Destino Classics, UK. It was produced with generous funding from the Arts Council Music Recording Scheme, managed by Music Network.
2019 Performer, guest tutor
Originally from Dublin, but now living in Connemara, Ronan is one of Ireland’s leading traditional musicians. He comes from a musical background: his grandmother was the famous early-twentieth century singer, Delia Murphy, and pivotal Irish traditional musicians such as Séamus Ennis, Willie Clancy and Denis Murphy were regular visitors to Ronan’s family home. He began playing the pipes at the age of seven and was quickly taken under the various wings of the old masters.
Listen to Ronan here.
Ronan has been involved in over 100 recordings and has collaborated with many prestigious artists playing traditional Irish music, classical, pop and jazz, including Elvis Costello, Paul Brady, Sinéad O’Connor, Peter Gabriel and Deep Forest. His work ranges includes solo projects; his celebrated duet with veteran musician Peter O’Loughlin and his acclaimed collaboration with poet Louis de Paor; his trio CRAN and his trio with singer Róisín Elsafty and harpist Siobhán Armstrong; and his performances as the original piper with both the Afro-Celt Sound System and Riverdance. Ronan appears regularly on television and radio. He has toured extensively in Europe and in the USA, as well as further afield.
Ronan is also keenly interested in exploring other musical genres particularly in film, theatre and television, collaborating on the composition of soundtracks for documentaries and films such as the dramatization of Maeve Binchy’s novel, Circle of Friends. Ronan has also contributed music to many film soundtracks including of Robin of Loxely, Rob Roy, Fierce Creatures, Streets of Gold and Gangs of New York. On Angelica Huston’s Mrs. Browne, Ronan was Traditional Irish Music Director.
A gifted communicator, Ronan is a sought-after lecturer, masterclass coach and teacher, tutoring pipes, flute and whistle worldwide for the last twenty-five years. He has recently developed a unique music-listening class, which trains students in the art of forensic listening to – enabling deep comprehension of style and technique – from archive recordings of the late nineteenth century into the twentieth.
Festival assistant director, speaker, workshop leader, tutor
Simon Chadwick is one of the most important experts on the history and traditions of the early Irish harp and is pivotal to the current international revival. Now based in Armagh, in the north of Ireland, he researches, teaches and performs the ancient native music traditions of Scotland, Ireland and neighbouring countries as well as giving lectures and presentations at third-level institutions and in the public sphere, primarily in the UK and Ireland.
Listen to Simon here.
He has published a pair of tutor books outlining the historical performance tradition for the instrument, a book on advanced playing techniques, and an often-cited article in the scholarly journal Early Music. Simon documents his research on his ground-breaking information website – earlygaelicharp.info – which is widely acknowledged to be the pre-eminent published source of information on the early Gaelic harp and its traditions.
Simon was born and grew up on the edge of the New Forest in the south of England. His mother taught him change-ringing on tower bells when he was a child. He studied physics before later switching to archaeology. Simon became interested in the old Gaelic harp traditions – based on the earlier work of Ann Heymann – and started gathering information about the extant historical harps preserved in museums. This led to commissioning replicas of them and experimenting with these to understand their set-up and stringing. He has also done enormous work researching, collating and studying the sources for old Irish and Scottish harp music, aiming to restore the old music to the reconstructed instruments.
Festival financial administrator, workshop leader, tutor
Sylvia Crawford, from Co. Armagh, recently completed a Masters by Research in Ethnomusicology, at Dundalk Institute of Technology. Her research focused on the life and music of Patrick Quin, an eighteenth-century harper from Co. Armagh, and on cultural tourism in the Oriel region.
Listen to Sylvia here.
Sylvia combines classical and traditional music backgrounds, playing early Irish harp, fiddle and piano. She has a BA Hons in Music and Ethnomusicology from Queen’s University Belfast, and an HDip in Arts Administration from NUI Galway
In recent years Sylvia has been actively involved with the revival of the old Irish harp, and has presented concerts, talks and workshops on the subject. She is involved with The Historical Harp Society of Ireland, both in an artistic role and as Financial Administrator. As well as private and online tutoring for harp, fiddle and piano, Sylvia teaches annually at Scoil na gCláirseach and at HHSI Discovery Days around the country.
Most recently Sylvia Crawford has been collaborating with singer, Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin, on eighteenth-century Irish vocal music. Sylvia’s harp music and research features on Ní Uallacháin’s acclaimed 2017 online project, Oriel Arts.
Paul Dooley is one of the leading exponents of the Irish harp in its historical form and style – using a metal-strung harp, playing with the fingernails and damping unwanted string resonance with the fingertips. He studied the construction of medieval Irish harps in Dublin during the early 1980s and has built several harps. He began his performing career on the harp in 1986 and has since appeared on numerous CD recordings and television programmes.
Listen to Paul here.
He is a multi-instrumentalist, playing the fiddle as well as the harp and is particularly well known as a virtuosic exponent of traditional Irish dance music on the latter, which, for the most part, he has learned from players of other traditional instruments: flute, fiddle and pipes. This music is a real challenge for any type of harp and consequently has not been explored to any great extent on the instrument.
In the more recent past he has resumed harp making, building a variety of small harps, reproductions of the surviving medieval harps and researching string-making techniques.
Active also as a researcher, Paul has spent the past two decades working on the Welsh Robert ap Huw manuscript, the oldest collection of harp music in existence. Paul now holds a PhD from The University of Limerick, titled ‘Harp Tuning Practice in Medieval Ireland and Wales’.
Paul has just released a new recording: The Harper’s Fancy: A collection of jigs, reels, and miscellaneous traditional tunes, old and new, played on the Irish harp
Róisín comes from Conamara, in the west of Ireland, and grew up in a musical family. Singing came naturally, even before she learnt to speak. Her mother is the well-known singer, Treasa Ní Cheannabháin. Róisín sings in the oldest, a cappella singing style, in the Irish language. Her songs are from an ancient, oral tradition and have been handed down through the generations and from district to district.
Listen to Róisín here.
However, Róisín also enjoys eclectic musical collaborations: from early Irish music to jazz and works with some of the very best known mainstream Irish traditional, and historical, musicians.
Róisín has travelled widely with her art, performing, demonstrating and teaching her singing style. Memorable international concerts have included performances at Cité de la Musique in Paris; at the Palais de Beaux Arts, Brussels; and with The China/Ireland Cultural Exchange Programme performing in Beijing and Shanghai. She has also hosted TV and radio shows in English and Irish, both in Ireland and further afield.
Róisín’s first solo recording, Má Bhíonn Tú Liom Bí Liom, was released in 2007 on Vertical Records and was widely praised. Described by The Irish Times as ‘a thing of beauty from beginning to end’, it is a collection of traditional and newly composed songs, both accompanied and a cappella.
Róisín is a two-time winner of the Irish Music Awards award for Best Sean-Nós Singer 2010 and 2014. She also holds a PhD in biochemistry.
2019 Performer, guest tutor
Sarah Ghríallais is a multi-prize-winning singer from a famous, and hugely respected, Connemara family of singers. Originally from Muiceanach-idir-Dhá-Sháile in west Connemara, Sarah has long been acknowledged as a sean-nós singer of exceptional talent, winning the Corn Uí Riada award at the Oireachtas for the first time in 1984. That same prize has also been taken home by her sisters Nóra and Nan, her son Michael, and her niece Celia Ní Fhátharta – a remarkable feat for the family.
Listen to Sarah here.
Sarah has been sean-nós singer-in-residence at the National University of Ireland at Galway. She was recently awarded the Sean-Nós Cois Life Gradam award for her contribution to traditional song and in 2018, the Irish-language TV channel, TG4, honoured her by broadcasting a programme about her life called Sé mo Laoch.
Sarah Ghríallais’s voice is striking, with a style more forthright than many other Connemara singers. She has a wide dynamic range and a tone not unreminiscent of Bulgarian singers. To hear her is to hear the raw essence of Ireland, distilled into a human voice.
Some of the songs that are most associated with her include Amhrán Mhuighinse, Sagart na Cúile Báine, Condae Mhaigh Eo, Táilliúir an Mhagaidh and Eileanóir na Rún. She has recorded on several labels including, in Ireland, on Cló Iar-Chonnacht.
2019 Performer, guest tutor
Paddy Glackin is a hugely respected fiddler from Dublin, who is both a soloist and a member of several of the best known Irish music groups. His father, Tom Glackin, was a Dublin policeman and notable fiddle player who instilled in Paddy a deep interest and love of the music of his native county-Donegal. He also took classical violin lessons as a child, which helped develop his formidable technique.
Listen to Paddy here.
While on a trip to Donegal, Paddy encountered the music of the legendary fiddler John Doherty, who was profoundly influential on him, as were Tommy Potts and Padraig O’Keeffe, among others. Through these, and the influence of his father, Paddy mastered a variety of Irish styles and has amassed a significant repertoire. In 1973, the nineteen-year-old Paddy became fiddle champion at the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil.
In the 1970s, he was a founding member of The Bothy Band, one of the leading traditional Irish music groups. Glackin worked as an archivist and as Traditional Music Officer for the Arts Council. He later worked as a sports producer, presenter, and eventually editor at RTE radio.
In 1977, he recorded the first of several solo albums for the Gael Linn label. Glackin has since released numerous recordings, including seminal ones such as Doublin (1978) with the piper Paddy Keenan and In Full Spate (1991) with Dónal Lunny. More recently, Glackin recorded the duet album Seidean Si (1995) with piper Robbie Hannon, and Reprise (2001) with his former Bothy Band colleague, the late Mícheál Ó Domhnaill.
Although Glackin is quite outspoken in his preference for a soloist approach to the tradition, he has been involved in a number of experimental recordings, including Roaratorio by the American avant-garde composer John Cage and Hidden Ground (1980), made with the late multi-instrumentalist Jolyon Jackson, which is notable for its use of synthesizers alongside Glackin's fiddle playing.
Nancy Hurrell is a harpist, harp historian and author. A consultant to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, USA, she presents gallery talks, performs and records sound files on harps from the museum collection. Nancy is an expert on the harps of the pioneering, early nineteenth-century Dublin harp builder and inventor, John Egan.
Listen to Nancy here.
She authored the ‘John Egan’ entry in the New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments (2014) and has had numerous historical-harp articles published. Nancy has lectured widely on Egan harps including at the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, the Royal Academy of Music Museum, London and at the Metropolitan Museum, New York. She recently produced the first monograph on Egan: The Egan Irish Harps—Tradition, patrons and players (Four Courts Press, 2019). This new book will be launched at Scoil na gCláirseach–Festival of Early Irish Harp in Kilkenny on Mon. 19 August.
Hurrell is a performing harpist herself, playing in several Boston early music ensembles on a variety of historical harps. She has appeared at numerous festivals including Boston Early Music Festival, Amherst Early Music Festival, ICONS (Irish Connections), UK Harp Festival and Somerset Harp Festival. Her groundbreaking CD, The Egan Irish Harp, is the first recording of an Egan Portable Irish harp, c.1820.
Nancy Hurrell has also been a harp instructor at the Boston Conservatory and Brandeis University, and performs and teaches at conferences across the USA, Canada, Britain, and Ireland.
LILLIS Ó LAOIRE
2019 Performer, guest tutor
The prize-winning singer, Lillis Ó Laoire, grew up in Gort A'Choirce, in the Donegal gaeltacht in the north-west of Ireland. He learned songs as a child, but became more interested in collecting and performance while studying at University College Galway. Ìn the 1980s he began to visit Tory Island off the Donegal coast. He wrote his PhD dissertation on the singing of the island, published in 2007 by Cló Iar Chonnacht: On a Rock in the Middle of the Ocean.
Listen to Lillis lecture and sing here.
Lillis won the coveted Corn Uí Riada cup for sean-nós singing at the Oireachtas in 1991 and 1994, and has participated in many festivals over the years, in Ireland and abroad. In 2011, he was awarded the Sean-Nós Cois Life Gradam award for his contribution to supporting traditional song. In 1989, at the invitation of Oideas Gael, Gleann Cholmcille, he founded the annual sean-nós song workshop there, each July.
Lillis Ó Laoire is Senior Lecturer in Irish in the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at the National University of Ireland at Galway, and was Head of School from 2010-2014. He was also a visiting Professor in Modern Languages and English at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles from 2002-2005. He teaches courses in Folklore, Literature and Culture, including Ethnomusicology.
With Sean Williams, Lillis wrote a biography of the great Galway singer Seosamh Ó hÉanaí (Joe Heaney): Bright Star of the West (2011) and established a website commemorating him at joeheaney.org This book won the Alan P. Merriam Prize for best monograph at the Society for Ethnomusicology Conference in 2012. He is the only Irish national ever to have been given this award. He is currently editor of Folk Life, a peer-reviewed journal of ethnological studies.
Lillis has made many television appearances and has lectured widely. His solo recording Bláth Gach Géag dá dTig appeared in 1992 (Cló Iar-Chonnacht).
Read an interview with Lilis here.
2019 Speaker (virtual presentation, live-streamed from New Jersey, USA)
Based in New Jersey, on the east coast of the USA, Karen Loomis is an organologist with expertise in historical harp research. She received her PhD in Music from Edinburgh University in 2015, for her groundbreaking analysis of the construction and craftsmanship of the Queen Mary and Lamont harps to be found at National Museums Scotland. Her research is published in peer reviewed journals, and she regularly gives presentations to academic and public audiences. Her ongoing work has a significant impact within the community of historical harp builders and musicians.
Listen to Karen here.
Prior to her PhD, Karen received a MMus in Musical Instrument Research, with Distinction, from Edinburgh University. She was the 2011 recipient of the American Musical Instrument Society’s Frederich R. Selch prize, in recognition of her work with the Lamont harp. In 2017, she was co-investigator on a funded project to radiocarbon date the Queen Mary harp, in collaboration with National Museums Scotland and Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre.
EIBHLÍS NÍ RÍORDÁIN
2019 Performer, tutor
Prize-winning sean-nós singer, and instrumentalist, Eibhlís Ní Ríordáin is almost unique in Ireland: singing 17th- and 18th-century harp songs while accompanying herself on a copy of an 18th-century Irish harp, using historical harping techniques.
Her deep interest in Irish music and heritage has led her to research and perform songs from the sean-nós repertoire of the Déise (east Munster) for the past seven years, for which she has won many prizes including at Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann and Corn Mháire Nic Dhonnachadha at the Oireachtas competition. Her solo sean-nós song album will appear later in 2019.
Eibhlís has studied early Irish harp with Siobhán Armstrong, which has led to a fortuitous amalgamation of her interests in Irish music and song, early music, research and performance. She now researches, reconstructs and performs Irish harp songs. She has also been exploring the interconnections between early Irish harp music and the living sean-nós song tradition.
From co. Cork, Eibhlís followed her musicology degree at UCC with a Licentiate in piano teaching and works professionally as a classical piano teacher. She also holds a first-class Honours MA in Women’s Studies from UCD, which focussed on women in the arts in contemporary Ireland. Eibhlís is also a composer and arranger for diverse media: piano, voice, vocal duo, choir, and various traditional Irish instruments.
Since 2018, Eibhlís has been invited by Siobhán Armstrong to perform harp songs in concert with her, including at Culture Night at Áras an Uachtaráin, the Remembering Bunting Festival in Belfast and at HHSI Discovery Days around Ireland.
2019 Performer, tutor
Since 2005, US-based singer and harpist, James Ruff, has focused his energies on researching and performing both early Scottish Gaelic song and the early Gaelic wire-strung harp repertoires. He currently enjoys presenting concerts of this music at festivals and on music series around the USA including Boston Early Music Festival Fringe, Gotham Early Music Scene Midtown Concerts in New York and Beacon Hill Concerts in Pennsylvania.
Listen to James here.
James has studied Scottish Gaelic song with award-winning Scottish singers Kenna Campbell, Mary Ann Kennedy and Christine Primrose, and early harp techniques with noted Irish harpist Siobhan Armstrong. He enjoyed a month researching & studying early Gaelic song in Edinburgh and Glasgow in 2012, funded by a grant from Vassar College. In both 2017 and 2016, he won First Place/Men’s Division and Highest Overall Score in Gaelic Song at both the ACGA North Carolina Gaelic Mòd and the U.S. National Gaelic Mòd. He won Second Place in the Silver Pendant Gaelic Song Competition at the 2018 Royal National Mòd in Dunoon, Scotland, having been a finalist in the same competition in 2009.
His first CD, The Gaels' Honour: Early Music for Harp and Voice from Gaelic Scotland and Ireland, was released in December 2018.
James holds a B.Mus degree from the University of Southern California and an MMus from Boston University. He has a parallel career as a tenor on both the concert and operatic stage, performing with the best-known early music ensembles in the USA in repertory from the title role in the medieval The Play of Daniel to Bach, Haydn and Britten with title roles in operas of Charpentier, Scarlatti, Mozart, Debussy and Rossini. He also sings contemporary music and was featured in Britten's Paul Bunyan at Glimmerglass Opera, which was reprised at New York City Opera and broadcast nationally on PBS, ‘Live from Lincoln Center’.
James has served on the music faculties of Smith College, Amherst College, MIT, the University of Connecticut, Emerson College, Longy School of Music, Deerfield Academy and the Walnut Hill School for the Arts. He currently teaches voice both at Vassar College and privately, and was director of music at Christ the King Episcopal Church in Stone Ridge, New York from 2004-2015.