‘Light in the darkness of winter’
Trio brings medieval instruments and old-world traditions for unique holiday program
“We’re looking out the window at these dramatic, gorgeous Alaskan mountains covered in snow,” harpist Lisa Lynne announced at the beginning of a recent phone interview from a tour stop in Valdez, her lyrical description evoking mental pictures of an imagined documentary about the great white northern wilderness.
The soundtrack to that mental image—something big, dramatic, lush and elemental—could easily be scored by Lynne and her musical partner, Aryeh Frankfurter, with the voice-over handled by storyteller and fellow harpist Patrick Ball, the third member of the threesome collectively known as Legends of the Celtic Harp.
Lynne is a Celtic and new-age multi-instrumentalist who combined forces with globetrotting folk musician Frankfurter several years ago, the duo gaining an international following based on their virtuosic affinity for medieval instruments. The Legends trio came together three years ago at the behest of Ball, who wanted to assemble a collection of stories about the history of the harp set to musical accompaniment.
“Patrick’s collection of stories and poems about the harp with our underscore of traditional and original music really created a profoundly moving, heart-catching, heartwarming show,” Lynne said. “So even though it’s about harps, it’s really about humanity and connection and the power of music to heal and inspire.”
For their latest endeavor, the trio has assembled a new show called A Winter Gift, which they will bring to Chico’s Universalist Unitarian Church Thursday night (Dec. 18).
“I occasionally do a show called The Christmas Rose, so this show with Lisa and Aryeh is an expansion of that,” Ball explained. “We chose some of my favorite Christmas- and winter-themed stories and organized them so there is always music going.”
Stories and poems performed during the show include Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales, a chapter from The Wind in the Willows, and passages by Shakespeare and William Butler Yeats. There are also lesser-known tales.
“One is a very beautiful little story I found about 20 years ago in a long-out-of-print book,” Ball said. “It’s all about a young Irish boy who’s waiting in his seaside village for his father’s fishing schooner to come home. It had been out to sea a week longer than expected, and couldn’t return to shore because the lighthouse had been destroyed by the storm. The young boy is able to get the lighthouse operable again, and fortunately, it has a happy ending.
“If there’s an overall theme to this show, it’s about finding a light in the darkness of winter.”
On the musical side, audiences can naturally expect plenty of harping, including a rousing three-harp rendition of the Christmas favorite, “Carol of the Bells.” While harps are not exactly commonplace, the group also switches out with even more exotic instruments, including an Irish bouzouki, a cittern and, strangest of all, Frankfurter’s Swedish nyckelharpa.
Frankfurter explained he first saw the instrument—which looks something like a giant violin with lots of extra hardware, and is played by pressing keys and bowing it—while playing a folk festival in Sweden in 1994.
“I wasn’t that familiar with Swedish folk music back then, and when I got there I was blown away by the beautiful intensity of the music and the variety of unusual musical instruments,” Frankfurter said, explaining the instrument dates back to at least the 14th century. “I bought one myself in 2003 on a whim, but didn’t start taking it seriously until I started playing with Lisa a few years later. Now it’s slowly crept up to overtake my musical life.”
Ball explained the mix of music, oratory and light theater of their program harkens back to the tradition of Celtic bards: “That’s really the driving dynamic behind the show,” he said. “When people come to the show, the experience is something they might have from thousands of years ago.”