Maire Ni Chathasaigh and Chris Newman Live in Harrisburg November 1st

Having performed in 22 countries on five continents, Irish harper MAÍRE NÍ CHATHASAIGH and UK acoustic guitarist CHRIS NEWMAN come to Harrisburg for a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert on Sunday, November 1, 2015, at 7:30 p.m., at the Fort Hunter Centennial Barn, 5300 N. Front Street, Harrisburg. The concert will be preceded by a free 6 p.m. potluck dinner.


Concert tickets are $20 General Admission, $16 for SFMS members, and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets HERE or toll-free (800) 838-3006. For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website.

I had a chance to speak to Maíre from her home in West Yorkshire in the UK.

FOLKMAMA: The harp is such a beautiful instrument. It’s found in so many cultures, but it seems like it’s particularly important in Ireland.

MAÍRE : Yes, that’s true. The harp itself in Ireland has an extremely long history. Ireland was originally a country of small kingdoms and every king or chief has his own court poet and own court harpist. To be a harpist during that time gave you very high status and you were very well paid. The harps that they played tended to be very big by comparison to harps played elsewhere in Europe. Besides being big they were very ornate and very expensive, which was an indicator of how important they were in that society.

But in the beginning of the 19th century that sort of harp went into decline and people started making harps strung with gut instead of steel strings. It was such a relief for the harp players who in the past had to keep their fingernails long (in order to pluck the strings) and had to hire servants to do all their chores! But seriously, the Harp has been the symbol of Ireland since the Middle Ages. It’s been on our coinage for hundreds of years and it’s on the Euro.

FOLKMAMA: So, tell me about the harp that you play.

MAÍRE : It’s a modern Celtic harp. It is struck, tuned and played in a similar way as the harp elsewhere in Europe. When people talk about the Celtic harp they are generally talking about the harp as it is found in Ireland and Scotland.

FOLKMAMA: I’ve seen Celtic harps in all different sizes. I’m curious about why that is.

MAÍRE : The size is variable really. Some builders make harps the size that they were in the Medieval period, but it’s really whatever they fancy. Some people go small because it makes them a lot more portable, but I play a big one because I like a big, beefy sound. My harp has 36 strings. The modern Irish harp is not chromatic, but you can change key by using levers. Each lever has two positions; up or down which means that you have a limited number of keys that you can play in.

FOLKMAMA: It must be difficult to tour with a harp.

MAÍRE : It’s a bit of a pain really but the harp that I tour with is about 15 years old and I don’t worry too much about it. That’s one of reasons I choose to play a mass produced instrument. If it all goes horribly wrong, I can just ring up the maker and say, “Can I have another one please?”

FOLKMAMA How did you get started in music?

MAÍRE : My parents paid for private lessons and I started when I was 11. My mother loved music and was a fantastic singer. My father loved music too, but he didn’t play an instrument. But because they were so fond of music, any instrument that we wanted we could have. That’s what they spent all their money on.

FOLKMAMA: Your sisters are musical too, right?

MAÍRE: Yes, my sisters Nollaig Casey and Mairéad Ní Chathasaigh are both singers and fiddlers. Actually, we’ve just put our first CD out together as The Casey Sisters. It’s being released on the 19th of October and we’ll have some with us during our upcoming tour. It’s called Sibling Rivelry.

The Casey Sisters

The Casey Sisters

FOLKMAMA: You’ve competed a lot and have been recognized as an All-Ireland champion on several occasions. How do these competitions work and what have they meant to you?

MAÍRE : It’s a certain mark of quality. It’s something that Ireland just has; The Fleadh. People compete at the county level and then the provincial level and then All-Ireland if they get through to that. I used to hate competing when I was a kid but in retrospect I think it was a good thing, particularly for girls. You don’t have to anything as unladylike as saying, “Look at me, I’m brilliant.” You can say, “A third party has said I’m brilliant.” I won the under 14, and the under 18, and then I won the All Ireland Senior three times.

FOLKMAMA: You’ve been known for having a pretty eclectic repertoire. When you and Chris go about deciding what to play, what are the criteria?

MAÍRE : Really, is it nice music? Does it work on our instruments? Can we do something with it arrangement wise? Mainly, do we like it? When we play, though, we keep the different styles distinct. We don’t mix them up in a big soup.

FOLKMAMA: How long playing with Chris:

MAÍRE Since1987. We’re married. So we have a really nice time touring together.

FOLKMAMA : What can people expect at one of your concerts?

MAÍRE : We like to have fun. We’ll play some traditional music and some of our own compositions. We’ll go from some beautiful slow pieces to some super fast ones. Chris is extremely funny—he’s vey entertaining. He is also a fantastic improviser–a different solo every night!


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