by Sheila Connolly
Recently I went to an Irish harp performance. I wouldn’t call it a concert, because it took place in a small community center with perhaps thirty people in the audience. It was sponsored by Cumann na Gaeilge (Friends of the Irish), the people from whom I take Irish language lessons.
It was a delightful event presented by a solo performer, Regina Delaney. She provided not only some lovely music but also a brief history of the harp in Ireland and the musicians who played it, and she played samples of music from every era, spanning over a thousand years. She also explained how her harp works (to be precise, it is a wire-strung lever harp; the levers are used to change the pitch of individual strings and thus the key of a song), and the charming terminology that the old harpers used.
In the middle there are two strings tuned to the same pitch, and historically in Ireland these have been called the “two sisters.” All the other strings were then defined in relation to those central strings (e.g., the “third string from the first sister”). I’m not much of a musician so I won’t even try to explain the intricacies of tuning or playing the thing. But it certainly sounds pretty. In fact, one interesting tidbit that Regina told us was that there is some inherent tonality in that kind of harp that is particularly soothing to humans. I’m willing to accept that (although beware if you do any online research, because the claims quickly drift into the realm of “woo-woo”).
But, believe it or not, that’s not what I wanted to talk about. Regina Delaney is a fifty-something American-born woman, whose harp is nearly bigger than she is (and, yes, she carried it around by herself). She was originally from New Jersey, and has training in both nursing and engineering. She was holding down jobs in both fields at once as well as raising her children a decade or so ago when she happened to accompany a friend into a music store, and fell in love—with a harp.
The observant shopkeeper saw her interest and told her she could borrow it, take it home, get to know it. She did, and she never looked back—she completely changed her direction in the middle of her life. And her joy in her playing, and in sharing it with others, is still clear and strong. Her message is simple: follow your dream, do what you love. Does she make much money? No. We passed that hat at the event, to cover her gas money. Is she happy? I’d say yes. How can you go wrong nurturing a tradition that goes back over a millennium, and making other people happy, all at once?
And that’s what writers do. We use a different medium—words rather than musical notes—but we feel the same sense of passion and connectedness when we write, for ourselves or for others. We work within an historic framework that is far older than we are, and we are part of the continuum. For most of us, it’s not a profession, it's a dream.
You never know when you’ll stumble over your true passion, but when you do—embrace it!
(Now, aren't you glad I didn't write about politics?)