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Published: Thursday, 11/13/2008

Renowned Celtic harpist, storyteller is at Trinity Saturday

BY SALLY VALLONGO
BLADE STAFF WRITER

In the performing arts, many are called but few are chosen - at least by the public, a necessary element in maintaining an active career.

That makes Patrick Ball's achievement a rarity right out of the gate.

But when you consider that the California native has focused his talent, energy, and creativity on history and music from a small, if compelling, island, then his success is all the more wondrous.

Like all self-made men (and women), Ball says he was driven by a small but powerful engine of desire to rekindle awareness and interest in the traditional culture of Ireland, a country he first visited as a graduate student, in his 20s.

Today his name is synonymous with haunting Irish folk harp music and storytelling.

An award-winning solo performer, he brings his program, Theater of Legend, to gigs throughout North America and abroad. Considered one of the premier Celtic harpists and storytellers in the world, he has recorded nine instrumental and three spoken-word albums which have sold well over one-half million copies collectively.

He'll perform one of his most popular shows, Celtic Harp and Story, at Trinity Episcopal Church for a performance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

"All of my shows are based on Irish/Celtic tales and legends, though in some shows these legends are elements in a longer, original tale," Ball says by e-mail from his Sebastopol, Calif., home. "My performance in Toledo will be pretty much traditional tales and music."

Ball, who transforms himself into a quirky character for each performance, brings into play the Irish passion for eloquence and wordplay, their belief in ancient myths and a supernatural world, and, perhaps most powerful, the Irish ability to find joy and humor in a dark world.

In performance, Ball illustrates, accents, and highlights his storyline with crystalline melodies played on his brass-strung harp.

"There is no singing in any of my shows," he clarifies. "The music and the stories alternate or, in some cases, the music weaves its way in and out of the stories."

While Ball notes that his programs are welcomed most warmly in Ireland and the United Kingdom, audiences across Canada and the United States also savor his spellbinding performances.

Unlike the big orchestral harps, Ball's instrument is a modern recreation of the original, built by Jay Witcher of Houlton, Maine.

Like its ancestors, its 32 strings are solid brass, its body of maple. Tuned diatonically, it tends to be set in the key of F or G. And, like his ancestors, Patrick plays it with his fingernails. "It was, and is, necessary to play these harps with fingernails to bring out the resonant, bell-like sound of the instrument," explains Ball.

"The plucking technique is similar to the way certain guitarists play with their fingernails. You simply place your fingernail against the strings and pull gently."

Using traditional techniques for traditional music is not only proper, Ball believes, but pays tribute to the founders of this enduring legacy he works to keep alive.

"When Ireland's bardic order was shattered and replaced by English rule, these harpers had little choice but to take to the roads and seek patronage among wealthy landowners. Of these itinerant musicians, Turlough O'Carolan (1670-1738), the last of the Irish bards, was surely the most beloved and prolific," he notes.

Patrick Ball's appearance will be the capstone of a special event - Art with a Heart - sponsored by the church to fund an orphanage in Honduras. A holiday art market will begin at noon with 50 local artists exhibiting. A silent auction is planned, as well. During the day, music will be provided by the Northwestern Ohio Chapter of the American Harp Society, which is a partner in the Patrick Ball appearance. Ball will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Trinity Episcopal Church, Adams and St. Clair streets. Tickets are $10 to $15.

Contact Sally Vallongo at: svallongo@theblade.com.



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