St. Patrick’s Day weekend approaches, but this year, my husband Ryan and I are forgoing donning shamrocks and plastic leprechaun hats, ordering up green beer and merrymaking with the crowds. This type of celebrating is an American invention, after all, and not exactly an accurate representation of how the holiday is celebrated in Ireland. Regarded as a religious holiday on the Emerald Isle, March 17th commemorates the death of St. Patrick, and the Irish honor this saint by attending Mass instead of over-indulging at the pub.
This year, Ryan and I are happy to pass up the grand scale St. Patrick’s Day celebration to instead partake in a smaller event a wee bit more authentically Irish in nature. It promises to be the perfect fusion of lighthearted fun and much-needed warmth and rejuvenation in the midst of this bitterly long and cold winter!
Mankato area harpist Amy Kortuem is hosting an Irish Pub Harp Concert on Saturday, March 15 in a small and cozy venue – a gallery at the Emy Frentz Art Guild in Mankato. Count us in! For those unfamiliar, no, the harp is not something best left in the concert hall, and yes, there is ample good fun to be had at a solo harp concert. This is Irish music, after all. Grab a pint, pull up a chair and prepare to be wooed by the Celtic harp and the merry stories this lady has to share!
Amy started playing the harp in September of 1988 when a family friend bought her a Woodsong harp at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. Ten years later, she bought a Lyon & Healy concert harp. With these harps she performs for weddings and private events, and has released four CDs and a DVD of her music. Her Celtic Band of whistles, fiddle and Irish drum often performs with her.
What makes St. Patrick’s Day special for Amy, what did she learn from Irish harpers, and what’s it like to play for Irish audiences? Read below for further insight into Amy’s background playing Celtic harp music.
Firstly, what does St. Patrick’s Day mean to you and how do you like to celebrate the holiday?
St. Patrick’s Day has become a lot more fun since I began giving concerts 11 years ago. Everyone loves Irish music and they’re fascinated by the harp, especially around March 17. It’s great to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a concert that’s also a party for the crowd.
You’ve had the opportunity to study harp music in Ireland. Are there any things you learned about playing the harp you feel can only be learned in Ireland?
Learning about Irish music and the harp from Irish harpers, many of whom have been playing since they could walk, was an invaluable experience. The focus wasn’t on technique, but on learning traditional music with focus on the tune and the melody. One of the most important things I learned was to simplify my arrangements of those traditional tunes and of my own compositions to let the melody shine.
Favorite travel memory in Ireland?
Playing my harp amid the ruins of a ring fort and feeling the music travel through the tunnels under the earth. Also, I had to kiss the Blarney Stone twice because my Mom missed taking the picture the first time.
People hear “Irish music” and often think of jubilant Irish jigs. Do you think in the US it’s a common misconception that Irish band music is always upbeat and jovial?
Irish dances are easy to recognize and they do set an upbeat mood. But Irish music as a whole touches on all the emotions. There are blazing-fast jigs, and there are love songs that will make you cry. Listen to the full range of Irish music – dances, songs, airs – for a full experience.
Have you played your harp in Ireland, and if so, is there anything you can say about playing for Irish crowds that differs from playing for Americans?
Yes, I have played in Ireland – at pubs, in nature and in homes. The main difference between American and Irish audiences is that in Ireland, the music IS the event. Everything stops – noise, conversation, activity – when someone starts singing or playing an instrument. There’s respect for the music and the sharing of it in the moment. In America, music is treated more like a background sound.
Learn more about Amy at http://www.amykortuem.com.