MAGICAL STRINGS centers around the Celtic harp and hammered dulcimer of Philip and Pam Boulding, at times augmented by violin, cello, pennywhistle, percussion and various instruments from around the world. Over the years their sound has drawn a large and loyal following captivated by a combination of traditional Celtic arrangements, original compositions and subtle world music influences. Their virtuosity and expressive style have been described as "warm, graceful and sonically gorgeous" by the Washington Post. Their music and stories have the effect of holding an audience and opening their hearts to a forgotten world well-veiled by the bustle and trappings of modern life.
Magical Strings has toured nationwide and abroad since 1978. They have recorded eighteen albums on four labels, including Flying Fish/Rounder Records, EarthBeat! Records, Allegro, and their own label, Magic Hill Music. Their ninth, released in July '96 on EarthBeat! Records titled Islands Calling features a collaboration of their family with fifteen guest artists (including cellist Eugene Friesen, guitarist Alex di Grassi, and Hawaiian slack-key virtuoso Keola Beamer) in a theme of island journeys reflecting their own world travels, from Ireland to Jamaica, and Madagascar to Hawaii. The album is comprised mostly of original works with some pieces based upon traditional ethnic melodies. Their 10th CD, Legend of Inishcahey, is a return to Celtic roots featuring the family quartet with a special guest appearance by cellist Eugene Friesen. Legend of Inishcahey has been hailed by the leading English music magazine, Folk Roots, as "...an exciting cross-pollination of Irish/World sounds delivered with freshness, style and panache... 'Legend of Inishcahey' is musical manna from heaven.”
Pam Boulding performs on hammered dulcimer, and Philip Boulding plays Celtic harp (both nylon and wire strung), hammered dulcimer, tin whistle, button accordion, and valiha (a bamboo harp from Madagascar). Philip also designs and builds the harps and dulcimers, and has handcrafted more than 2,500 instruments since 1971. In addition to the unique sound of Philip's instruments, he also has developed some unusual techniques including innovative harmonics and a stunning vibrato effect on the steel-strung harp. He is known for his expressive power and dynamic pulsating rhythms. In addition to recording and touring, since 1977 Philip has run his School of Magical Strings in Seattle (and later Olalla) where he teaches harp and dulcimer.
In 1988 Magical Strings dramatically expanded their fan base when Dan Fogelberg requested that they join him on a summer tour that took the duo to 30 major cities playing for crowds of up to 15,000. Fogelberg later had them record on his album River of Souls, and again, more recently, on his first Christmas album, released in the fall of '99. The family quartet, including Brittany on violin and Brenin on cello, toured Japan in February/March '97, and again in ‘99, performing ten sold-out concerts from Sapporo to Okinawa. Magical Strings has appeared frequently on radio and television including CNN, Japanese prime-time TV, and Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion." Their music was used to launch General Motor's TV advertising campaign for the Saturn car.
Philip Boulding's parents were university professors, authors and peace activists. His father, Kenneth, was an economist; his mother, Elise, a sociologist; and both were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Philip's family often traveled and he began his lifelong love for islands during a childhood which included long intervals in Jamaica and Japan. Philip began his musical education at age six studying classical violin, but switched to guitar at age 12. Shortly after he began building guitars in high school, he was captivated by the sound of a hammered dulcimer. He immediately built a dulcimer and taught himself to play it. When he moved to the Northwest in 1974 he fell in love with the Celtic harp at a folk gathering. He submerged himself in Celtic music and traveled to Ireland and Scotland to research both ancient and current music and instruments. Philip has been a professional musician since 1974, receiving training at the Boston Conservatory and the University of Washington's Ethno-Musicology department, as well as private study with classical and jazz harpists, a master of the Rumanian cymbalom, an African kora player from Gambia, and valiha masters from Madagascar.
Pam began playing piano at age four and studied classical music through high school. She turned her attention to art at Pitzer College in Southern California where she earned a B.A. in painting, sculpture and art history. Her paintings have been widely exhibited and have received several awards. She has taught art and music courses at various West Coast colleges and Waldorf schools. She founded a summer art school for children in Maine, where she spent her childhood summers sailing amongst islands with her family. Her father often inspired her with music he brought back from his travels to many foreign lands.
Pam first heard a hammered dulcimer being played in 1977. "I knew instantly that I had to play this instrument," she recalls. Unable to find a hammered dulcimer after many months of searching, she decided to take a class at a school that also provided an instrument to learn on. Philip was the teacher. "When we met, it was like we had known each other all our lives."
"I had this dream," remembers Philip, "to combine the harp and dulcimer into one sound. When I met Pam, I realized she had a musical spirit similar to mine and soon we were playing music together. It was like finding two complementary halves and creating an aural texture that is unique and complete in its musical expression. It allowed us to bring together the music we love -- Celtic, classical and folk music from around the world -- and to create something uniquely our own."
Philip and Pam recorded their first album titled Glass Horse in 1980, released on their own label. This was followed by touring and seven top-selling albums on Flying Fish Records -- Springtide, Above The Tower, On The Burren, Philip Boulding - Harp, Crossing to Skellig, Good People All - A Celtic Yuletide Tradition (features the entire family and captures the spirit of their annual Christmas concerts held since 1978 in the Pacific Northwest), and Bell Off the Ledge, Islands Calling, Legend of Inishcahey and Beneath the Moon. Later they recorded Where Dragons Dance on Allegro’s Alula label, followed by three double-CD solo titles by Philip, the popular Celtic Mist (solo harp traditional music of Ireland, Scotland and Wales), Elegance of the Hammered Dulcimer, and Celtic Holiday, all released by Allegro. After Philip’s self-released CD of solo harp originals, Musings, they put out two more titles: Dances and Dream - Best of Magical Strings (2-CD set compilation from their first nine recordings), and Celtic Yuletide - Celebrating 31 Years Live!, comprised of live performances from their 2009 Celtic Yuletide Concert season.
The Bouldings' love for music is embraced by all five of their children ages 30 to 41, who currently return with their families from across the country to bring together their talents and merriment each December to Magical Strings' Celtic Yuletide concerts. When not on the road Philip and Pam teach, build instruments, run their School of Magical Strings, give school programs, compose, and seem to have boundless energy for their creative life which is nurtured at their home on a beautiful farm by the Puget Sound.
Magical Strings Biography (Long)
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