is an outline of our assembly program and workshop
A MAGICAL STRINGS school assembly includes performances of original
compositions and traditional Celtic music, interspersed with lecture
material about the history and legends at the root of this rich European
culture. The program draws from a repertoire that is both traditional
and contemporary. Workshops following the assembly can help further
the learning experience.
The Assembly Program
The program begins with an introduction of the musicians and of MAGICAL
STRINGS. Then follows with a brief description of the three types
of Celtic music (Irish, Scottish, Welsh). A medley of Irish tunes
is played that includes "Paddy Gavin's" and "The Cameronian
reel", followed by an air from the 16th century harper Cornelius
Lyons called " Miss Hamilton". A postscript is added to
explain that people's names were commonly used in song titles as
a way to honor patrons and supporters of musicians in ancient times.
A description of one such musician, Turlough O'Carolan, follows with
a narrative describing the events of the 16th and 17th centuries
that lead to the persecution of the "harpers" and "bards" by
Cromwell and his politicians. A lively medley of traditional Irish
dance tunes is played that includes jigs, reels, hornpipes and slow
airs. The students are encouraged to clap along in order to learn
the rhythms of each type of tune. It is explained that these songs
show how the common people used their music to deal with oppressive
After a description of the "three mystical moods of music" from
the old bardic tradition, the program shifts into a modern realm
with a brief discussion of why Pam & Phillip Boulding are performing
such "ancient" music. The musicians describe the merits
of saving a lost art, a lost history and a lost craftsmanship. They
then play "Crossing to Skellig", an original composition
that combines traditional and modern styles of Celtic music. The
musicians explain the song's path, a journey to the massive 700 foot
rock pinnacle 8 miles off the coast of Kerry, where they discovered
a great sense of peace amidst the ruins of a sixth century monastery
at its summit.
Now the focus shifts to music and harp-like instruments from other
cultures around the world, and the commonalities that link our cultures.
Philip will demonstrate the valiha, a bamboo harp from Madagascar;
the kora, a double-strung gourd harp from Gambia; and the Koto and
Cheng from Japan and China. Emphasis is placed on music as a medium
The next segment focuses on the art and science of instrument construction.
They describe the types, origins and effects of the woods used; the
types of strings for differing sounds, the parts of the harp and
dulcimer, and the different ways to play the instruments.
The program includes another original composition, "Winter into
Spring", inspired by the changing of the seasons amidst the
splendor of nature in our native Northwest, and ends with "Mike
Rafferty's Reels", with students again clapping to reinforce
the rhythms of the Irish dance tunes. The musicians remain in place
as the students are dismissed and they encourage the teachers beforehand
to have the students pass by the instruments as they leave so they
all get the chance to see the instruments close-up. A question and
answer session may follow as time allows. The order, content, and
range of material may vary slightly with each assembly according
to the number and ages of the students.
Classroom workshops expanding on the assembly are available. These
are usually taught in conjunction with the assembly. Magical Strings
will provide a study guide and suggested pre and post workshop activities.
The individual classroom workshops can be divided up and scheduled
a number of different ways following the all-school assembly. Below
is an outline that works well for us, and should be considered flexible
to be able to fit the needs of your school.
Once we are set up with all of our instruments, it would be helpful
for us to be able to stay in the same room (perhaps the music room
if there is one, or any room that can remain free of distractions
for the duration of the workshops) while the different classes or
groups of children come and go.
We recommend 25 to 30 minutes in length per workshop session, with
5-10 minutes break between sessions to move the groups of children
in and out. The ideal class size is between 15 and 25 students.
We will have approximately 5 harps and 5 dulcimers for the students
to play, along with a few other harp-like instruments. After an introduction
to playing techniques, the students will be taken alternately 10
at a time to play the instruments while we guide them and give suggestions.
They will have an opportunity both to improvise and to try playing
melodies familiar to them. Those who are not playing will be observing
those who are, while they wait their turn.
A variety of tables, desks and chairs would be helpful to set up
the instruments for the workshops. If at any point we need to change
rooms, it would be helpful to have several students on hand to help
us move the instruments.
About the Instructors
Philip and Pam Boulding have performed on radio and television
networks around the country, including "A Prairie Home Companion",
NPR's Weekend Edition, CNN both at home and in Europe, and prime
time TV in Japan. They have placed first in a group competition in
Ireland, have collaborated with Northwest ballet and theatre companies,
and performed for Boris Yeltsin when he visited Seattle. In the summer
of '98 they returned to Ireland where they composed new music as
part of an artist residency in a cottage by the sea, awarded to them
by the Cil Rialaig Irish arts organization.
The Bouldings run the well-known School of Magical Strings, inspiring
students of the Celtic harp and hammered dulcimer since 1978. They
design and manufacture instruments for an international clientele
(over 2,000 built to date). Philip and Pam love to share their music
with children and have performed in schools throughout the country,
including Waldorf schools where for over ten years they have taught
harp, lyre, painting, and orchestra classes. Called by local media
the "Von Trapp Family of the Northwest", their love of
music is embraced by all five of their children ages 19 to 30, who
return from graduate school and careers across the country to present
their annual Celtic Yuletide Concerts in cathedrals and concert halls
throughout the region.
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