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School of Magical Strings

School Assemblies
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Below 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 times.
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 for self-expression.
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

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.

Study Guide (pdf)

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.

Fee information

Study Guide

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