The melodic sounds of the wire-strung Irish harp have been revived by San Francisco-born harper Patrick Ball. Performing on a harp based on an ancient Celtic instrument and built by master harp builder Jay Wircher of Houlton, Maine, Ball has become one of the leading interpreters of the music of Turlough O'Carolan, an 18th-century Irish harpist and composer. Although Irish music is the heart of Ball's repertoire, his albums and performances have also included traditional songs from Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Brittany, Belgium and England.
The son of an attorney, Ball was encouraged to follow in his father's footsteps. Although he studied piano and guitar as a youngster, he continued to study law at college. His attention, however, became increasingly distracted by a growing interest in the work of Irish poets, songwriters and novelists. When his father died, Ball was freed from his obligation to become a lawyer. Leaving school, he traveled to Ireland to experience the country's oral tradition. While there, he became fascinated with the Irish harp.
After returning to the United States, Ball enrolled at Dominican College in California, where he earned a master's degree in history. Upon his graduation, however, he discovered that there were few jobs available in the field of Irish history. Hitchhiking around the United States, he landed at the Penland School of Crafts in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. He remained at the school for two years, working as a groundsman.
Following a second trip to Ireland, Ball returned to California and sought out a maker of the wire-strung Celtic harp. After teaching himself to play, he launched his career as a musician.
Inspired by the storytelling tradition of Ireland and the Appalachian Mountain region of the United States, Ball has consistently grown as a tale weaver. His spoken-word debut, Storyteller/Gwilan's Harp and Other Celtic Tales, received a prestigious National Association of Independent Record Distributors' award as the best independently released spoken-word recording of 1995. Two years later, Ball provided musical accompaniment for Cher's narration of the children's tale, The Ugly Duckling. In 1997, Ball released the double CD Finnegan's Wake, featuring his reading from James Joyce's 1939 novel accompanied by his Irish harp. Ball's latest project is a solo theater piece, O'Carolan's Farewell to Music. The play was premiered in November/December 1997 at the Studio Theater in Sarasota, Florida and the Theatre Company in Wilmington, Delaware. ~ Craig Harris