Mercury News

Jan 31, 2012

From storyteller Patrick Ball's 'Theater of Legend' comes the legend of the Celtic harp

By Jean Bartlett, Pacifica Tribune Arts Correspondent

In 2006, spoken word artist and Celtic harpist Patrick Ball sat before his completely silent Pacifica Performances audience and told the tale of the Great Blasket Island, a silent, beautifully rugged island off the tip of the Irish Dingle Peninsula which once housed 160 men, women and children until they realized their cherished yet isolated life of fishing, farming and the telling of stories left them too distant from the modern world. In 1953, all the islanders moved to Ireland's mainland, leaving their cottages and their island to the ways of the mist. In Ireland, they refer to the islanders' exodus as "the vanishing."

In 2009, the folk baritone returned again to Pacifica Performances this time to tell of the legendary romance of Tristan and Iseult. Again, the storyteller spoke in front of an audience so silent that it was nearly impossible to believe that anything at all could exist beyond Ball's voice and his harp.

In 2010, Ball sat for a third time in front of a packed and hushed crowed at Pacifica Performances, and from his "Theater of Legend" he presented "Celtic Harp & Story." This was an evening of Irish storytelling, where Ball mixed old tales of wit and enchantment with the ancient, brass-strung harp of Ireland. Ball is returning to Pacifica Performances this Saturday night. His show is titled "Legends of the Celtic Harp."

Ball, who has been frequently recognized by the California Arts Council and the National Storytelling Association, will be joined Saturday night by Aryeh Frankfurter on nyckelharpa, cittern and Celtic harp and Lisa Lynne on Celtic harp, Irish bouzouki and mandolin. (A nyckelharpa, sometimes called the "keyed fiddle" is a traditional Swedish instrument, dating back 600 years. It sounds something like a fiddle, only with a great deal more resonance.)

Multi-instrumentalist Frankfurter, who is based in the Bay Area, has played throughout the world for audiences over 3,000 as well as for small, intimate audiences including a performance for Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall. Multi-instrumentalist Lynne, whose music was heard throughout the award-winning PBS special "Alone in the Wilderness," has also had her music featured on NBC, CNN, and Fox News Atlanta among other television and film venues.With "Legends of the Celtic Harp," Ball, Frankfurter and Lynne will provide listeners with rich theater as they join their talents to present the myths, magic, and fabled history of the Celtic harp.Ball, who has traveled throughout the United States, Canada, Ireland and the UK — did not know in his earliest years that he would be a storyteller and a harpist. Instead he thought he would follow in his beloved dad's footsteps and become a lawyer. But something happened at college.

While he studied history to meet his academic requirements, he discovered the history of Ireland called to him like a long lost friend across the water. Ball said when his father died, "all thoughts of law school died with him" — and Ball made that journey to Ireland where he met those who could spin a narrative in such a way as to change all dreams.

Returning to the States, Ball received his Master's Degree in history from Dominican College and then he moved to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina where for two years, he studied at the Penland School of Crafts. Here, he encountered Appalachian storytellers, ever-inspiring his own thoughts of such a magical career. When he met an instrument maker of the rare wire-string Celtic harp, all the pieces of his life came together as he taught himself to play. He has said it was then his that his passion became his livelihood.When Patrick Ball tells a story, his audience resides in the lands and the lives of whence came his eloquently chosen words. And as all members of the storyteller's previous Pacifica audiences know, we will go silently, whatever the distance — to hear this keeper of the oral tradition.