- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2005

It’s time for area harpers to showcase their talents: The annual benefit concert for the Washington Area Folk Harp Society will take place at the Capitol College Auditorium in Laurel on Saturday. Performers include Fynesound, Compass Rose and Port Righ, as well as Sue Richards, the doyenne of the Celtic harp.

A grand harp finale features “not just performers but anyone who wants to play,” says Sharon Knowles of Fynesound, a band that plays, sings and dances Scottish and Irish traditional tunes.

Just don’t ask if the two Gaelic styles are interchangeable, because the artists say they have a very different sound, a very different rhythm and a very different energy.

“There’s only one right answer here,” says Miss Knowles, who comes from Scotland and met up with husband John Knowles, who was in the U.S. Navy at the time, while the two were playing in a music session beside a loch.

If Miss Knowles seems familiar, it’s because she’s one of the five harpers who play during Sunday brunch at the Smithsonian Castle.

Fynesound’s members include Mr. Knowles, a Pennsylvania native who plays any number of stringed instruments as well as the concertina, and cellist Karin Loya, who grew up hearing her father play the bagpipes and today focuses primarily on the Scottish music in the tradition of the Dow brothers.

The folk harp has had a resurgence of interest in recent years, thanks in part to the popularity of Celtic music in general.

“My husband took up the pipes and bought me a harp,” says Jo Morrison, who performs with her husband, Wayne Morrison, as Port Righ. “I just fell in love with the sound and the music.”

But rest assured, not all folk harps sound alike.

“There’s a different kind of snap to the different kinds of dance music,” says Charlotte Roe of Compass Rose, a trio that plays traditional and contemporary music from around the world on Celtic harp, accordion and percussion. Recently, the group has been featuring music from Eastern Europe.

“I lived for a time in Hungary,” Miss Roe says. “I think the harp is really coming back there.”

Of course, the sound of Eastern European folk harp is a bit different from that found in Latin America, Brittany or the British Isles. But the effect may be another story.

“There’s a power in the harp,” says Compass Rose’s Gayl McDermott. “That’s why it was banned for so long. In Scotland and Ireland, it really did die out for a while.”

In fact, no two harps sound the same, says Miss Richards, the founder of the local harp society, who has performed with Ensemble Galilei, the harp duo Hen, and Harp and Fool.

“Every harp has its own personality,” she says. “You can line up 20 harps by the same maker, and they won’t have the same sound.”

Saturday’s event is a benefit for the society’s scholarship programs and also showcases some of its best students. The free-for-all finale features music from France and, of course, Ireland and Scotland.

• • •

Back in Vatan, France, Simone Marchand loved listening to the records management used to put on the player in the ladies’ garment factory where she worked.

“I was only 14, but there was something that appealed to me,” says the singer, who will perform Edith Piaf songs tomorrow night at the Baird Auditorium as part of the Smithsonian Resident Associate program “From Josephine to Edith: Songs of Paris.” The program is presented in conjunction with the citywide Paris on the Potomac celebration.

In addition to Miss Marchand, singer Ursuline Kairson is in from France to sing the songs of popular chanteuse Josephine Baker. Georgetown University French professor Jean-Max Guieu will provide commentary for the evening.

After leaving the factory, Miss Marchand married an American GI and moved to the Washington area. He encouraged her to get involved with her music.

“I let go of music but was always singing at home,” she says. “My husband was the one who told me to get out there.”

Miss Marchand may be familiar to Washingtonians who remember the French cabaret Le Marquis de Rochambeau on M Street in Georgetown. In addition to singing at area restaurants, Miss Marchand has participated in a number of concerts detailing the life and songs of France’s “Little Sparrow,” including shows at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Alliance Francaise. For some programs, she’ll even do the same song more than once.

“People always ask for ‘La Vie En Rose,’ ‘Milord,’ or ‘Je Ne Regrette Rien,’ ” Miss Marchand says. “Sometimes, I’ll even be asked for it three or four times.”

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