VideoLarry Fisher gives harpists something to strum about
Posted by Sandra Thacker, SCENE Producer | Friday October 12, 2012
Larry Fisher gluing the soundboard onto one of his harps (L. Fisher)
The craftmanship is superb from the solid construction using quality woods to the beautiful artwork on the soundboard. What really sets his harps apart is the voice of the instrument.
—Lisa Marie Tucker, harpist
Once a year the Winnipeg Irish Festival draws a crowd of enthusiastic celts from all corners of Winnipeg and beyond.
Harpist Larry Fisher has been involved in the Irish Festival since it began. Fast forward 25 years and Larry is now an established harp maker. He's even developed a design that has become one of the most sought after harps in Ireland and beyond.
SCENE wanted to know how Larry got so wound up in harp strings.
What do you remember from the first Irish Festival in Winnipeg? I
got together with two Irish people that I'd met at the Winnipeg Irish
Association's clubhouse on Erin (of course) and we decided to gather
together all the musicians in the Winnipeg area who played Irish/Celtic
music and have a festival at the Gas Station Theatre. We called it Ceol
na h'Eireann -The Music of Ireland.
I did the poster, as I was working as a graphic artist at the time, and we put on
afternoon workshops for the different instruments (harp, fiddle, whistle) and singing. That evening we had a sold-out concert that ended
with a mighty seisún. Everyone thought that the idea of an annual Irish
festival was a good one, so the following year Joe Kinsella, one of the
organizers, took it upon himself to organize a festival at the Irish
Club. That's where 'IrishFest' actually got started.
How did you get interested in making harps? In the late '70s I met a local luthier by the name of Dennis Waring. He was building folk instruments at the Woodwright's Guild, a co-op woodworking shop on North Main St. He was also writing the book Making Folk Instruments in Wood at the time, so I had a chance to look over his shoulder as he did the research and building of instruments for that book, one of which was a replica of a medieval Scottish harp called the Queen Mary which is now in the Scottish National Museum in Edinburgh.
Larry Fisher spends a lot of time with his harps. (Larry Fisher)
What made you decide to start doing it full time? After a nine year stint in the graphics arts I was looking for a change, and self-employment seemed to fit my life/workstyle better than a regular paycheque kind of job, so in 1983 I started performing around town in one-man music appreciation shows and eventually I was hired as the minstrel for Lord Gort's Medieval Feast at the Viscount Gort Hotel.
I also was accepted into the Artists in the Schools program through the Manitoba Arts Council with my music appreciation show called Musical Adventures. Once 1984 arrived, I had the wherewithal to open Prairie Woodworks. There was a good synergy there and my performing helped to draw interest in and orders for my folk instruments.
Since about 2000, I got the webpage up and started exhibiting
my harps at harp festivals in Canada and the U.S. I've
also exhibited in Ireland. Once a few performers/teachers started recommending them to their audiences and students, the orders
Watch this video which shows Jenna Townson from Thunder Bay's new harp being built by Larry Fisher.
What are the challenges of making harps in Winnipeg's harsh climate? Not what you might think. It's desirable for wooden musical instruments to be made in a drier atmosphere, and Winnipeg certainly fits that bill. I even use a shop drying box to further dry the critical soundboard components like cedar or spruce as they must be fully dried & seasoned before gluing onto the soundbox.
If a soundboard is not properly dried it will crack under extreme dry conditions like the prairie winter, southwest desert conditions, etc. Many instruments made in more humid areas have experienced humidity cracks when coming to Manitoba, but building here and sending the instruments to more humid areas of the world is actually desirable.
Lisa Marie Tucker owns a Fisher harp. She couldn't be happier
with it. "The Sun, Moon and Stars harp built by Larry Fisher almost
seems to play itself" she says. "The craftmanship is superb from the solid
construction using quality woods to the beautiful artwork on the
soundboard. What really sets his harps apart is the voice of the
instrument. I play a lot of bass, so I appreciate the full, rich tone
balanced with the clear yet warm upper register. It is a magical
instrument to play and I hope that my next harp will be a Fisher harp!"
Hear Lisa Marie Tucker perform Dame Douce Jolie on a harp made by Larry Fisher:
Who is the most famous person out there playing one of your harps? Gráinne Hambly and William (Billy) Jackson are the most high profile, well travelled and recorded. I've known Gráinne since she was here in 1995 for our IrishFest, and Billy since he was here at the Winnipeg Folk Festival with his Scottish group Ossian in 1985.
Listen to Gráinne Hambly and William (Billy) Jackson play Lady Keith's Lament on Larry Fisher harps:
Irish Fest runs from October 12 - 14 at various venues in Winnipeg.