Jay Witcher receives Somerset Lifetime Achievement Award

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Jay Witcher recently received the 2018 Somerset Lifetime Achievement Award. Considered a “master harp builder,” Witcher is known for his role in reviving the folk harp community in the United States and influencing lever harp makers around the world. Initially an aerospace engineer, he was inspired by the ancient harps he saw in a private gallery when visiting Dublin. After extensive research into historic harps, Witcher came up with his own acoustical analysis focusing on how to create as even a sound as possible, leaving the harp’s general look the same but tweaking the dimensions. He then started selling small wire-strung harps at Renaissance fairs on the west coast. Now based in Houlton, Maine, Witcher has spent the past 50 years building “close to 1100 harps.”

Kathy DeAngelo, the director of Somerset Folk Harp Festival, says, “I had known about Jay Witcher making neo-Irish and historic harps since the early 1980s. I kept seeing him credited on ground-breaking harp albums I had from Sylvia Woods, Patrick Ball, Ann Heymann, and Maire niChathasaigh, and this was back before I started playing harp. Then I started hearing other harpmakers drop his name. The more I learned about him… I’m convinced that Jay planted an orchard of harp trees, and now we can bask in their shade. He is the linchpin on which the folk harp revival rested.” She adds, “I firmly believe in giving people flowers while they’re living and not waiting until they’re gone to start extolling how important they were. It’s thanks to [Witcher] that we have a vibrant harp-building marketplace which enables so many of us to play great sounding, quality instruments that feed our passion.”

To see Somerset Folk Harp Festival’s full tribute to Witcher, visit http://www.somersetharpfest.com/news.html#witcher. Click here for the in-depth video interview.

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