Celtic harpist and harp maker Chris Caswell died of cancer on Monday, January 21, 2013. Read his full obituary on pressdemocrat.com. The self-proclaimed “American Celtic Bard” had a legion of fans throughout the world as a performer and harp maker. Read more about his performing and harp-making career on his website, chriscaswell.net. A tribute concert will be held Feb. 4 at the Freight and Salvage Coffeehousein Berkeley, Calif.
Edited on January 30 to include the following, with thanks to Sue Richards:
Chris was a superb harpbuilder, musician, teacher, and good friend to harpers. He made my first good harp in 1983 (I had a couple junkers first), and I loved it. He was the inspiration for the Washington DC Folk Harp Society to have its first Getaway at Harpers Ferry in 1987. He was interested in making a connection between Celtic and Latin music, and had built a workshop around the premise. Later when his workshop in Calif. was badly flooded and he lost tools and materials, WAFHS organized our first Benefit Concert to send him some money. Both events have continued to this day. We will miss him.
Following are some memories from his friends:
The very first harp I played was one that Chris built (I rented it from Sylvia Woods a gazillion years ago). I remember taking it to Ren fairs, where it would collect bits of hay inside. In recent years, I felt my harp playing came around full-circle, when Chris graciously performed on a vast array of percussive instruments (plus a harmonium) on my last Celtic album (“A Light in the Forest”). He touched many lives, and he knew many many musicians, not just harpers. By example, he showed what could be learned when we go outside the harp community and get to know musicians from all walks of life. He was a very kind, gentle man, and a true musical wizard.
In the mid 1980’s, we had a group called the Professional Harper’s Gathering in Philo, CA, a place where Chris Caswell had set us up. We used to get together on a regular basis, Chris, Sue Richards, Laurie Riley, Janet Miksell-Naylor, Sile Harris, Michael MacBean, myself and others who would float in and out yearly. It was during these retreats that we would gather information and create unified standards for competitions in the various harp categories – Irish Harp Fest, Scottish Harp Society, Welsh Harp Society, etc. I remember the fun we would have at the cabins at the Wellspring Retreat Center and it was a place that changed my whole life. I remember Chris directing me to the Waldorf School bookstore and that too, opened doors for my Steiner School training. Chris was talented and a wonderful all around person. He will be greatly missed!
I first saw Chris perform as a a member of Robin Williamson and His Merry Band, when my band warmed up for them at a coffeehouse in New York State in about 1977. He was playing bodhran and other instruments, and Sylvia Woods was playing harp. I had no idea he was a harper at the time, as he had many other musical talents. Some years later, my first “real” harp was a nylon-strung Caswell Gaelic. Back then they were, IMHO, the best harp available. He and his first wife Teresa both did the harp-building at the time. Chris later came to Colorado co-judge the first-ever Estes Park Highland Games harp competition with me, and I studied with him at Lark in the Morning music camp. He was a fabulous and fascinating teacher. I was always grateful to him for the mutual respect we had, and for his gentle manner. I was highly influenced by his playing of the wire-strung harp, and am proud to own a wire harps he and Teresa made way back in the ’80’s.
I met Chris – although neither of us realized – it back in the early ’80s when he was making harps with Mark Bolles in San Rafael California. Time passed and I discovered the harp – and Chris, again. Our friendship was alas very brief but in the final months of his life we had many conversations. They ranged from music and harp design to what life means. He will live in my memory as one of the kindest, bravest, and most extraordinary people I have been privileged to know.
There are hundreds more tributes to Chris on his Facebook page.