Sylvia Crawford is a professional musician, teacher and author, specialising in the old Irish wire strung harp. Although a multi-instrumentalist, her recent work has focused on research, teaching and performance of the old Irish harp.
After graduating in music and ethnomusicology from Queen’s University Belfast in 1992, Sylvia moved to Galway, where she spent many years, teaching piano and developing her interest in the fiddle and in traditional music. It was here that she first encountered the old Irish harp with metal strings, which was later to become the focus of her life’s work. She also spent a period of time in Brittany, where she was involved in the traditional music scene, teaching and performing.
Sylvia returned to her native County Armagh in 2013, where she still lives. Since moving to Armagh, she has collaborated with award-winning singer, Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin, for concerts as well as providing research and video recordings for the website project, Oriel Arts (www.orielarts.com). In 2018 she completed a Masters by Research in ethnomusicology, which focused on the eighteenth-century Armagh harper, Patrick Quin. Sylvia’s harp was made for her in 2020 by Pedro Ferreira (www.rumor.pt); it is based on the original Castle Otway harp (Trinity College Dublin) which was associated with Patrick Quin.
As one of the few professional musicians and researchers of the old Irish wire strung harp, Sylvia has been working to try to understand, reconstruct and revive this lost art. The traditional way of playing was lost when the living, orally-transmitted traditions came to an end, some 200 years ago. Sylvia’s ongoing study of fragmentary written evidence, along with her knowledge of traditional music, have led her to exciting new insights into traditional harp playing techniques and style. In 2021, she published An Introduction to Old Irish Harp Playing Techniques, which is a reconstructed method of playing, rooted in evidence of the old tradition. It is a new and powerful tool for present day players to be able to master the old Irish wire strung harp, as if from within the tradition. She is currently working on a second book which will present her interpretations of a selection of harp airs, arranged for old Irish harp, using the reconstructed fingerings and playing techniques.
Sylvia considers one-to-one teaching to be one of the most important aspects of her work, as a way of passing on her acquired knowledge, insights and reconstructed method of playing, and to ensure the survival of the revived tradition. She teaches locally in the Armagh area, and offers online virtual one-to-one lessons, worldwide. She is also invited regularly to teach and present at Scoil na gCláirseach – Festival of Early Irish Harp, National Harp Day and at other festivals and events throughout Ireland.