When you think “improvisation,” chances are the harp does not come to mind. But for Maeve Gilchrist, the two are inseparable.
A performer and educator, Maeve’s innovative folk-jazz fusion approach to the harp stretches its harmonic limits and improvisational possibilities. She is constantly pushing boundaries and finding ways to bring the instrument into contemporary musical settings.
From June 19 to 25, 2016, Maeve will join us as a Global Musician Workshop faculty member representing the Celtic harp tradition. We spoke with Maeve about teaching, playing, and what it means to be a global musician.
What is a Global Musician?
My immediate thought is that a global musician is one interested in using their art to connect to other people all over the world. I think it’s a term of connection rather then of geography.
Tell us about one of your most interesting collaborations.
I’m lucky to be involved in wonderful collaborations that have enrichened me as a musician and as a person. I’m currently recording a new duo record for Adventure Music with the amazing bassist Viktor Krauss (brother of bluegrass musician Alison Krauss). I’ve been a huge fan since hearing his first album on Nonesuch Records: Viktor’s sonic vision is incredibly inspiring, and he evokes an enormous amount of sound with very little effort.
I also have a wonderful ongoing partnership with my good friend and percussive dancer, Nic Gareiss. We pair the visual element of what Nic does with the endless possibilities of texture and sound — the result is constantly surprising and exciting. It’s personally satisfying to see that spark of curiosity light up in the eyes of an audience as they witness this seemingly strange duo create something unique. The audience is engaged at an entirely new level.
Maeve and Nic performing “Seasick Dee”
What do you struggle with the most as an artist?
It’s a wonderful life, but the nature of being self-employed is both an emotional joy and burden. It’s not just the economic side of it, but also relying on your imagination and skills as a creative explorer to find work. I feel like I’m constantly fishing around in my brain trying to catch the biggest fish. And I wouldn’t have it any other way!
When do you feel the most artistically satisfied?
I feel the most artistically satisfied when I’m able to put my ego aside and create something truly beautiful and detached from my musical abilities — something that I would want to hear as a listener. It’s usually a specific texture or vibe, something that is emotionally moving in one way or another. Those moments usually happen when I’m detached from my instrument and tuned into the musical environment, when I’m able to listen and hear the shadows of the notes as they fade away.
What do you see as the greatest strengths and weaknesses for the younger generation of musicians?
The musicians that I’m seeing come of age today are enormously skilled. They know the geography of their instruments, they have chops and they’ve been exposed to a bazillion different styles of music. It’s exciting and overwhelming, and I think the feeling that one has to own all these different styles is a crippling responsibility. The exposure is a gift but I think the biggest challenge is knuckling down and honing in on a sound that is uniquely your own. I know from experience that when you have a variety of skills, it takes enormous restraint not to showcase everything. When you can forget about what you have and just exist in the moment, that’s when the good stuff happens!
What are you most excited about for the 2016 Global Musician Workshop?
I’m excited to see old faces and meet some new ones. It’s always such a pleasure and a curiosity to collaborate with musicians who represent a musical world that’s so different from my own. I may be on faculty, but I’m fully expecting to learn just as much as my students! I can’t wait.