Sound studio

Strings Tied: Harpist Ellen Gibling Adds Rhythmic Pulse to Delicate Sound

HALIFAX, N.S. — When you see a photo of a harp or someone playing the imposing stringed instrument with roots lost in the mists of time, a sound immediately comes to mind.

Shimmering glissandos of cascading notes, the soft tinkling swirl accompanying the start of a dream sequence from a film, or a delicate rhythmic pinch familiar in Irish folk music, where the instrument is a national symbol and hallmark a refreshing and widely consumed blond beer.

Halifax musician Ellen Gibling has made mastering the harp her life’s work, with a fascination with her versatility dating back to childhood, when she saw her perform on stage in a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. But she is equally interested in taking the instrument out of its comfort zone into new genres and expanding its abilities in a traditional folk setting.

“The most common feedback is that it’s soothing or relaxing or soft in some way, which is nice, but it also gives me a bit of motivation to make it as lively as possible, just to push that into the spectrum of the instrument too,” says Gibling, preparing for Friday night’s sold-out launch of his new album The Bend in the Light at the theater from the bus stop.

“And normally, if I’m playing in a session or with a trad band, I blend into the texture, and (those descriptions) don’t show up. It can be both uplifting and relaxing, but undoubtedly the most common reaction is that it’s soothing.

Harpist Ellen Gibling rehearses at the Maritime Conservatory of Performing Arts on Thursday, March 3, 2022. – Ryan Taplin

Halifax audiences may know Gibling as a member of improvisational jazz quartet New Hermitage, baroque pop ensemble Heavy Blinkers, Irish folk bands Sile and Ragged Robin, or classical flute and harp duo Conundrum Duo.

She also gives a free concert on Sundays at 2 p.m. at the Lilian Piercey Concert Hall of the Maritime Conservatory of Performing Arts with dancer Kathleen Doherty and French horn player Ilana Domb, as part of the Family discovery concert series.

Along with studio assignments and working with orchestras like Symphony Nova Scotia and the National Youth Orchestra of Canada, Gibling has consistently fully explored what the instrument is and how people perceive it, while establishing his own voice thanks to the dexterity of his fingers. .

“It’s not exactly my goal or my objective, but it’s like a side product of the interest in dabbling. I have a lot of fun trying new things for the harp, seeing where it might fit in different contexts.

“It’s a great by-product of that, which could make inroads into different genres for the instrument.”



She began learning Irish folk tunes from sheet music as a teenager and joined the Maeve Harp Ensemble, founded by Bedford-based Celtic harpist Cheryl Reid O’Hagan. While studying at McGill University in Montreal, Gibling looked beyond the classical music she was studying for her degree, to play in a klezmer music ensemble and join regular sessions within the vibrant scene. Irish folk from the city.

“But when I came back here, I didn’t know any klezmer musicians anymore, so I couldn’t really go any further,” she says. “I’m always excited when there’s pop music or indie music or singer-songwriter stuff to jump into, because I feel like it’s pretty open for the harp, and I don’t often get the chance.”

Ellen Gibling plays her Stoney End Celtic harp ahead of the release of her new solo album The Bend in the Light.  -Ryan Taplin
Ellen Gibling plays her Stoney End Celtic harp ahead of the release of her new solo album The Bend in the Light. -Ryan Taplin

She cites the audition of Stevie Wonder’s If It’s Magic, from Songs in the Key of Life, as a major turning point, with pioneering jazz harpist Dorothy Ashby backing the R&B legend on the soulful ’70s ballad. That kind of lyricism pop mixed with the hypnotic rhythm of Irish jigs, bagpipes and pinwheels – as well as polkas from Europe – became Gibling’s earworm. “I couldn’t help but listen to them in a way that other genres of music didn’t quite grab me.”

Gibling followed his McGill degree with a year in Ireland, working on a Masters in Traditional Irish Music Performance at the University of Limerick. The overseas stint included a summer spent playing in a hotel band in Lisdoonvarna, across Galway Bay, and soaking up even more of the influences that color the sound of The Bend in the Light, which is available to listen and purchase on Bandcamp.

There’s a wide range of personalities in her playing, as she views the tunes as a reflection of the music she listens to and focuses on when not involved in the many collaborations that keep her busy. lead to play in front of so many different audiences.

“I loved everything that I’ve been a part of, but it’s always been driven by someone else, or by me to find a way to get into a type of music. But the things on this record are all things that I have personally chosen, or reflect my own individual experiences and listening to.

“So it’s mostly either traditional Irish music or music from people who play traditional Irish music. So there are new songs that are very deeply inspired by this tradition.