Sylvia Crawford is a professional player of the old Irish wire strung harp and has been a performing musician and teacher for more than 25 years. Her background combines both classical and traditional music. After graduating in music and ethnomusicology from Queen’s University Belfast in 1992, she moved to Galway, where she spent many years, teaching piano and developing her interest in the fiddle, Irish traditional music and Early Music. She also lived in Brittany, and was involved in the traditional music scene there, teaching and performing. Although a multi-instrumentalist, she has focussed her most recent professional career on performance, research and teaching of the old Irish harp. Sylvia has performed throughout Ireland, the UK and France.
She returned to her native county of Armagh in 2013 to cultivate, develop and transmit the music, technique and repertory of the old harpers from the north of Ireland. She has played a key role in the restoration, research, performance and recording of harp music and harp songs in Oriel (cross-border region including parts of Armagh, Louth & Monaghan) through ongoing collaboration with award-winning singer, Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin. Sylvia’s harp music and research features on Pádraigín’s 2017 online project, Oriel Arts (www.orielarts.com). In 2019 Sylvia was awarded a Masters in ethnomusicology for her research which focused on the life and music of Patrick Quin, an eighteenth-century harper from Co. Armagh. Sylvia’s harp was made for her in 2020 by Pedro Ferreira (www.rumor.pt); it is a copy of the Castle Otway harp (Trinity College Dublin) which was associated with Patrick Quin.
As one of the few professional musicians / researchers of the wire strung harp, Sylvia has been working to fill the gaps between the lost oral transmission of harp playing and present day performance, through research and new insights into traditional harp techniques and performance practice. Her most recent work has been the development of a reconstructed method of playing, rooted in historical sources, as a new and powerful tool for present day players to be able to master the old Irish harp, as if from within the tradition. She is currently writing a tutor book for the old Irish wire strung harp, based on her analytical study of surviving evidence of the tradition in field transcriptions and harp fingerings collected by Edward Bunting from the old harpers.
Sylvia considers teaching to be one of the most important aspects of her work, as a way of passing on her knowledge, insights and reconstructed method of playing the old Irish harp, and to ensure survival of the revived tradition. She teaches and presents annually at the Historical Harp Society of Ireland’s Scoil na gCláirseach – Festival of Early Irish Harp (in Kilkenny), and at HHSI Early Irish Harp Discovery Days around Ireland. She also teaches locally in the Armagh area, and offers online virtual lessons worldwide.