Long Bio

Taking the sound of the harp to new places is what Canadian musician Alys Howe is all about.  With performances that explore new stylistic territory, Alys will shake your belief that harp music can only be soothing.

Alys Howe’s distinct voice as a Canadian performer has developed from the uniquely rich and diverse multicultural traditions for which Canada is recognized. Growing up in North Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, Alys also lived and studied extensively in Toronto and Cape Breton, in addition to her exploration of the musical styles native to Celtic Europe. With a Masters (First Class Honours) in Performance of Traditional Irish Music from The University of Limerick in Ireland, Alys was the first overseas harp student accepted to the prestigious Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (where she was a candidate for a B.A. in Scottish Music and Ethnomusicology), graduated from York University with a BFA Hons. in World Music Performance, and later studied and taught in Cape Breton at The Gaelic College of Celtic Arts. Immersion in the Scottish and Irish harp traditions, and the musical culture of Cape Breton, has allowed Alys to create an original and exciting soundscape of her own.  Through her programs of study, Alys worked with many of the most celebrated Celtic harp players of today (including Sileas, Wendy Stewart, Savourna Stevenson, Corrina Hewatt, Catriona McKay, Michael Rooney, Laoise Kelly, and Janet Harbison).  Prior to her specialization in Celtic music, Alys developed her classical background taking lessons from VSO harpist Elizabeth Volpe, later studying both pedal and lever harp with Sharlene Wallace, and receiving orchestral repertoire coaching from Heidi Krutzen.  Her recent move to Nova Scotia in late 2011 has enabled her to begin exploring the ways that jazz, ragtime, stride and boogie-woogie have influenced the distinctive Cape Breton style of piano accompaniment.  This uniquely Canadian performance-style has always attracted Alys, who is currently developing methods of transferring and imitating it on the harp.  Alys is fascinated by the many and varied ways the harp is currently evolving all over the world.  The advent of the electric harp is opening doors to innovative sound styles, and bridging the gap between this ancient instrument and modern technology.  Recently, Alys has become involved in new avenues of musical expression on the harp with effects pedals, amplification, and electronic collaborations.

Alys has been singing, acting, writing, and playing the harp since early childhood.  With an approach dedicated to promoting multiculturalism in the music she loves, she has appeared in many different concert venues, on radio, television, and documentary programs performing as a soloist and in ensemble – both live and in the studio. Performances have taken her from the Isle of Skye, to Pioneer Villages to playing for the Prime Minister of Slovenia, VTV, The Toronto Harp Festival, The Scottish Cultural Centre, council at Municipal City Hall, The Prime Minister of Slovenia, and CBC.  Alys has appeared at The Mission Folk Festival, The Gateway Theatre, The Orpheum Theatre, for CelticFest Vancouver, with Winter Harp, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Vancouver Opera, The National Youth Orchestra of Canada, UBC Opera, Vancouver Island Symphony, Prince George Symphony, The West Coast Symphony and Vancouver Philharmonic Orchestra.  She was the harpist on stage for the Opening Ceremonies of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.  As an accompanist, Alys has worked with Persephone Singers, York Women’s Choir, Pandora’s Vox, Ariel Sung, Jubilate Choir, and The Vancouver Gaelic Choir.  Other musical collaborations have included Celtic bands “Ceart” and “Leum!”, cover-band “Ginger and Pimms”, as well as a harp-duo with Seumas Gagne (featured at the World Harp Congress in 2011).  Alys has made several recordings, including her debut solo album “phosphorescence” (2005), which combines innovative arrangements of traditional material with new compositions, and features songs in both Scots and Gaelic. Demonstrating her masterful understanding of the techniques developing among contemporary harp players, Alys has won awards of distinction including two Gold-Medals at the Mod (a Scottish Gaelic music festival), The Watkins Fellowship, full scholarship to the Banff School for Fine Arts, grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, and the RSAMD Trust Fund for performers of traditional Scottish music.

A dedicated teacher and tradition-bearer, Alys Howe’s career as a harp teacher spans the breadth of Canada, from the East Coast of Cape Breton to the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia.  She has taught harp students of all ages and abilities for The Vancouver Academy of Music, IMA International Celtic Harp School, High Spirits Harp Workshops, The Gaelic College of Celtic Arts and Crafts, Prussin Music, Edinburgh Harp Festival, Edmonton Kiwanis Festival, Place des Arts, Dusty Strings, Sunshine Coast Strings, Presto Music Studios, Celtic Traditions, Amati String Studio (among others).  She has also taught at the undergraduate level for the University of Limerick.  Alys combines the methodologies of classical harp technique with the style of traditional Celtic music, encouraging harp players to discover their own creative vision.  Her Celtic Harp Ensemble classes provide a sampling of all the exciting things developing in the world of the lever harp today: varied repertoire, stylistic idioms, ornamentation, variation, and context in the traditional and folk musics of the world.  Students learn to arrange music and play creatively on the lever harp; to analyze and recognize differences between three of the main strands of Celtic music; honouring where traditional music has come from, while remaining open to where it can go.

Exploring her instrument with passionate energy and dexterity, Alys Howe will open your ears to the diverse contemporary sounds of the Celtic harp.


…more about Alys Howe

Alys Howe began playing the harp at the age of seven, and since then she has pursued studies in both Celtic and classical music in Scotland, Ireland, and across Canada. Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Alys credits her early interest in music to the Orff program implemented by the Vancouver Waldorf school, which she attended during her elementary years. Early harp instruction was with Alison Hunter, Miranda Brown, and especially Elizabeth Volpé, the VSO Principle Harpist. She also worked with American harpists Kim Robertson and Deborah Henson-Conant. Alys’ love for traditional music led to two Gold Medal-winning performances in the Advanced Harp competition at the Vancouver Mod, (a Scottish Gaelic music festival; 1997, 1999), appearances with Lori Pappajohn of Harps International and Winter Harp (1995-1999), performances for CBC Television private functions (Vancouver, 1998), entertainment for a Jane Goodall lecture at The Orpheum (Vancouver, 1999), a spot on Vancouver Television’s breakfast show (weddings, 1999), and interviews and performances in a documentary about the Vancouver Gaelic Choir, called “Road to the Isles” (1999). She has contributed to several recordings, including the seasonal “A Saviour is Born”, and an album of duets with flautist Justine Bliq. A participant in various ensembles, Alys was a member of the Vancouver Bach Youth Choir (1995-1999) and the Vancouver Gaelic Choir (1997-1999), whom she appeared with as a concert soloist and whom she also accompanied on harp over a season of concerts (1998-1999). Having twice been a member of the Vancouver Opera Children’s Chorus, Alys performed in Turandot (1997) and La Boheme (1998).

In 1999, Alys was the first overseas student accepted into the B.A. Scottish Music and Ethnomusicology program at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, where she was awarded the Trust Fund (2000). While at the RSAMD, Alys received harp instruction from clarsach tutors Patsy Seddon (better known as half of the duo Sileas ), Wendy Stewart, and Corrina Hewatt, in addition to private studies with Savourna Stevenson, and Mary MacMaster (the other half of Sileas ). Alys studied Scottish Gaelic with Mina Smith, Gaelic Song with Kenna Campbell, and Scots Song and Ballads with Alison McMorland and Andrew Hunter. In Scotland she appeared in various venues throughout Glasgow, Edinburgh, the Orkney Islands, and Skye (1999-2000), as a harp soloist, in a two-harp, fiddle and vocal ensemble with Rosie Morton and Kirsty Cottar, as a harpist for the RSAMD Scottish Music concert tours, as accompanist to Emily Smith (1999-2000), and as a member of the Glasgow Gaelic Choir for the “Gaelic Women In Song” concert series (1999). Alys also recorded her own album, mainly of Scottish traditional music, while she was in Glasgow (2000). Based on this recording, Alys was offered full scholarship to attend the Banff School For Fine Arts (2001).

After moving to Toronto to study harp with Sharlene Wallace, Alys graduated with a BFA Hons. in Music Performance from York University, where she also studied music composition with William Westcott and improvisation with Casey Sokol. In Eastern Canada, Alys has continued her Scottish Gaelic language and song studies with David Livingston-Lowe (through the U of T Celtic Studies program), and also with Catriona Parsons, Hector MacNeill and Angus MacLeoud (at the Gaelic College of Celtic Arts and Crafts in Cape Breton). She has studied Cape Breton-style piano accompaniment with Anne Lederman ( York University ) and with Kimberley Fraser (the Gaelic College of Celtic Arts and Crafts). Her appearances in Ontario include The Toronto Harp Festival (2001), where Alys was invited to perform as a soloist, was accompanied by Graham Kennedy on percussion, and gave the premiere of her own composition “Nocturne” for two harps (with Sharlene Wallace). She has also given performances on solo harp for such diverse occasions as: Christmas by Lamplight at Pioneer Black Creek Village (2002), the Canadian College of Armed Forces (2003), Osgoode School of Law (2002), York Orientation (2002), and York Alumni Association (2001). Alys has appeared as harpist for the York University Women’s Choir performances of Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols (2002), and performed as harpist, singer and arranger for her own graduating recital at York, with Luxon Burgess on flute and vocals and Andrew Mason on bass and cello. She has also performed on harp and vocals with Casey Sokol’s Improvisation Ensemble (2002/2003) and has given performances on harp, vocals, and Cape Breton-style piano for Anne Lederman’s Celtic Canadian Ensemble (2001-2003).

The recipient of a Canada Council Grant and the Watkins Fellowship (2003), Alys completed her Masters at the University of Limerick in Performance of Irish Traditional Music (2004), graduating with First Class Honours. At UL, she studied harp with Fionnuala Rooney, Laoise Kelly, Janet Harbison, Michael Rooney, Catriona McKay, Karen Tweed (accordion), and Clive Carroll (guitar). Taking piano lessons with Geraldine Cottar, Alys engaged in a comparison of Irish piano accompaniment styles versus those found in Cape Breton. Studying vocal technique for traditional singers with Elaine Cormican, as her elective, Alys also studied Scottish Gaelic song with Christine Primrose through electronic media, a co-operative initiative between Sabhal Mor Ostaig and UL. Alys took the opportunity to research material for her thesis while writing an ethnography contrasting the styles of Sharlene Wallace, Kim Robertson, and Janet Harbison. Based on interviews with harp players and other musicians in North America, Ireland, and Scotland, Alys discussed the role of musicians who approach Celtic and traditional music from the standpoint of cultural outsiders. As part of the music technology module on the course, Alys recorded and engineered a demo CD. Alys has given performances for the Prime Minister of Slovenia (at the Limerick City Museum, 2004), for the UL Alumni Association (2003), at the Lunchtime Concert series in the Performing Arts Centre (as featured artist, accompanied by Bridget O’Connell, Nicholas Yenson and Alison O’Connell (2003); accompanied by Sarah-Jane Woods and Alan Colfer (2004); in ensemble A, ensemble “Fanny Power”, as accompanist to Olivia Ryan (2003), and for her own graduating recital).

Alys Howe’s career as a teacher spans the breadth of Canada, from the East Coast of Cape Breton to the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia. In addition to the private students she has taught in Vancouver, Scotland, Toronto, and Ireland, Alys has been a harp presenter at the Coast Summer School of Celtic Music (2003), assistant harp instructor to Rosie Morton at the Edinburgh Harp Festival (2004), as well as to Heather Yule at the Gaelic College of Celtic Arts and Crafts in Cape Breton (2003), has taught harp and piano for Presto Music Studios in Ontario (Dorothy Stavrinos Lavkulik, director), and has been on faculty for harp at Toronto’s Classical Music Conservatory (Lusiana Lukman, director), and Amati String Studio in Vancouver (Amy Levinson, director). She was also engaged to give harp instruction to both MA and undergraduate students taking harp as their elective at University of Limerick.  Returning to the Gaelic College of Celtic Arts and Crafts during the summers of 2004 and 2005, Alys offered harp instruction to students of all ages throughout July and August.

After moving back to Vancouver, B.C. in 2004, Alys was teaching privately, at Prussin Music (where she offered private and group harp instruction, as well as teaching a Music For Children class based on the Orff methodology in 2005/2006), Celtic Traditions, The Vancouver Academy of Music, and for the studios of Elizabeth Volpé, where she gave a masterclass (2004) and a recital (2005).  In 2010 she adjudicated for the Edmonton Kiwanis Festival, taught Scottish harp for Feis Slighe Nan Gaidheal, and gave the Beginner Harp Class at the International School of Celtic Harp in Wells, BC along with such notable names as Kim Robertson and Sharlene Wallace.  In 2011 and 2012, she taught for High Spirits Music in Naramata, adjudicated for the Langley Kiwanis Festival, and returned to Wells as Intermediate Harp Instructor for the IMA School of Celtic Harp.

2005 marked the release of Alys Howe’s debut recording, Phosphorescence, which was featured on the KRVS Radio program “Harpestry: Classical and other Musics of the Harp,” hosted by Valerie Green, and on CHLY, “Eclectic Celtic: my roots are showing”, hosted by Kenny and Val, where it reached #3 (2005). Alys enjoyed appearing as a soloist and accompanist in concert with the Vancouver choir Pandora’s Vox (2005), and also performing on harp and vocals for the Alliance for the Arts Cultural Presentations, held at Vancouver City Hall (2005) and local venues such as Aberthau House (“Monday Night Live,” 2004).  Appearing frequently at The Hall of the Clans in Cape Breton during July and August (2004/2005), Alys was also a featured performer for Highland Village Day in Iona (2005).

She has performed with various orchestras including The National Youth Orchestra of Canada (2007), Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (second harp October 2007, 2009, 2010), Vancouver Opera (second harp October 2009), The West Coast Symphony Orchestra (2005 continuing), for UBC/West Coast Symphony Orchestra/Prince George Symphony Orchestra’s co-production of Die Fledermaus (2007) and Hansel and Gretel (2008); as well as various concerts with Vancouver Philharmonic Orchestra (2005 – 2007).  A special highlight for Alys was appearing in the orchestra performing for the Opening Ceremony of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.  As an accompanist she has worked with Pandora’s Vox, Whitehorse Persephene Choir, soprano Ariel Sung, Jubilate Choir, and The Vancouver Gaelic Choir.  Other appearances have been for The Mission Folk Festival (2008), CelticFest Vancouver (2009, 2011), as a harp and voice duo with Seumas Gagne (The Alys and Seumas Show performed in Seattle (2008), Everett and Vancouver (2009), Vancouver and Fort Worden (2010), and for The World Harp Congress Vancouver 2011).

Alys has worked as a busker (street musician), an extra, and an actor – the highlight of which was playing Amy in United Players’ production of Little Women (1996). At UL, Alys was cast as Audrey in the Drama Society’s production of Little Shop of Horrors. Besides her love of music and theatre, Alys continues to pursue her interests in creative writing and literature. During the academic year 2005-2006, Alys studied Lyric and Libretto writing with Meryn Cadell at UBC. Accepted as a double-major into the Creative Writing Program at York, Alys is the author of four plays, two of which were performed at the Vancouver Fringe Festival (Critics 1991, The Ownership of Women 1992), another winning second place in the Vancouver Teenrites playwriting competition and subsequently performed at the Gastown Actors’ Theatre (AWOL 1995), and the fourth, short-listed for publication in the UK “Sacred Earth Dramas” playwriting competition (Arc En Ciel 1996). Alys has had two works of short fiction published in the Douglas College journal Pearls (”Rapunzel’s Revenge” and “Pomegranate Seeds” 1998). In 2002, Alys received Honourable Mention for Poetry in the York President’s Prizes competition (”Monogamous Moon”). She has also published poetry in Existere Magazine (”Altered Conditions” 2003), The Fence: a Bi-Women’s ‘Zine (”Monogamous Moon” and “Heartburn” 2003), a short story in Garm Lu academic journal (”The Children of Lir” 2003), and various articles in The International Society of Folk harpers and Craftsmen and B.C. Harps magazines (1995 – 2000).