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A hip harp comes to St. Albert

Keri Lynn Zwicker introduces a novel blend of classical, Celtic and cowboy harp music
Keri Lynn Zwicker brings her custom made red harp to St. Albert Chamber Music Society's concert on Sunday, Oct. 23 at St. Albert United Church. SUPPLIED

The harpist’s image going back to ancient Greece was delicate and other worldly. Edmonton based harpist Keri Lynn Zwicker, a musician who never stops experimenting, has taken the instrument from orchestral sidelines to the thick of the action. 

Zwicker along with soprano Casey Peden and bodhran player Nathan McCavana will perform a two-act concert blending light classical, Celtic and cowboy music on Sunday, Oct. 23 at St. Albert United Church. Opening the concert is Savanna Tippe, 16, one of Zwicker’s harp students. 

“Savanna will be playing a set of Irish reels. She loves Celtic music and can play it like lightning,” said Zwicker, one of Canada’s leading lever harpists. 

She fronts her trio, HarpRouge, has recorded three albums, and toured extensively throughout North America, Ecuador and Scotland. Additionally, Zwicker is second harp with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. 

In developing the program for St. Albert Chamber Music Society’s first concert of the season, Zwicker, Peden and McCavana chose three art songs from French composer Gabriel Fauré's repertoire, Claude Debussy’s Première Arabesque and a mixed bag of folk, Celtic and cowboy tunes.  

She’s quick to point out cowboy music is not country. 

“It’s the folk music of the old west – songs like Goodbye Old Paint, Streets of Laredo and Railroad Corral,” said Zwicker. “All these songs were sung by settlers and cowboys on the plains. Many of them had roots in Ireland, Scotland and England. They brought their music over, kept the melodies but changed the lyrics.” 

She goes on to explain David Wilkie, an elder statesman of Alberta music, founded Cowboy Celtic in 1985 at a cowboy gathering in Elko, Nevada. It was followed closely by several Ian Tyson recordings and the nostalgia for a roaming life on the plains with horses took shape.  

Zwicker, Peden and McCavana are a tight knit trio creating hauntingly beautiful as well as wildly rambunctious music. More than music, they recreate history through storytelling as soloists or beautiful three-part harmonies. 

Zwicker and Peden go back more than 25 years. The two graduated in 1997 from the University of Alberta’s Bachelor of Music program. By 1998, Zwicker had joined Cowboy Celtic, a band that explored the wildly jovial folk roots of cowboy music blending both Old and New World sounds. 

Peden returned to her Saskatchewan ranch and was freelancing for operatic recitals as well cowboy music gigs. The two women met by chance at the Calgary Cowboy Poetry Festival. Both were slated to perform. Once the initial surprise was over, the two formed C Gals, a project blending cowboy and Celtic music. 

McCavana, Zwicker’s husband, who for a time was the bodhran player for Celtic Cowboy, was invited to tap into his drumming skills. 

“For this concert, we want to show both sides of the coin. We’ve performed folk and classical, and we highly enjoy both. The folk music we play is accessible and the classical music is the shorter pieces.” 

The concert starts at 3 p.m. at St. Albert United Church, 20 Green Grove Drive. Tickets are adults $35, seniors $30 and students $15. Advance tickets are available at Musée Heritage Museum or online at  

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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