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A Day in the Life: Laoise Kelly

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Factfile
Name: Laoise Kelly
From: From Westport, living in Achill
Occupation: Harper

The school run gets you up in the morning. The young fella is going into his last year in Leaving Cert, the poor cratúr. Maybe after that we might enjoy sleep ins!
For breakfast I would have a juice. I’d blend some carrots, apples and celery. That keeps me going. In mid morning then I might have tea and toast.
Most mornings I join the Achill sea swimming group and brave the cold waters. It could be in any beach in Achill and it’s brilliant. You always benefit from a swim and it’s great for the mind.
In the morning I would have a lot of paperwork, emails etc to deal with. It could be gig queries, then you have National Harp Day coming up on Saturday next, October 17 and there’s a lot of planning going into that.
People would not realise the amount of paperwork that is involved in being a musician and a teacher. I’d spend a lot of time dealing with copyrighting, writing out music sheets and the likes. I’m currently working on a book of my tunes for students. I got a lot of that done during lockdown and I’m hoping to have it finished in the next month or so.
Then you would put your music out through online. I’d be a reluctant social media user but it is a necessary part of the role. I use Twitter to follow other harp players. The harp world is a very small world. It keeps me up to date with the harp scene and different festivals.
Musicians in general are reluctant to do self-promotion. I was very lucky to receive the TG4 Gradam Ceoil Musician of the Year award earlier in the year. The PR that goes with that is huge. Of course, I was due to have a very busy year as a result but then the lockdown happened!
Over the years I’ve learned a lot about things like applying for Arts Council grants and the likes and I really want to help young artists find their way in this regard. Right now young artists are beyond struggling. It is a difficult time and everyone understands that but it really is hard for the arts. We cannot have a crowd and the toll is not just in terms of wages, it’s the mental health side of things too. It has been a real rollercoaster of a year.
Do you make the big choice to change careers? I’m not sure what else I could do!
We had big plans for the Achill International Harp Festival this year and during the first lockdown we were still hopeful that things would be okay by the end of October but when individual county lockdowns came in during August, we knew what was coming and we made the decision then to pre-record and go online. The committee were fantastic during all of this.
An online gig doesn’t compare to the real thing but there has been a fantastic effort and it has been presented very well. There’s been very good interest in it so far.
So on the weekend of October 23-25 we’ve a free online concert each night at 8pm as well as nine paid for workshops.

Going online
We’ve all had to embrace online. My first gig since lockdown ended was in Ennis and we had to rehearse via Zoom. It’s not ideal – you always get a better sense of things when you are in the same room but needs must. I played a lovely gig at the Clifden Arts Festival a few weeks ago and one in An Taibhdhearc in Galway. It was so nice to get out and to speak face-to-face to other musicians and share the same thoughts.
I had a lovely moment at the beginning of lockdown, which showed the magic of nature. I was out in the garden and I was gone down a bit of a black hole with everything that was happening. This cute little robin was singing in a tree and it totally cheered me up. I stole the line and made a tune out of it and recorded it. Whether it was the tune or the story an awful lot of people said they loved it and said it helped them too. It was wonderful.
In the afternoon I will play a bit of harp, do some teaching and I love to do a bit of DIY around the house.
I play the harp with my nails, which would be a unique style so breaking a nail can be a setback but I can’t mind them too much or I wouldn’t be able to do anything else!
It is really rewarding to be immersed in music and the harp. Every aspect of it is amazing. It is not just entertainment; it feeds the soul.
The harp is only growing at the moment, it hasn’t been this strong since pre-Cromwell times. One reason for it is our new wealth means more people can afford to purchase a harp.
One of the things I really miss with restrictions is playing in old folks’ homes. I think residents there really get an awful lot from live music like that and I think it is something that is really missing at the moment.
I love radio and I would have the radio on all day and enjoy listening to it in the evenings especially. I could have Raidió na Gaeltachta, Lyric FM, Creedon or Midwest on.
I would not tend to go to bed too early. If you are gigging in the evening or night time, you won’t go to bed as soon as you come home because you are still buzzing and that’s a fantastic creative time too so I try to make the most of that. These weeks too the moon is big in the sky and that’s a great time to play too.

In conversation with Edwin McGreal

Quickfire questions

If money was no object, what would you do all day?
Still play music but have someone to help with the paperwork!

Tell us something about yourself we don’t know?
Growing up I loved ponies and used to do cross country jumping at Knappagh Beg Stables.

Most unusual thing you’ve ever eaten?
Snake, in the bush in Australia.

Where is your favourite place?
Anywhere here where you can see the Reek.

What makes you angry?
Inequality in society.

Three things always in your fridge?
Carrots, celery, ginger.

Most famous person you have met?
Morgan Freeman in the x-ray queue in Dublin Airport.

What do you miss most about being a child?
Mum’s cooking.

What makes you nervous?
Climate change. Going on stage.

Most prized possession?
My Paddy Cafferky harp, the same harp I’ve had since I was 12.

Best advice you ever got?
Listen to the voices, beware the ones you heed.

Three celebrities you would invite to your Zoom party?
Gráinne Mhaol, John Prine, Kathleen MacInnes.

How do you unwind?
Swim in the sea, radio music, book.