Colmcille 1500, ‘Strings of Heaven’

Harpists representing Harp Schools from the Causeway Coast and Glens area at Downhill Demesne. Photo Credit:

I was delighted to take part in this wonderful project by Nodlaig Ní Bhrollaigh of Scoil Ruaidhrí Dall which celebrates 1500 years since the birth of Colmcille. Comcille, also known as St Columba, is linked with the Causeway Coast and Glens area. Nodlaig’s original piece of music for harp and voice is entitled ‘Strings of Heaven’. You can watch the beautiful video here:

The video includes footage from the stunning Mussenden Temple and Downhill Demesne and was filmed at St Aiden’s Church in Magilligan. This is also the burial place of Dennis Hempson, the last of the great Irish harpers.

There is an incredible revival of Irish harping in the Causeway Coast and Glens area right now, and it was very special for Scoil Ruaidhrí Dall, Dungiven, Ballycastle Harp School, Hempsey Harp School, Garvagh and Causeway Harp School, Portballintrae to all get together to celebrate our very special shared heritage and tradition.

You can read about the project in more detail here:

New Christmas tune for Irish Harp

The last time my parents visited the stunning Glenveagh National Park in Donegal (somewhere we used to visit as children), they brought me back this wonderful CD by Manus Lunny.

By the time I got to track 4, Nollag sa Gleann, I didn’t get any further! I just had to learn this tune on the harp! It is so beautiful. You can listen to the tune on Manus Lunny’s website here.

I always look forward to teaching Christmas tunes to my pupils at this time of year, but this is something so different and special. As it is not well known as a Christmas tune, it is something that can be played all year round too which is a real bonus! Such an elegant tune would be well suited to perform at any event.

Feel free to play my arrangement of this tune, just please acknowledge me as the arranger and link to my website. I hope you enjoy playing it as much as I do! I would love to hear your performances too so please link to me if you record a performance 😊🎼. Enjoy!

New Book: Traditional Irish Music for Small Harps

I am delighted to announce the publication of my first book of Traditional Irish Music for harp. This is a book of arrangements for small harps of 20 and 26 strings. It is the culmination of my work teaching harp to beginners, many of whom begin on small harps. It is a fabulous way to begin learning the harp and you will soon know whether or not you would like to eventually move on to a larger harp. Indeed, many experienced players (myself included) enjoy playing a smaller harp in addition to a full size harp as it is much more portable and therefore suitable for taking out and about to play in sessions and with friends.

‘Traditional Irish Music for Small Harps, Arrangements for 20 and 26 string harps’ by Katy Bustard

This is an ideal resource for teachers to use with beginner-lower intermediate players. The range of tune types also makes it a useful resource for preparing pupils for graded exams in Irish Traditional Music. The tunes and arrangements included in this book are suitable for grades Step-Grade III.

Each tune includes a 20 string and 26 string arrangement, with just slight changes in the accompaniment to make best use of the strings available. Simple ornamentation is also included in the 26 string arrangements. I have omitted ornamentation from the 20 string arrangements as it is a good idea to learn the basic tune first, adding ornamentation as confidence and fluency develops.

To accommodate harps without levers, all of the arrangements in this book can be played with the harp tuned in G Major (with the exception of the 26 string arrangement of Elizabeth Kelly’s Favourite which has an F natural in the accompaniment).

‘Traditional Irish Music for Small Harps: Arrangements for 20 and 26 string harps’ by Katy Bustard is available to purchase in paperback or PDF on the shop page of my website.

Sets of books for harp schools and teachers are available at a trade price discount. For more information, please get in touch via the contact page.

Covid-19 Update

My contribution to Harp Ireland’s Online Concert Series, ‘Harps for Hope’

It was my pleasure to contribute to Harp Ireland’s ‘Harps For Hope’ concert series during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Sadly, all classes and workshops were cancelled due to the Covid 19 lockdown. However, I am still offering individual tuition online via Skype and have a limited number of starter harps available for beginner pupils.

In September 2020, I am looking forward to the popular Saturday Morning Adult Harp Classes beginning again, with limited numbers to ensure proper social distancing is adhered to. Classes will run with full adherence to government guidelines regarding Covid-19. I am delighted to offer a new class for adult beginners commencing September 2020. To pre-book your place, please get in touch via the button at the bottom of the page.

I shall also be offering Beginner Harp Classes via Zoom to members of Causeway U3A. These classes will take place on Monday mornings 9.30-10.45am. To book your place, or to find out more information, please get in touch via the button below.

The Irish Harp: UNESCO status as Intangible Cultural Heritage

Katy Bustard, Janet Harbison and Aibhlin McCrann
Photo credit: Mal McCann

On Thursday 20th February 2020, I had the honour of speaking at ‘The Irish Harp: Reception to Celebrate the recent UNESCO status designation of the Irish Harp as an Intangible Cultural Heritage’.

I spoke about my own journey of learning the harp, which was quite a lonely one, and of how I have come to create a thriving community of harpers on the North Coast of County Antrim through Causeway Harp School.

Through my harp school, it is my aim to provide learners with a sense of community and fun around learning their instrument, as well as preparing pupils for exams. It is my passion for this beautiful heritage instrument to become more accessible, regardless of age, formal musical education or cultural background. I have a real passion for the harp and its repertoire and I am seeing this ignite in so many of my pupils now too, which is so rewarding.

Organisers of the Edward Bunting Festival at the Irish Secretariat, Belfast

It was such a pleasure and honour to be speaking alongside Aibhlín McCrann, Chair of Harp Ireland, who pioneered the UNESCO status designation of the Irish Harp. World renowned harper, composer, teacher and academic, Dr Janet Harbison also spoke and entertained us with a stunning performance of her arrangements and compositions for harp. It was such an inspiring evening in honour of this beautiful instrument and our unique cultural heritage. I am thrilled that my work through Causeway Harp School is helping to keep the living tradition of Irish harping alive.

NEW Bespoke Irish Harp Workshops for Groups and Families on the Causeway Coast

I am delighted to now be in a position to offer bespoke group workshop experiences to groups, families and visitors to the Causeway Coast, offering an ‘Introduction to the Irish Harp’. We are located just a short walk away from the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Giants’ Causeway. We are blessed to have such a wealth of beautiful scenery, coastline, stunning sandy beaches and dramatic cliff walks around us here in Portballintrae, but when it rains (as it often does), it’s nice to just enjoy the views from indoors!

I have teamed up with the inspiring creative hub, The Designerie, Bushmills, to create a workshop experience for families and groups to get together for an ‘Introduction to the Irish Harp’. We will learn about the history of the Irish Harp as part of Ireland’s cultural heritage, the background of the music we play, basic harping technique and we will, of course, learn to play a traditional Irish tune.

The Designerie hosts the work of local artists and crafters, including some of the artists themselves, and offers a beautifully creative and inspiring space in which to hold our workshops.

The Designerie, Bushmills

To my delight, there is also an artisan coffee corner, hosted by Graham of Causeway Coffee! Naturally, we will have a break for coffee and scones during our workshop and sample some of Graham’s speciality coffee!

Causeway Coffee Corner

Irish Harping has recently been awarded UNESCO status as an intangible cultural heritage, recognising the instrument’s unique place in Irish music and cultural life. The harp is Ireland’s national symbol and has been played in Ireland for more than 1000 years. This is a super opportunity to have a go at playing the harp yourself and learn to play a traditional Irish tune.

Turmennan Harp, handmade in Northern Ireland

I play a handmade Irish Harp by Mervyn Waugh of Turmennan Harps, County Down, Northern Ireland. This is a stunning heritage instrument with a beautifully warm and resonant tone. Workshop participants play small 20 string lap harps, which sound so sweet and are lightweight, portable and sit on the lap comfortably.

Playing on the lap harps at a workshop in Portballintrae Village Hall

To book a workshop for your group, please get in touch via the Contact page. Also keep an eye on for details of upcoming workshops!

Christmas and New Year at Causeway Harp School

Christmas is always a super busy time for harpists! This year pupils played at Dunseverick Primary School’s annual carol service at Ballintoy Parish Church. A group of 5 harpists played a selection of pieces as guests arrived and also did a special group performance of ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ and ‘Carol of the Bells’. We had lots of fun practising for this together during school time!

Impromptu harp practice in the Principal’s office!

We also had the privilege and pleasure of playing as guests arrived at Causeway Coast Vineyard’s annual Christmas Eve Carol Service. This was very exciting as it is a huge event. The girls did an excellent job. Such experiences are wonderful for the development of young musicians. Performing can be so nerve-wracking! Performing as part of a group can help as we can help one another along and keep it going, regardless of mistakes. This is a really important aspect of performance: if you make a mistake, just carry on as if it never happened and continue to give it your best!

We are very much looking forward to plenty more harping in 2020. We have a busy schedule of classes for both children and adults this term. I’m very much looking forward to it! This year our classes are supporting help refugees who are doing amazing work supporting people caught up in the conflicts in the Middle East and those feeling devastation and terror. I love sharing joy and beauty through harp and I love that so many women are taking time out for themselves and getting together to learn something new. I love that we get to experience the fun of playing traditional music together. I love that the children I teach love their harps, love practising and are achieving so much! I’m so proud of them!

Wishing you peace and joy in 2020, Katy xxx

Causeway U3A Irish Harp Classes

Causeway U3A Traditional Harp Class in Portballintrae Village Hall

On Monday mornings it is my pleasure to teach two Traditional Irish Harp Classes as part of the Causeway U3A activity programme. The Causeway U3A has a wealth of activities and groups on offer and there is sure to be something to appeal to everyone!

Playing tunes in ensemble during our second lesson together

The harp is such a beautiful instrument to learn because it sounds gorgeous from the very beginning! There is no music reading required in this course as we learn tunes using the traditional aural method. This is a very enjoyable and musical way to learn an instrument as we get to play tunes together from day one, rather than spending many months learning to read from notation. It is also very good memory training as we commit tunes to memory, eventually being able to play a repertoire of tunes without any notation.

Learning correct finger placing and technique

Small class sizes mean I can get around each individual to help with technique and finger placing. I have found that small group teaching is ideal: learning in isolation is definitely not as much fun and as rewarding as learning in a group. Playing together as ensemble adds a whole other dimension of learning as you learn to listen and play together with the group as a whole. This develops a good sense of fluency, tempo and rhythm. The sound of many harps playing together too is a lovely experience in itself and it is very rewarding to be a part of that!

View from Portballintrae Village Hall car park

And look at that view! I can’t think of a nicer place to be on a Monday morning than playing harps by the sea in Portballintrae; even in the wild weather we had this week!

Turmennan Harp made by Mervyn Waugh in County Down, N Ireland

This is my beautiful Irish harp made by Northern Irish harpmaker, Mervyn Waugh of Turmennan Harps. My pupils play Derwent Adventurer 20 harps during lessons. Pupils also rent out these small harps for the duration of the beginners’ course to enable them to practise what they have learned at home. I am absolutely delighted at the progress of my pupils so far and I’m very excited of what they will achieve! Many of my pupils who have recently completed the 6 week beginner course have went on to purchase their own Irish harps and some are now aiming to achieve their first exams in Irish Traditional Harp through the London College of Music in June 2020. It is such a pleasure and privilege to lead others in their musical journeys with the Irish harp. It really is a very special instrument!

Build a Harp Workshop, Portballintrae

Building the soundbox

On Saturday 2nd November, 2019, a group of harpers gathered in Portballintrae Village Hall to build their very own harps, using a ‘Build a Harp’ kit, developed by Brian Waugh of Turmennan Learner Harps and Build a Harp, Ireland.

Renowned harpmaker, Mervyn Waugh (Turmennan Harps, Ireland) and his son Brian, expertly guided us through the process and, by the end of the afternoon, each participant had completed the building of their very own 26 string harp.

Starting to take shape!

As a harp teacher, I cannot overstate the value of this endeavour. The changing of harp strings can be tricky and as we generally don’t have to change strings very often, it can be difficult to practise the process until we feel confident with it. After knotting and winding 26 strings however, it now feels as natural as tying shoelaces!

Stringing the harp is definitely better with two!
Or three!
We had plenty of laughs too in the process!
First finished!
So proud! All ready to play!

Pupils are now working on the tuning of their harps, as strings will stretch and fall flat for a few weeks until they settle. This process too helps pupils to become more confident with tuning their instruments, attuning their ear to how it should sound when in tune.

Mervyn himself, expertly tuning up

All in all, this was a highly educational, enjoyable and unique experience for all involved. And what a huge sense of achievement we all felt when we completed the build. Well done everyone! We are all very much looking forward to beginning our next set of beginner harp classes, especially those of us with our very own self-built harps!

Harp Tuition in Schools

Pupils from Dunseverick Primary School performing ‘Be Thou My Vision’ on Prize Day 2019

I really look forward to my days in school teaching harp. Pupils as young as 7 have begun their harp adventures with me in school, some of whom, by age 9, are already working towards Grade IV in Irish Traditional Harp Performance through the London College of Music. To date, all of my pupils have achieved high merits and distinctions in all their exams.

First Harp Lesson in school!

Learning tunes by ear is a truly musical experience for the pupil and is a skill that, once developed, will remain with them for life. Not only does such musical training provide an invaluable education for the individual, but it also contributes hugely to the life of the school.

Trying out the big harp!
Dunseverick Primary School Carol Service, 2017

School assemblies, carol services, prize days, open days, spring teas and concerts are greatly enriched by the addition of a harpist or harp ensemble. It’s also a fantastic opportunity for young, aspiring musicians to develop confidence and skill in performance situations.

Rachel performing at Primary 3 Parents’ Assembly

Learning the harp at any age is a deeply rewarding experience. Its mellifluous sound and warm, resonant tonal quality have a relaxing effect on the mind and body. Even the most simple of melodies sound extra special when played on harp so it really is a rewarding experience from day one!