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Harpist notes life’s moments in her compositions

A rainstorm at the ruins of a Scottish castle inspired famed Celtic harpist Sue Richards to compose a tune.

Richards, who is American, and a Scottish friend had often visited Castle Lachlan during the three months they had stayed in the nearby town of Dunoon.

“And once we were caught in a sudden downpour of rain as we explored the grounds. I wrote a tune and called it ‘Squall on Lachlan,'” Richards wrote in an email. “The rain stopped just as suddenly, and brilliant sun returned, a typical Scottish day.”

It is one of a number of original compositions she has written.


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Richards will perform Scottish, Irish and original music in two harp concerts this weekend in Albuquerque – tonight at La Mesa Presbyterian Church and Saturday, May 18 at Apple Mountain Music.

Richards also has written tunes to mark passages in life. For example, “Suki’s Waltz” was written to celebrate her daughter’s wedding and “No Longer Mourn for Me” was composed in memory of two friends who died of cancer the same year.

She said most listeners probably cannot tell the difference between Irish and Scottish styles of music. But the experienced listener can hear a difference.

“Scottish music tends to be aggressive and have patterns that are up and down, in addition to the ‘snaps,’ that are distinctive,” Richards said in the email. “A snap is a 16th note followed by a dotted eighth, most commonly, in a 4/4 rhythm. It is the hallmark of the strathspey dance.”

Irish music, she explained, tends to have melodies that are smooth with a more pronounced lilt. It also has ornamentation, tiny notes not in the tune but added for interest.

Richards will perform one set at a 7 p.m. harp concert today at La Mesa Presbyterian Church, 7401 Copper NE. Donese Mayfield and Bonnie Schmader will perform in the other set. Tickets are $15 or by donation.

Richards will give a solo recital at 7 p.m. Saturday at Apple Mountain Music, 10301 Comanche NE. $20 at the door.

Richards and harpist Michele Buchanan will play at 9 a.m. Sunday, May 19 at the Rio Grande Valley Celtic Festival. Richards also will judge the festival’s Scottish harp competition on Saturday morning. Following the judging, Richards will give a workshop.

The 25th annual festival will be held 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Balloon Fiesta Park. The festival also includes such events as highland games, Irish games, rugby, medieval combat, pipers and sheepdog trial competition.

Festival admission is $15 one day, $20 two days for the general public; seniors and active military $10 one day, $15 two days; and children 6-14 $7 one day and $10 two days.