Philip and Pam Boulding regard the way they met as magical, and they’re looking forward to sharing some of their musical magic with Port Townsend audiences in time for the weekend prior to St. …
Philip and Pam Boulding regard the way they met as magical, and they’re looking forward to sharing some of their musical magic with Port Townsend audiences in time for the weekend prior to St. Patrick’s Day.
The Bouldings’ Irish band, “Magical Strings,” performs at the First Presbyterian Church at 1111 Franklin St. at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 15, and some of the harps on which Philip performs will be available for sale to interested members of the audience.
It was a mutual love of instruments that drew Philip and Pam together in the first place, as Philip began his career in music with an extremely brief stint as an apprentice guitar-builder, until he was “swept off my feet” by being introduced to the hammer dulcimer, and along with it, traditional Irish music as a whole.
“It was just mesmerizing,” Boulding said. “You could play folk, blues and classical music on it.”
Of course, once Boulding had built a hammer dulcimer for himself, he had to take a few days to learn how to play it, but he proved a quick study.
This newfound calling would go on to transform Boulding’s life, as he moved to the Pacific Northwest, joined a folklore society and took up the Irish harp, just as he’d done the hammer dulcimer.
While both instruments obviously lend themselves to playing songs that, in Boulding’s words, “run the gamut” of Celtic cultures,” he’s also discerned a “lyrical” quality to them that makes them well-suited for songs from Madagascar and West Africa.
Boulding eventually began teaching classes in the hammer dulcimer for Frank Farrell in Seattle, for which he would build 10 hammer dulcimers each, for for each student in the class.
“I’m still doing that today,” Boulding said. “It was through those classes that I met Pam, when she was a student.”
Pam had been on the hunt for a hammer dulcimer, and when she finally found one, she made the mistake of hesitating, and the store that carried it wound up closing its doors permanently.
“The store was owned by Frank, coincidentally,” Boulding said. “Fortunately, she then heard about my classes, and Frank tells her that she’ll get a hammer dulcimer if she takes the class. I think she asked if she couldn’t just buy a hammer dulcimer without taking the class,” he laughed.
In spite of Pam’s initial reluctance to meet, she and Philip made an immediate connection, both emotionally and musically.
“I had always wanted to meet someone whom I could play with, one of us on the Irish harp, the other on the hammer dulcimer, because the two combined create such a rich, full, deep sound,” Boulding said. “We started Magical Strings in 1978, and now, we have five children who are part of the ensemble.”
Magical Strings has grown to include concertinas, button accordions and whistles, while Philip and Pam Boulding perform not only traditional Irish music along, but also new compositions inspired by their journeys to Ireland and beyond.
“We even have some Hawaiian-themed songs and poetry,” Boulding said.
In the more than 50 years since the Bouldings began, Magical Strings has performed throughout the United States, Canada, Ireland and Japan, toured and recorded with Dan Fogelberg and recorded 22 albums on four labels.
Through it all, Philip keeps coming back to the hammer dulcimer.
“It’s an ancestor to the piano, with hammers hitting strings, only it isn’t locked up in a box,” Boulding said. “It has the same sort of pluck as a harpsichord, with a bel-like ringing. There are all these harmonic overtones, with no dampeners or chromatic scale.
Magical Strings’ newest CDs, “Fairy Wind” and “Lullaby for a Soul’s Journey” will be available at the March 15 show, as well as online for download at cdbaby.com/cd/magicalstrings.