Travelling the World with a Celtic Harp
Born and brought up in Pembrokeshire, Moira Lewis did her teacher training in Cardiff, before going on to teach music.
“My family were always musical,” she tells us.
In fact, the Lewis family, including her sister and two brothers, were known throughout Pembrokeshire for their concerts. Moira mainly played the violin and sang, becoming a regular on the folk scene. She is also remembered for leading a number of orchestras, including Pembrokeshire Youth Orchestra.
Nowadays Moira is known locally as a harpist. Having dabbled with the guitar, but never really taking to it, she began to learn the harp, while in Cardiff .
“Mainly at that time I was a classical singer. I taught myself how to play a small harp and thought, Wow I can do this! I really took to it. Singing with it suited my voice so I performed in Cardiff, did some acting in various TV programmes, which I really enjoyed, and began to travel the world.”
At the first festival of arts in Georgia, she opened with Vanessa Redgrave, and remembers them being given use of the president’s plane, with no safety equipment on board!
The BBC had asked her to record her experience for the week that she was there. “I had difficulty with the digital recorder and, although there was a lot of material, enough for two weeks’ worth of programmes, the interview I thought I had recorded with the president,…” she laughs “…was blank.”
There was much more travelling to places including the Lithuania folk festival, and Canada . She was also invited to play at a Celtic festival in the US and was asked to perform on the ferry when she travelled there.
“The harp and luggage are not easy to carry, and if there are problems with the journey, it can be very difficult. I have only one harp now, a Celtic harp made for me by John Thomas who is one of foremost harp makers in Wales. It’s shoulder height and very heavy, as it has been strengthened with metal and is made of mahogany. It can be a bit temperamental. To transport it you have to let all the strings down. On flights it has to go in in the hold – which means it gets cold. Retuning it is a lot of hassle.”
One Christmas, returning from Paris, Moira found herself stuck on a train going to Paddington when the signalling equipment broke down.
“I had been advised to book my harp as a bike and encountered an outraged ticket collector who was not at all happy to be transporting a harp.”
One of Moira’s favourite places was Japan where she played with the Welsh Development Agency and found that the Japanese loved the singing and the violin particularly.
“I found Japan fascinating and stayed on for an extra two weeks and travelled around. Everyone was very friendly. I went to Hiroshima. The Peace Park was very moving. I loved it there.”
Barbados presented a few difficulties for the harp. The strings kept snapping, possibly due to humidity, and Moira had to ask someone to bring more strings for her from the UK while she was there.
One of the most fascinating places Moira has travelled to has been Patagonia where there is a strong Welsh connection. “I went to a stay with the descendants of Welsh people who settled there in the 19th century where they hoped to preserve a traditional way of life.”
Moira explains that there are many stories about these settlers who are believed to have lived in caves at one time because of the inhospitable land, trading with the indigenous people and managing to survive and eventually thrive.
“There are Welsh schools there now, and the local languages are Welsh and Spanish,” she tells us.
Moira moved back to a full-time life in Pembrokeshire about 20 years ago. She is an active member of many local groups, she still plays for the cruise ships that come into Fishguard harbour, and she can be called upon to entertain at local weddings. She has a keen interest in politics and she enjoys walks up the mountains and swimming locally.
“It’s an easy place to live,” she says. “You don’t have to go far for a good walk. The scenery is lovely. I am close to the Fishguard Leisure Centre and Theatr Gwaun. I am pretty independent and it’s a good community of people.”
If you would like to hear Moira’s music, she has some CDs, mainly in Welsh, including some of her own songs. Contact us for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org