Linking your favorite traveling artists across the globe
Celtic Heritage magazine, November/December 2006
Harpist Sings and Teaches Traditional Gaelic
by Judy Buswick
If you weren't lucky enough to grow up singing and speaking Irish Gaelic, but
would like to learn, there's hope! Harpist Caera Aislingeach had to
learn, as an adult, both her instrument and the language she wanted to
sing. She found some methods that helped make her own journey easier.
Traveling to Ireland four times and presenting workshops at Celtic
festivals from Ohio to New England, she learned how to teach others.
"Aislingeach" means dreamer or visionary and is the name Caera took
graduated from college. She uses the shorter name "Caera"
professionally. Growing up as the eldest child in an Irish family of six
children in the Boston area, she did not speak any Gaelic. She began
her study of Celtic languages in college and simultaneously fell in love
with the brass-string harp. She completed her degree in Anthropology in
1999 and graduated in the spring of 2000 from UMass Boston. As she took
language classes, learned individual songs, and attended festivals, her
musical repertoire grew so that she now sings songs in three Gaelic
languages -- Irish, Scottish, and Manx. There's a Welsh melody or two
thrown in, as well.
Caera recorded one CD (Wake the Dragon) with Myra Hope Bobbitt, under the band
name of Mor Gwyddelig, the Welsh name
for the Irish Sea that spans from Wales to Ireland. Myra Hope knew
Welsh, Caera knew Irish Gaelic and both musicians played harps. With a
two-year-long delay before the CD could be completed, Caera wrote and
played eleven new songs for a second CD, her solo debut, titled Through
the Misty Air. In 2004 both CDs were released on her own record label,
Gra is Stor (Love and Treasure), and then Caera was on to her next
project -- teaching Irish Gaelic through traditional children's songs.
Having a love of language, she continually strove to memorize new words and
learn as an adult, typically through conventional materials. But she
stumbled onto an aid for learning languages. Children's music is
repetitive and that helps in the learning process. Reading children's
books steadily improved her vocabulary. The pictures in books helped
cement the sounds she was hearing with the meaning of the words. When
attending musical workshops, Caera wanted the instructors to provide
sheet music or at least the words to the tunes, to help her recall the
songs after the workshop was over. Learning both songs and languages as
an adult, Caera had a good idea of how to teach others.
Of the several workshops she gives at Celtic festivals, "Singing for
is her most popular. Caera felt a simple presentation, "just a woman
singing to a child," would make it easy for CD-listeners to learn the
tunes and the language. She'd help the visual learners by adding
coloring book pictures. After some research, she found eleven
traditional tunes that she would sing without accompaniment. The
resulting endeavor, released in the summer of 2006, is Traditional Irish
Gaelic Children's Songs (Amhrain Gaelach Tradisiunta do Phaisti). It
comes in a booklet form with the CD inserted on the back page. The
booklet provides the lyrics and translations, lines of brief musical
notation, a pronunciation guide, visuals, and sources for other recorded
versions of each song.
Brian O'Donovan, WGBH radio host for "Celtic
Sojourn" in Boston, appreciated Caera's efforts
and told radio listeners about the CD. He said, "Caera Aislingeach has
succeeded in creating an amazing tool that can serve teachers, students,
parents of young children -- anyone interested in learning about the
songs that have entertained for hundreds of years in Gaelic-speaking
Ireland." He described her CD package as "user friendly, and most
important of all, a fun approach to this treasure trove of Irish
Caera writes that the songs are easy to learn and that "learning these
songs can also help build vocabulary for anyone
just starting to learn the Irish language" -- whether child or adult.
Bess Libby, a long-time friend of Caera, provided simple line drawings
so that children might color in the visual representations of the songs.
As planned, the illustrations will also provide adult visual-learners
with pictorial stimuli for vocabulary association.
Curiously, Caera has found in her workshops that Americans "expect to read
sheet music and they think they can't do without it." While, in Ireland
people expect to learn music by ear, she has found. Since Caera is
slightly dyslexic, she often learns by ear, though her harp teacher,
Charlotte Hallett of Haverhill, Massachusetts, taught her to read music.
Caera thus employs both approaches.
In 2004 and 2005 Caera won a total of eight gold medals in Gaelic singing,
poetry, and harp
performance at Ohio's Dublin Irish Festival. "This [Columbus Feis] is
the second largest Irish festival in the [US] and possibly in the
world," she reports. Caera sometimes sings in the Irish sean nos style
or in the puirt a beul (mouth music) singing tradition of Scotland. She
plays a clairseach, a 26 wire-string Dreamsinger Bard harp. Her Celtic
harp of cherry wood and brass strings was created by Muis Dreamsinger,
who modeled it after a medieval harp from Ireland.
At the 2003 Early Harp Symposium in Boston, Caera enjoyed seeing "every
harp," including the double strung, triple stung, pedestals, and even
electric harps. At the 2005 Symposium she performed on her
medieval-style, wire-strung harp. In describing the uniqueness of her
instrument, Caera explains that "the strings are closer together for the
fingernails to stroke them." The clairseach is played with a slanted
hand motion. Caera keeps her nails strong with vitamins and a good diet;
and she does her own manicures with an emery board or sometimes uses a
nail clipper on wet -- never dry -- nails.
Further explaining the differences between harps, Caera notes that the harpist
nylon-strung harp has a larger instrument than hers. On that harp the
strings are spaced further apart for the fingers to reach in and pluck.
On a pedal harp typically found in an orchestra, the harpist must
stretch the hand stiff and pull hard. "The wire harp is rare but growing
[in popularity]," says Caera of her brass-stringed instrument.
In the process of collecting children's songs for her Gaelic Irish CD,
Caera found a number of lullabies. She has since collected Celtic
lullabies in Irish, Scottish, Manx, and Welsh for a new CD released in
October 2006, under the simple title "Suantriaghe" (an Old Irish
reference to soothing music, or lullabies). Caera recalls that some of
the first children's songs she sang were for her friend Bess's new-born
son, Ira. And now Bess has another child, a daughter Nonny, who will
benefit from both collections of songs for children. The Suantriaghe
cover features a lovely picture of the harpist with her friend's two
children, all encircled by her Dreamsinger harp.
Eliciting the beauty of Irish Gaelic and the soothing sounds of the
harp for global audiences has become a passion for Caera. She performs a
variety of Celtic songs from different countries and time periods,
including chants from the Middle Ages. Her wire harp aptly suits the
traditional music she presents. Caera says that to learn Irish Gaelic is
to learn "a beautiful language that is great for singers." She
appreciates "the way it works your throat and forces you to think in
poetry." It has been her goal in performance and in teaching "to make
the Celtic languages, especially Irish Gaelic, accessible and easy for
anyone to understand -- whether they only speak English or not, whether
they are familiar with traditional Celtic music or not, and whether they
have Celtic ancestry or not." She explains there are many lovely ways
of expressing things in Irish Gaelic. "It's heavy on the poetry."
For more information or to book an appearance, e-mail Caera Aislingeach at NOSPAMcaerasinger@gmail.com
(delete "NOSPAM") or phone her at (617)335-6063. Another CD of
songs written by Caera in English and Irish, titled Eist Le Mo Sceal
(Listen to My Story), was also released in October 2006. See her Website
for information on where to find Caera's music.
Judy Buswick is the co-author of a soon-to-be-released book _Slate of
Hand: Stone for Fine Art and Folk Art_ (formerly titled Slate Art).
Trafford Publishing of Canada will release
this art book of historical and international uses of slate in art
works. See www.trafford.com/06-1839
for more information.
Every Saturday from 12 noon -- 2 pm, A Celtic Sojourn explores the living
traditions of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England and France. On WGBH at
89.7 on the radio dial, A Celtic Sojourn has been aired since October
1986 and is now also available online, on-demand, at www.wgbh.org/webcasts/.
Celtic Beat magazine, September - November 2006
review of "Traditional Irish Gaelic Children's Songs (Amhrain
Gaelach Tradisiunta do Phaisti)" by Art Ketchen
This is a simple, direct, and delightful introduction for children to
singing in Irish Gaelic. Certainly for young children it would be a book
for a parent or teacher, but even for the uninitiated it is a model of
easy reading. With a pronunciation guide in the back and a fine CD with
it â€“ what more could you really want to either introduce your children
or pupils to the traditional culture of Irish language and music.
The approach of teaching here is eloquent in its simplicity. Even to the
illustrations, where Celtic interlace works well with the Thurberesque
figures of Bess Libby.
I highly recommend this book and CD to anyone wanting to give children a basic
foundation in Irish Gaelic
speech, culture, and song.
Boston Globe feature (Globe NW calendar section, Jan 19 2006)
"With Gaelic Harp and Soul"
by Donna Novak (Globe Correspondent)
Combining her love of history, a strong interest in Gaelic culture, and a love
music, Celtic singer and harper Caera entertains audiences with songs
in the Irish, Scottish, and Manx languages.
Caera will be playing her clairseach (pronounced CLAR-shuck in Irish), an
after medieval harps in Ireland, and singing traditional and original
songs tomorrow night at the Avalon Healing Studio in Chelmsford.
"The clairseach is a medieval harp with brass strings that is played with
the fingernails," said Caera. She explained that the clairseach has a
sound distinctly different from most harps, because modern Celtic harps
have nylon strings and orchestral harps are shaped differently and are
played with the pads of the fingers.
"I grew up really poor and couldn't get near any instruments," said
Caera, who is from Greater
Boston and lives in Chelmsford. "In my imagination, I thought that a
harp would be really pretty."
Caera (pronounced KEE-ra), who recalls singing a lot as a child, always knew
she wanted to be a singer.
"I realized that singers had more control over their music if they
could write music and play an instrument," she said.
It was not until after college that she discovered the clairseach. "In the
historical group I belong to, a couple of women did a presentation
contrasting the medieval harp with modern ones," she said. "It looked
really elegant, the way their fingers curled when they played with their
Caera was drawn to the beautiful sound and became interested in learning more
about medieval Irish music. Part of the
intrigue, for her, is the lack of well-preserved medieval Irish music.
Caera is not a native speaker of Gaelic and has never lived in Ireland,
although she hopes to move there someday.
"I work really hard in my pronunciation to sound like a native
she said. "I learned from a native speaker from Connemara."
Her hard work paid off in 2005, when she won five gold medals at the
Columbus Feis in Ohio. The awards were for Gaelic singing, reading
Gaelic poetry, reciting Gaelic poetry from memory, spontaneous Gaelic
reading, and playing harp.
Although many of her songs are sung in Irish, Scottish, or Manx (the Gaelic
dialect found on the Isle of Man),
Caera believes the music transcends the language barrier.
"People are not necessarily listening to every word of the music, they are
blessed out," she said. "If I'm singing very emotively, they can
to the emotion even if they don't understand the words."
In order to help the audience better understand her songs, Caera tells
stories throughout the performance about their meaning. She also gives
listeners a catch phrase so there will be something the audience can
"I'm always proud when people come up to me afterwards and they're getting
it, learning pieces of the language from
my songs," she said.
At tomorrow's performance, Caera will play songs from her new albums,
"Wake the Dragon" and "Through Misty Air," as
well as songs from three albums she is working on. She may also include
selections from her traditional Irish children's songbook and CD that
will be coming out soon. One or two Celtic lullabies also may be
included in the set list.
"For me, part of what moves me about it is the idea that music can come
from people and doesn't have to come
from a box," she said.
"A lot of what you hear on the radio can't be done live because there's so
much electronic enhancement."
Attending many open mike nights, Caera realized that most of the singers and
songwriters play guitar. She believes part of the clairseachâ€™s appeal
for audiences is the change from the ordinary.
"I like being able to stand out that way," she said.
Saol, Aibrean 2006 (April, 2006)
Saol is an Irish-language newspaper distributed throughout the world.
was featured in an article about Americans learning Irish with the
organization Daltai na Gaeilge (students of Irish). Saol put a photo
of Caera and her harp on the front page.
Under her photo in the article, they wrote:
"Caera Aislingeach, ceoltoir agus clairseoir ag seinm ag ceolchoirm na
ndaltai." (English: Caera Aislingeach, musician and harper, playing at
the students' concert)
Henge Happenings (newsletter for members of the Henge of Keltria),
Review by Ailim (also at http://www.keltria.org/hengehap/HH67/HH67-Pub.htm
Music should possess the capability of taking you to other places. Caeraâ€™s
music does just that! Her combination of brass-string harp, modeled
after those used in the Middle Ages, and soothing vocal qualities moves
you out of the mundane world and into the Celtic realm.
Caera has two recordings presently available. Through Misty Air is a
solo work with a primary focus on original material, and Wake the Dragon
a collaborative effort with bandmate Myra Hope Bobbitt focusing
primarily on traditional songs. What differentiates Caera in her efforts
is her use of multiple languages. Collectively on these two works you
will find Welsh, Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Middle French, and English.
Through Misty Air provides twelve songs that weave in and out of
English and Gaelic,
often within the same song. Caera provides translations as well as a few
thoughts on the motivation for each song. My personal favorites include
Carolan's Welcome, an excellent rendition of Turlough O'Carolan's air
#171, and Symbols, a tale of one's discovery of their personal power.
Wake the Dragon is a collaborative work between Caera and Myra Hope
Bobbitt. Songs are
in English, Welsh, Gaelic, and French and involve tales of warriors,
priestesses, love found, and life in the forest realm. The interplay
between Myra Hope's nylon-strung harp, Caera's brass-strung harp and
their respective vocal qualities makes this CD well worth listening to.
Personal favorites include the haunting In Fading Light and the Scottish
Buain a Rainich (Fairy Love Song) with intertwined vocal tapestry.
I strongly recommend both of these works not only for their artistic
quality but for their ability to move you beyond the mundane realm. They
are perfect for relaxing after work or for preparing the mind for
ritual. We are indeed fortunate to have a bard such as Caera to remind
us of the great stories of old.
Songsalive! interview, fall 2004:
(Also at http://www.songsalive.org/interviewCaera.html )
Where are you from, originally and what brought you to Boston?
I was born in Boston and have lived all over the Boston area, but have
never really lived elsewhere. One thing music is doing for me is getting
me to see the rest of the world, both by giving me opportunities to see
places I had wanted to see before but couldn't, and by giving me
reasons to go to places I had never heard of before.
What style of music would you say you do?
Celtic music. I sing in Celtic languages and play a Celtic harp, and I play
some traditional music. I also write my own songs (in Irish Gaelic as
well as English), and some of them are obviously influenced by folk
music and other genres, but the Celtic influence is always there in my
What do you enjoy best - songwriting or performing and why?
Hmmm, I never thought about that. I probably enjoy performing more, just
because I'm somewhat of an extrovert and I like sharing the love with
other people. :) I do love songwriting; it can do a lot for me in my own
healing and growth, but it also makes me face things in myself that can
be uncomfortable. It's good, but not always fun.
Who are your musical influences?
I have a whole lot of influences. Almost any song I hear will influence
my writing or composing in some way or another. My major influences
include Enya, Maire Brennan and Clannad, Loreena McKennitt, Ani
diFranco, Rachael Sage, Stevie Nicks, Capercaillie, the Indigo Girls,
Iarla O' Lionaird, and Turlough O'Carolan, for example.
Describe your favorite song you have written and why is it so special
I would pick Failte a Run as my favorite song I've written (for now).
It's very closely based on a traditional Irish song, Siuil a Run, which
is yet another sad and pretty much hopeless traditional Irish song
(there are quite a few of those). Siuil a Run is a very pretty song, but
very sad, and I was listening to it one day while I was already feeling
sad and a little hopeless _before_ I had put on some Irish music to
listen to. I started thinking about my own problems in the context of
the many historical problems for Irish people throughout time, and I
thought, "What if, for once, a happy Irish song seemed to more
accurately reflect the lives of Irish people?" I thought I would put
that idea away for a while because "I was busy", but it kept bugging
Then I got a musical riff stuck in my head so I got on my harp to catch
it, and then words started hitting me for Failte a Run. I got really
obsessed with that song as it was being written, a process full of
interruptions that took four days, but when it was done, I was really
happy with it. It matches Siuil a Run very closely, but turns the whole
thing around to make it a happy song with a lot of hope for the future. I
like looking at life that way better than just seeing all the misery
we've already come from.
What are your goals for the next 5 years musically speaking?
Well, I definitely want to make more albums. I have my next three albums
planned out already. :) I'd also like to be making significantly more
money, and to play my music in more areas I haven't been to yet,
including on other continents (so far I've played on North America and
in Ireland but not the rest of Europe). I also want to gain more skills
and more confidence on my clairseach, or brass-strung harp. It's a
beautiful instrument, but there's so much to learn as far as technique
is concerned that I fully expect to keep learning for the rest of my
life. I would also like to see my record label get successful enough and
big enough that it could really offer other musicians a lot of support
for their careers too.
Tell us about your recordings and what's in store next.
So far I have two albums done, "Wake the Dragon" and "Through
"Wake the Dragon" was done with a bandmate, who could write and sing
Welsh and who played a nylon-strung Celtic folk harp. We have songs in
Welsh, Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic, and even a medieval French song on
that album. I really love the songs on "Wake the Dragon" and how that
album sounds, but the band has broken up somewhat badly. I've gone solo
as a result. "Through Misty Air" was my first solo recording, and was
really done under a lot more pressure than I hope to ever have to work
under again. I love the songs on this one too, but it has a much more
bare, and I guess a more personal approach to it. I feel like people who
listen to "Through Misty Air" really get to know a lot about me, which
is sometimes scary. I guess all songwriters go through that. I wrote a
couple of songs on "Wake the Dragon", but I wrote almost all of the
songs on "Through Misty Air".
My plans for the future include an album of lullabies, which I have started
working on, an album of early
music (medieval and probably some early traditional music), and another
album of almost completely original music. I've also thought about
trying to collaborate again, or possibly just add guest musicians to
give a more full sound, though sometimes I really like the stark solo
stuff too, so we'll see what that brings.
Where can we buy your music?
I almost always have CD's on me and in my car, so if anyone physically
finds me they can get CD's from me directly. :) They are also available
so far through http://cdbaby.com/group/songsalive/from/warriorgirl
and will likely be available through other
internet sites soon. Legal downloads are also available through
and some of the major sites for downloads, like
iTunes. Of course I always have CD's at gigs too. There are several
smaller merchants who tend to work at festivals I have played at who
also carry some of my CD's, like Ha'penny Imports in Dublin, Ohio, or
Special Creations in Salem, MA. I may put a list together at my website
to help people find them.
What are your views about where the music industry is heading in your
community, or on a global level?
I really like what the internet has done for independent music, and for
widening people's options for music they want to hear. I'm also glad
that right now recording and manufacturing music is relatively cheap and
easy compared to how it used to be, so that people who are really
determined can get out there and make their own music and try to be
successful with it, instead of never even getting a chance because of
prohibitive costs and not enough alternative outlets to play to. Of
course, the downside of all this is that things have gotten easier for
everyone, so there's a whole lot more competition than there ever has
been, and getting people's attention has gotten more tricky. I'm trying
to be optimistic and think that viable opportunities will continue to be
available to the people who really work at it, and who really have
something to offer in their music.
Anything pertinent you'd like to say about Songsalive!
You guys are awesome, thanks!
Songsalive! reviews of "Through Misty Air" and "Wake the
by toni k.
(also at http://www.songsalive.org/members/caera.html )
The beauty in listening to the two cd's by Elite member Caera, is in the
simplicity of arrangements with vocal harmonies to enhance music from
medieval times until today - a language all it's own - and fortunately,
well-defined lyric sheets to translate the music's words into reality.
Caera mentions influences including "Moya Brennan, (Maire Brennan - the
proper spelling of her name, though she now uses a phonetic spelling for
English speakers, like her sister, Enya (Eithne)." Also, Loreena
McKennitt, a major Celtic harper and Sileas, a Celtic harp duo from
Scotland whose work Caera truly loves. As Caera says "I love good
songwriting in other genres, especially folk or folk-like music, and
Suzanne Vega is defnitely one of my favorites."
The first cd is Caera's initial solo project, "Through Misty Air",
with 12 songs
inspired by tradition as well as the artist's own life experiences.
Caera's primary instrument is a "clairsleach", a medieval-style,
brass-strung Irish harp, "based on Irish harps from about the
The title track, "Through Misty Air" features Mayer Lipman on
Caera performs the track "Ceile" on a bray harp borrowed from Babz
Schilke. All tracks were recorded by Rob Ignazio at Porter Square
Studios except "A Promise Unbroken", which was recorded by Neil Marsh
Lepus MediaNet. Rob also handled the mastering duties. It's a beautiful
cd, from start to finish with cover art gracefully drawn freehand to
express the variety of worlds that Caera dwells in.
"Through Misty Air" is an ethereal album, with all tracks written and
Caera except "Failte a Run", "Einini", and "Carolan's
are based on traditional Irish tunes. The song, "If I'd Only Known"
heartbreaker, with Caera's voice mesmerizing you with the story of
first love found, and lost. Her musical journey with each song guides
you past rivers of life while Caera's soprano vocals lead you through
each melody as lightly as butterflies on a meadow's wildflowers. The
liner notes are good reading, letting you know a bit of personal
insights to the artist's creativity and passion for her music. Two
tracks on this solo venture, "A Promise Unbroken" and "Lullaby
Eileen", also appear on Caera's second cd she sent us for review.
The second cd is a collaboration with harpist Myra Hope Bobbitt under the
name, Mor Gwyddelig, which the liner notes explain is "the
Welsh-language translation for "Irish Sea", the body of water
from the Hebrides to Tintagle, and from Wales to Ireland." To know this
sets the mood for the music the artists perform on this first cd
released together as a group.
From the beginning harmonious vocal sounds set the tone of Mor Gwyddelig, the
cd titled "Wake the Dragon".
Caera, performing on a brass-strung harp, with Myra Hope Bobbitt on
nylon string harp, and both sharing vocals, express their feelings of
being transported to another place and time in each song. Close your
eyes and see the villages, lose yourself in the forest of magic, hear
the languages, the poetry, the mysticism of places steeped in folklore
and pageantry. The harps are beautifully woven together to compliment
the other. Lyrics by both artists reveal that time does little to alter
what is important to all mankind - relationships, loyalty, honor, faith,
hope and love.
Myra Hope mentions "when Caera introduced herself to me at Harper's
Retreat in 1999, I had just finished massacreing a
tune in front of 150 of my peers - Caera was completely complimentary,
friendly and unfazed by my performance. For that kindness, and for her
lovely sporano voice, I asked Caera to sing with me...." Thus began a
musical friendship that begat a wonderful cd, featuring "historical,
traditional, and original music in Welsh, Irish, Scottish Gaelic,
English and even Middle French (circa 1555.)"
The listener sets sail across an ocean of music, which you want to hear several
really get the images that the music and vocals solicit from your
speakers. Title track "Wake the Dragon" begins with luscious
and makes you want to dance and feel joyous. "Sing to praise the Mother,
Dance to wake the Dragon, write poetry to transform the self into
verse...." This is a cd with lyrics and music to inspire, and refresh.
Track 6, Lullaby for Eileen, is Caera's "first song I composed on the
It's a sweet sound that emanates from the harps; dreamy, and comforting
to hear. Other tracks on this cd are produced with a simplicity that
honors the tradition of the music that captures these two artists in the
purest form. Another track to highlight, "In Fading Light", was a
collaboration with Caera writing the lyrics and Myra Hope balancing with
the music. The harps are subtle, like soft feathers dancing on the air -
I love the vocals - gentle, romantic and soothing to a tired warrior
after a long day's battle - whether in the forests of Avalon or on the
streets of a metropolitan city somewhere here in the new world as we
Take a moment, relaxing in your backyard, driving down a country road or
walking with your headphones, you'll enjoy these cd's
that take you far from the world of MTV and into a space that explores
another world, another time, so delightful, magical and spiritual. toni