Picking songs with beautiful stories

Maple Ridge harpist and gifted vocalist specializes in Celtic music

Jen Nicholson-Church plays the ACT on Saturday

Jen Nicholson-Church plays the ACT on Saturday

The sound of a harp does not harken angels for Jen Nicholson-Church.

Instead, the plucked notes transport her to deep Scottish glens and misty Irish moor, landscapes steeped in melancholy.

“I love the laments, mostly because they usually have beautiful stories to them,”” she says.

A gifted vocalist and harpist who specializes in Celtic music, often with a modern macabre twist, Nicholson-Church’s debut album Celtic Songs of Sorrow is a mix of traditional songs encompassing everything, from the heart-wrenching laments she loves to soothing Gaelic lullabies.

Nicholson-Church, who is a vocal coach at G & G Music in Maple Ridge, decided to focus on the poignant tales in Celtic music in her debut because she realized they were being lost, forgotten in the fog of modern times you could say.

“The melodies are dated, so people don’t listen to these songs anymore,” says Nicholson-Church who studied medieval music in university.

“It’s kind of a tragedy because they are really beautiful stories.”

Musical at heart, Nicholson-Church only picked up the harp 10 years ago while she was laid up in bed due to a severe back injury.

“I first took it up as musical therapy and just really feel in love with it and decided I wanted to be a harpist,”she says, explaining it was Loreena McKennitt album that belonged to her grandma that first piqued her interest in the instrument.

The Coquitlam resident started playing a 22-string harp and eventually moved onto one that’s 32-strings.

Most of the songs on her new album are played on a 28-string harp which Nicholson-Church says is much more versatile.

She credits her family for encouraging her to record the album.

In Celtic Songs of Sorrow, Nicholson-Church updated the melodies of old laments by adding guitar and drums but also discarded the tunes she felt were too archaic and added new melodies to their lyrics.

“I hope people can start being inspired by these songs again,” she says.


Jen Nicholson-Church and her guests invite you to join them in a celebration of Celtic tradition on Saturday, Nov. 12 featuring interpretative Highland dance, a choreographed sword fight, remarkable visuals and soulful music. The show begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $21. Tickets are available at the ACT box office.