Celtica: Songs for the Harp (40 pgs, $6.95)
Voices of the Trees: Songs for the Harp (28 pgs, $4.95)
by Shirley Starke
Reviewed by George Taylor
Celtic Chronicles, Fall 2000
A book entitled Extra-Terrestrial Friends and Foes by George C. Andrews may seem an unlikely place to stumble across lyrical poetry with a Celtic bent, however that is exactly how this reader was introduced to the works of singer/songwriter/harpist Shirley Starke. Shirley's poem Once Upon the End of Day, reproduced in Andrews' book, was so compelling that further investigation was in order. The author has four music/poetry books (Voices of the Trees: Songs for the Harp, Celtica: Songs for the Harp, Angel-Chief of Many Names, and Song for the White Rider), one instruction book (How to Play the Folk Harp from Chord Symbols), and thirty-seven pieces of sheet music currently in print.
Celtica: Songs for the Harp, contains the words and music for approximately thirty songs (about one-third of them in Irish) with illustrations by Elly Fithian. All of the songs, with one exception, Into The Twilight by W.B. Yeats, are written by the author. The subject of these songs is Celtic heroes, both real and legendary, from Arthur and Merlin to Bobby Sands, a poet and musician held on terrorist charges, who died on a hunger strike in a Northern Ireland jail in 1981. Her song/poem May 1981 is a tribute to his courage. In The Glen of the Water of Dee, about Welsh leader Owen Glendower, a legendary hero in the Arthurian tradition leads his people out of darkness:
O son of the princes of Powys,
Who ruled from Sycharth to the sea,
From where have you come now to lead us,
To the Glen of the Water of Dee?
By Arthur, the king, was he promised,
By the bard of Carmarthen foretold,
And when we were conquered and hopeless,
He came as awaited of old.
He came, and the solid hills trembled,
And the rivers ran red to the sea,
For the heavens like torches were flaming,
In the night over Glyndyfrdwy*
He came like a light in the darkness,
Like the sun over mountains he rose;
He left like the star of the evening,
And where he has gone, no one knows.
Does he dwell with the heroes of Britain
In Avalon, Isle of the Blest?
Did he sail in the glass house of Myrddin
To the home of the Gods in the West?
Was it Arthur returned from his cavern,
Or Myrddin returned from his tree?
Who shone like a beacon to lead us
From the Glen of the Water of Dee?
Voices of the Trees: Songs for the Harp contains the words and music of approximately twenty-one songs, all in English and all written by the author. These songs about the natural world evoke images of ancient gods and ancient mysteries.
Her other music books are Angel-Chief of Many Names (36 pgs, $5.95) which contains songs "for people who relate to the angels and worship the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe under any name and any religion" and Song for the White Rider (28 pgs, $10.95) which was inspired by Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.
Shirley's Muse appears to be a Presence she has felt since a very early age, a Presence similar to the one described by C.S. Lewis in his book Surprised by Joy, a white, holy flame which she has gradually come to recognize as Christ. She began her musical training on piano in 1962 with an emphasis on theory, especially the medieval modes or scales, which she uses extensively in her compositions. Although her compositions are written primarily for harp, they are also suitable for other instruments such as guitar or piano. She also has plans to produce some recorded music, although this is not available at the present time.
Shirley Starke and Valkyrie Publications can be reached at Route 2, Box 230, Valley City, ND 58072 for a catalog or book or sheet music orders, or the books can be purchased at Amazon.com, SeekBooks.com or the web site of Barnes & Noble.