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Karen Marshalsay

Karen Marshalsay

A one-woman harp festival

The Courier

One of the leading contemporary performers on the instrument

The Scotsman

Traditional Music


  • Karen Marshalsay - Harp


Traditional tunes from the Scottish and Gaelic harp and pipe music traditions feature alongside original compositions in concerts that draw the audience in through entertaining and informative observations on the harps and their histories as well as the tunes’ backgrounds. Karen also features items from various other cultures, including Latin America, and historical pieces from sources such as the Lute and Robert ap Huw manuscripts.


Karen is one of the very few musicians who specialise in all three harps from Scotland’s rich musical tradition: both the gut- and wire-strung models and the baroque bray harp with its distinctive, buzzing sitar-like sound. She began playing the harp through the traditional music world, including studies with leading harper Alison Kinnaird, and has expanded her interests to include multi-cultural projects with international musicians and studies with Paraguayan harp master Rito Pederson. Her performing experience includes concerts throughout the UK, Europe, America and Australia. Career highlights include the Edinburgh International Festival, Celtic Connections, the Australian National Folk Festival, Beethoven 2020 in Bonn, and the Scottish, Indian and Japanese spectacular, Yatra, which premiered at the Edinburgh Mela in 2008. A particular interest in pipe music has led to working with Gaelic music expert Allan MacDonald in his acclaimed pibroch concerts, and for the National Piping Centre’s 2013 Ceòl na Piòba concert. As a composer, Karen had pieces performed in 2018 and 2019 by the acclaimed Russian String Orchestra (Misha's Gang) conducted by Misha Rachlevsky with Karen as guest soloist. Karen was Composer in Residence with Harps Northwest in 2016, and has premiered commissions for Celtic Connections’ New Voices series and the Distil showcase concerts. She has published her own series of harp music books, including Key Techniques for Harp in 2012, and for 7 years was clarsach tutor at the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music at Plockton, where she received a Distinction in the LTCL diploma, the first person to do so with an all-traditional repertoire. She has taught wire harp at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, where she is now a supervisor for the Research Department and is a guest lecturer for Glasgow University and the University of the Highlands & Islands. As well as solo concerts Karen currently performs with the long-established Scottish folk group The Whistlebinkies and with legendary Irish flute player, singer and founder of Boys of the Lough, Cathal McConnell’s trio. Her solo CD, The Road to Kennacraig was released in July 2019, leading to successful concerts at venues including Eden Court, Inverness, Biggar Music, Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock, Birnam Arts, and Quarrymen’s Arts Centre.