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Members include Pam (Pattison) Boulding (born in Jacksonville, FL. Education: Bachelor's degree in painting, sculpture, and art from Pitzer College), dulcimer; Philip Boulding (born on July 13, 1953, in Ann Arbor, MI. Education: Attended Boston Conservatory and the University of Washington), Celtic harp. Couple is married; five children. Addresses: Management--Ray Garrido, P.O. Box 4086, Seattle, WA 98104. Website--Magical Strings Official Website: http://www.magicalstrings.com.

The Celtic tradition is instrumental to the work of Magical Strings, a husband-and-wife duo who perform on homemade harp and hammered dulcimer. In addition to albums released on various labels, Philip and Pam Boulding (and their five children) perform around the world in festivals and concerts.

Philip Boulding met his future wife and musical partner when he she studied the dulcimer with him. The son of two university professors (and Nobel peace prize nominees) in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Boulding was a musical prodigy, beginning with classical violin at age six. After switching to guitar, he became a self-taught crafter of stringed instruments. Hearing the music of the hammered dulcimer inspired Boulding to build one of his own; his interest expanded to include the Celtic harp. He attended the Boston Conservatory and the University of Washington, augmenting his formal education with private instruction from classical and jazz harpists. Now a resident of Seattle, Boulding has traveled to Ireland and Scotland to learn his craft, and has studied such instruments as the Russian cymbalom and the West African kora with native practitioners.

Pam Boulding began her musical education at age four with piano lessons, though her love of music was balanced by leanings toward art. She earned a degree in painting, sculpture, and art history from Pitzer College, after which she taught at various schools including her own summer art school in Maine. Her musical education led to Philip Boulding and the dulcimer. "I new instantly I had to play this instrument," she said in the biography published on the Magical Strings website. Pam also knew her fate lay with Philip: "When we met, it was like we had known each other all our lives."

Philip Boulding opened the School of Magical Strings in 1978, and Pam was one of his students. "I had this dream," Philip said in his website biography, "to combine the harp and dulcimer into one sound. When I met Pam, I realized she had a musical spirit similar to mine and soon we were playing music together. It was like finding two complementary halves and creating an aural texture that is unique and complete in its musical expression." Now married, the couple founded the Magical Strings duo in 1980, expanding their performing repertoire to include such traditional instruments as pennywhistle, concertina, and valiha (Malagasy harp).

The duo brought their five children into their musical life as well. In a News Tribune article by Susan Gordon, Pam recalled carrying two-week-old Brittany onstage, where she lay in a basket during the performance and nursed during intermission. As they grew, the Boulding children--Geoffrey, Brenin, twins Marshall and Morgan, and Brittany--joined the act, accompanying Philip and Pam on violin and cello, or stepdancing and juggling to the music. For his part, Philip told Gordon that his children's participation has strengthened family bonds. "I've had more of a hand shaping them than they have me," he said. "They love playing with us as a family. I'll always be writing music for them even when they're not here."

A longtime favorite in the Pacific Northwest, Magical Strings received further attention in 1988 when singer Dan Fogelberg booked them on his summer tour that took the Bouldings to 30 large cities and audiences of more than 15,000. They subsequently played on Fogelberg's album River of Souls. By 1997 the group had toured Asia, giving sold-out concerts from Sapporo to Okinawa by 1999. General Motors even used a Magical Strings number to launch their Saturn car line.

But family values remain at the duo's heart. The group is known for its annual Celtic Yuletide concert, an event that has brought the Bouldings together (the children are grown, some with offspring of their own) for more than two decades. Asked by the Seattle Times in 1996 if the younger Bouldings ever staged a musical rebellion, Pam replied, "Not yet!" continuing: "Two years ago, with everyone but Brittany off to college, I asked Brenin if he thought we should take a break from the concerts that year. He told me, 'Forget it! We're going to be doing this long after you're gone.'" Pam went on to describe the audience reaction to the Yuletide concert: "Sometimes in classical music, people in the audience don't really feel like they're part of what's going on. After the Celtic Yuletide concerts, people tell us they feel like they've become part of our family."

As recording artists, Magical Strings has released albums on the Flying Fish/Rounder, EarthBeat Records, and their own Magical Hill Music labels. This includes such compilations as Beneath the Moon, Crossing to Skellig, Above the Tower, and Spring Tide, as well as two holiday-themed albums, Yuletide Live and Good People All. Islands Calling featured the family with 15 guest artists, including cellist Eugene Friesen and Hawaiian slack-key virtuoso Keola Beamer. The "islands" of the title refers to the Bouldings' travels from Jamaica to Ireland to Madagascar, and explores the ethnic musical traditions of each region. Reviewing Islands Calling for the Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange (FAME), Marji Hazen called the work "a remarkably well-integrated blend of some of the world's best indigenous musicians and two sensitive Celtoids who embrace and interpret other genres with respect and appreciation." Hazen added that Beamer's presence represents "a privilege that few off-island musicians are ever accorded."

When not performing or recording, Philip continues to run his school for aspiring harpists. Many of his students, he noted in Songwriter's Monthly, are "adults who may have had a little bit of music in earlier childhood, but put it aside for a while; now they just want to get their fingers on the strings and learn to do some things."

by Susan Salter

Magical Strings's Career

Founded Magical Strings as a married couple, 1980; singer Dan Fogelberg booked duo on his tour, 1988; subsequently contributed to his album River of Souls; have released albums on the Flying Fish/Rounder, EarthBeat Records, and their own Magical Hill Music labels, including Spring Tide, 1982; Above the Tower, 1985; Crossing to Skellig, 1990; Good People All, 1992; Islands Calling, 1996; Beneath the Moon, 2000; and Yuletide Live,2002.

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over 16 years ago

A Seattle Times story today, March 12, 2008, lists Brenin's last name as Williams yet he seems to be a Boulding. Did he change his last name recently? Thanks, JL