Maltese harpist becomes world championship medallist

Luciano Ocesca

Newsbook.com.mt recently caught up with Michelle Paris who is very active in the Irish traditional music scene, both as a singer and musician.

Tell us about your experience with the Fleadh Cheoil.

The competition is part of the Fleadh Cheoil, the largest festival of traditional music and dance in the world. The festival brings together musicians, singers, dancers and enthusiasts of traditional music; it is a fantastic celebration of music, culture, folklore and tradition. It is organised by Comhaltas and features concerts, workshops, cultural events and the traditional music competitions. Competitors qualify from all around the world to compete for the ultimate title at the ‘All Ireland’; this year the competition took place in the town of Drogheda, Ireland.

Luciano Ocesca

For five years, I qualified to compete in Irish Harp Slow Airs at the All Ireland through London Regional and All Britain qualifying rounds but this was the first year I walked away with a silver medal at the All Ireland in this competition. This recognition is all the more special as this year, I was supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Malta, Cultural Diplomacy Fund.

Over the years, I have also won a number of gold, silver and bronze medals in qualifying rounds in Pianoforte, Irish Harp, Sean Nos Singing in Gaelic and Newly Composed Tunes. Earlier this year, I was also awarded a gold medal in the Folk Harp Competition at the North London Festival of Speech, Music and Drama.

You have chosen the UK as your base. Do you miss Malta at all?

Leaving Malta never comes easy – I get a heartache every time I wave at my parents (and my dog) while going up the escalator at Malta International Airport. I miss them tremendously even if I keep in touch on a daily basis and travel back to Malta regularly, mostly due to work.

Luciano Ocesca

I knew when I chose to specialise in this genre of music that I would have to eventually move out of Malta. I couldn’t learn how to play the Irish harp professionally in Malta as at the time, there were no teachers who specialised in this instrument. Moving to the UK gave me access to the repertoire and provided me with the opportunity to work with professionals.

I made a very conscious decision knowing what price one has to pay but this most recent win and recognition is what makes me feel like it has all be worth it in the end.

How long has the Irish harp been a part of your life?

I first saw an Irish harp while on a trip to Connemara with my family in the late 1990s. I was mesmerised – it was definitely ‘love at first sight and sound’. I asked the young girl if I could play her harp to try it out, and within ten minutes, I am not sure how, I was playing tunes on it. I remember her saying ‘you are a natural’ – and it really did feel that way!

We ordered a custom-made Irish harp from Colm Ó Meachair which took a number of years to complete but in the meantime, I signed up for lessons in orchestral harp at the Johann Strauss School of Music when I was 15.

I was able to specialise in Irish (lever) harp technique when I moved to the UK. The rest is history.