Mary Lester, Celtic Harper and Singer
Mary Lester is a Celtic-style harper and singer from Hemlock, New York. She is in frequent demand for a variety of Irish and Scottish events, such as concerts, festivals, workshops, weddings, and more. She’s learned songs that touch the eternal qualities of joy, love, and sorrow; songs that tell of historic struggles, inflaming emotions relevant to the present. Mary sings of magic and legend, performing solo and with her husband, Howie, the trio Cuisle mo Chroi’, and the trio The Tin Cup.
Since 1985, Mary has played at concerts, festivals, libraries, and museums; as background music for restaurant dining and receptions (art, wedding, open house); weddings and funerals. She has performed in a canoe floating on a lake, by a woodland waterfall, and amidst an apple orchard.
Mary has researched and sought out music of Ireland and Scotland, and expresses a deep love of these countries’ music. She has won praises at performances in the States and Canada. Harp and vocal workshops in Ohio, Vermont, West Virginia, the Catskills, and Scotland have enriched her knowledge.
With husband Howard Lester: Performing with Mary since 1988, Howard ratchets up the energy by adding fiddle, banjo, and vocals; and adds color with Old Time, Cajun, Klezmer, and other styles. They’ve played for festivals, libraries, and weddings.
- With Cuisle mo Chroi': Pronounced “cushla ma chree”, the name is Gaelic for “Pulse of My Heart.” This trio – Cathy McGrath, Pat Carey, and Mary Lester – together have been playing traditional and contemporary music of Ireland in the Rochester area and beyond since 1989. They’ve been praised for their 3-part vocal harmonies. Their instruments are penny whistles, guitars, harp and bodhran drum. They’ve played for concerts, festivals, libraries.
- With The Tin Cup (formerly Trivium): Josh Gregg, Jon Griffin, and Mary. Formed in 2011 to perform songs, melodies, and poems at a Fairport Library program focusing on Yeats, they have expanded to other material of Ireland and Scotland. Libraries, arts centers, and weddings have been their venues. St Patrick’s Day and Christmas are particularly busy seasons.
- Irish and/or Scottish songs and harp instrumentals (plus narrative if desired)
- Celtic music of Scotland and Ireland – lecture/performance: historical sketch via the music of these countries.
- Standard carols, optional historical backgrounds
- Christmas around the world
- Celtic Christmas
- Other themes – Poets, Nature, History
- Ancient Celtic harp (the clarsach) – its development, distinctive features, comparison with harps of other cultures
- Floor harp: four-and-a-half feet, maple, with thirty-two brass strings
- Lap harp: thirty-five inches, cherry, twenty-six phosphor bronze strings. It is wired for amplification.
- Lap harp: thirty-three inch sycamore, twenty-six brass strings. It is closest to the ancient Celtic type, the sound box being carved from a single block of wood, and it having no sharping blades.
- Lap harp: twenty-eight inches, nineteen nylon strings
“…Even though everything was highly entertaining, I have to tell you that hearing and seeing you perform was the highlight of my day. When I read in the program that you were performing, I made sure I would not miss it…I am so thankful that I did. I felt compelled to write you and let you know how much I enjoyed you. In a world where people are becoming less and less civilized, you are a breath of fresh air. I asked you if you knew the song “Barbara Allen”…you were so kind to sing it for me, and I cannot tell you enough how much I enjoyed it! Thank you again for being someone so very special.”
~ Robert A. Dixon
“Your music is just beautiful, and really added a unique, special touch.”
“The reception was enhanced by the gentle music and lovely voice of Mary Peck [Lester].”
~ Batavia Daily News on Batavia Society of Artists Winter Show
“Most of our guests…were in awe, and I’m sure should the occasion arise, will have you at theirs.”
“The Celtic harp was beautiful, as was your voice.”
~ LeRoy Historical Art Club
“You have a special talent, and I’m very glad you were able to be our musician for the wedding.”
“Your talent is magnificent-I’m so impressed.”
~ M.T. Friel, St. Patricks’s Day Committee Fundraiser
“I wanted to say how much I enjoyed your performance…I wonder if you’d be available for another reception?”
E. Bellman, Bevier Gallery Coordinator
“Everyone had fun and loved the harp music.”
~ Pack, Paddle & Ski
“Your music was beautiful and greatly appreciated.”
~ P. Fesner, University of Rochester
“All were completely enthralled.”
~ K. Foglia, St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee
A sampling of venues
- Irish Cultural Workshops – Nazareth College
- Finger Lakes Celtic Festival
- Irish American Cultural Institute Great Hunger of Ireland Conference
- Comhalta Ceoltoiri Eirean Provincial Convention
- Loch Sloy Highland Games, Fort Erie, Canada
- Amherst Museum Highland Games
- I.A.C.I. Harps and Holly Christmas Party: Syracuse, New York
- Gaelic Gathering, Rochester
- Genesee Country Museum Highland Gathering
- Niagara Celtic Heritage Festival and Highland Games
- Kirkin of the Tartan at area churches
- Robert Burns Night
- Tartan Day
- Rochester Institute of Technology Bevier Gallery openings
- Livingston Arts “Artful Holidays”
- Le Roy Festival of the Arts
- Batavia Society of Artists
- Rochester Sister Cites International Festival
- Brighton Town Park Folk Festival
- Rochester Museum and Science Center Folk Festival
- Little Finger Lakes Folk Festival
- Willard Chapel: Auburn, New York
- Eastman House Museum , Musicale Series
- Pack Paddle and Ski sunset canoe rides
- Hurd Orchards
- McGinnity’s Restaurant and Party House
- Red Osier Restaurant
- Kaufman’s Department Stores Waterford crystal engraving
- University of Rochester Christmas Volunteer Reception
- Y.W.C.A. fundraiser
The Enchanted Door
Mary’s first recording. Featured on the Prairie Home Companion’s 1999 Towns Under 2000 (RealAudio format). It has also been favorably reviewed in the internationally circulated Folk Harp Journal, spring 1999 and fall 2000 issues; and has received repeated airplay on local public and Irish radio programs.
Of Castles and Kings
An extensive interview in the Folk Harp Journal, spring 2001 issue, follows on this second recording with a favorable review. It often receives airplay on local radio programs.
Playing the Gamut
Given extensive local coverage in news media and on the air, a radio show host exclaimed: “Playing the Gamut is my favorite and No. 1 Traditional Folk Album of 2004!” Another reviewer stated: “The album succeeds in getting the listener to try fresh perspectives on familiar material. The musicianship is excellent through out.”