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Rebecca Blair (centre) is a harpist, visual artist and long-time teacher at Place des Arts. We sat down with her to find out more about her band, Triskellion with singer and flutist Michelle Carlisle and fiddler Rosie Carver, her style of teaching and her experiences as a musician.  

What does your band name mean?  

Triskellion is a Celtic three-pronged spiralWe like the tri because we are a trio, and we like the Celtic influence, but we’ve always done a mix of things. It also is a beautiful word, classic and elegant, quite like us 

How and when did you start your music career? 

I have been playing harp for close to 13 years now. I was a latecomer to it. I am a professionally trained clarinetist, and even did a master’s degree in itAlso, my dad’s a composer so I’ve always loved the idea of composition, but I thought that looks like a lot of work writing it down. Composition teaches you how to improv and that’s an expectation with the harp. With the clarinet, you’re doing beautiful recreation but especially in an orchestra, youre toeing the line. 

The harps’ been an interesting journey and you have to be very resourceful. I play for a lot of seniors’ groups these days and so I’ve really expanded. I was more Celtic at first, and went to classical, and now I’ve done a lot more pop stuff. Nostalgia with music has a big impact when it comes to seniors. They love music but if they know the music you’ve got themEven in the memory wards when they’re almost nonverbal, they start singing. And that makes it worth it. 

I’ve taught at Place des Arts for 20 years and I was the one that recommended Rose teach here. 

How did Triskellion meet and how did you form your band? 

Our group has been together, probably 10-15 years. Rose and I met through sessions and because she was in Blackthorn with Michelle already, we started to perform together.  

What inspired you to make music together?  

I love the combinations between the instrumentation and vocals. I was in the group before called the Maenads which had different people, but the same combination of instruments and I wanted to continue thatWhen you’ve got three people and one of them sings the permutations are amazing. You can make such amazing colours.  

The harp poses interesting challenges for performers. It can’t sustain a note, like a clarinet, once you hit the note the sound dies away, so it’s great to have the violin and flute and the voice being able to carry a tune. 

What are your biggest influences? What is your genre?  

Generally people think we fall into the Celtic genre, and we do perform in this style, but we also have a huge range of styles we play in. I would say Celtic has some influence, especially with Rosie and Michelle’s other band, but we very much try to avoid sticking to a specific genre. Michelle also can play keyboard and performs some jazz. She can do everything, you have to be able to do everything in this town. So instead of resisting it, we decided to embrace it. 

We also love to be able to do our own arrangements. It’s very fun and mostly just by memory.  

Tell me about one of Triskellion’s favourite performances. 

I love the ones at Place des Arts because it’s such a beautiful place to play and we just we’ve done some really nice pieces and arrangements.   

When did you start teaching at Place des Arts? 

20 years ago, turn of the century!  

With the harp, I get to teach a lot of adults and I really love teaching adults. I love opening up their eyes to creativity because it is usually not about being career musicians. I’m allowing them to do creative stuff and challenge them by asking “how do you arrange a piece to learn the melody?” Harpists have to do that, so it’s kind of fun instrument because it’s not locked into so much tradition. 

What is your teaching philosophy?  

First of all, give students the confidence to be creative. Most of my students are women in their forties/fifties and it’s a fantastic demographic. I love how the harp gets them to be expressive and to find their own voice. A lot of my students have never picked up a harp before and it’s tough. Rhythm and reading in music, and to read in two scales is very challenging. So it’s rewarding when they are able to do so. I really expect my students to find what works best for them. 

Please share a favourite teaching memory.  

I have so many! I once had a student who had been a lawyer for many years and as such, she did things thoroughly. I started with improv with her and she really resisted itThen at one point, she began to respond to it and she was really good! She had great composition ideas she had a very creative spirit. Then one day she had a court case, sometimes they just pop up all of the sudden, and she had to wing itShe thought, well if I can do it on a harp, I can do this. And it was a really big eye-opener for her. It gave her confidence.  

What do you enjoy about teaching at Place des Arts?  

I think this is the best fine arts school. It’s a beautiful place, and unlike other schools, you have such great variety with art on the walls and the different disciplines going on. I’m so lucky. Music schools you’re usually by yourself so you don’t have the external inspiration as much. There is also a great variety of students. 

I’ve been teaching since I was thirteen years old. My father was a really good teacher, he was a theory professor at the University of Lethbridge, and I like opening people’s eyes to new perceptions and also seeing how they see things. I learn quite a bit from my students and find new ways to improve my practice as well.  

What can students expect in your classes? 

I often expect my students to learn how to improv. I give them a little piece that’s only 30 seconds and say “we’re going to make this a 3-minute piece” and have them come up with the other verses.  Very different from other methodologies, but I feel like that’s where my father’s composer influence came in.  

What advice would you give a young person who wants to make a career as a performing artist? 

  1. Be good at budgeting and do your own taxes. It’s a very onerous task and so it’s important to get ahead on it.  
  2. You have to be really resourceful. It’s a very difficult time for a musician. You think after you establish yourself, everything becomes easier, but that’s not the case. Your income can be based on your students and if so, if you lose any you have to be able to find a way to recuperate. 
  3. Also, don’t have too high expectations. I do this because I don’t think I could do anything else. I like being self-employed. 

What is something that makes you laugh? (This is our year of humour!) 

I believe it is finding humour in everyday life. Life can get too serious and observing the quirks/oddities in ourselves and our surroundings is the way to release ourselves from stress and to find joy. 


Rebecca Blair is a long-term teacher of Celtic Harp and Visual Arts at Place des Arts. Her band, Triskellion, performs throughout the lower Mainland and Greater Vancouver Area.  

Please give them some love and support by following their Facebook and here some of their great songs here.

In the future, consider hiring them for a wedding or celebration. They love performing together and you can feel it in every show they do.   

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