A self-taught multi-instrumentalist who studied bass at Hollywood’s prestigious Musicians Institute of Technology, Lisa Lynne bought her own first guitar while in second grade. She later played with neighborhood rock bands and at 21 was working full-time as a bassist, playing mostly classic rock in bars, on military bases and at biker events.
Then came her encounter with the harp. “I was really into Pink Floyd and would play my harp to their records. That’s how I learned the power of what you can achieve by going at a slow tempo – a slow, powerful tempo.”
“I never felt that the term New Age really embraced what I’ve been doing. It’s actually more Old Age because its more inspired by Renaissance times, lullabies and the pop music I grew up with. It’s a contemporary acoustic sound that transcends traditional boundaries of Celtic, New Age or Folk music.”
It was a pivotal day in the life of Lisa Lynne when she hopped a fence into a Renaissance Faire outside of Los Angeles and joined a gypsy dance troupe. “We were actually playing arrangements of Iron Maiden tunes on mandolins,” she laughs. But that fateful day, she spotted Celtic harps and found that, amazingly, “I could already play it – it was love at first sound, first touch.” Since then, Lisa has translated that love into a nearly unsurpassed track record of success as one of instrumental music’s most celebrated performers. Her recent releases through the venerable Windham Hill Records, as well as her current label, New Earth Records, have placed in the top 20 of the Billboard music charts and held top positions on the instrumental radio airplay charts as well, garnering her in excess of one-half million in sales.
In addition, in 2001, she was named as the first-ever Musician in Residence at the internationally-renowned City of Hope National Cancer Center outside of Los Angeles, where her Harps for Hearts Concert and Workshop Series uses the harp as a means to promote creativity and well-being. In fact, Hopes & Dreams (New Earth Records), Lisa’s latest release, was inspired by her work at the City of Hope and is comprised of all new original music composed during the past year. “I was spending a lot of time playing my harp at the City of Hope and interacting with the patients,” she says. “They are my inspiration for this record.” The result is music that is at once soothing, hopeful and goes right to the heart of every listener.
A self-taught multi-instrumentalist who studied bass at Hollywood’s prestigious Musicians Institute of Technology, Lisa bought her own first guitar while in second grade. She later played with neighborhood rock bands and at 21 was working full-time as a bassist, playing mostly classic rock in bars, on military bases and at biker events. Then came her encounter with the harp. “I was really into Pink Floyd and would play my harp to their records. That’s how I learned the power of what you can achieve by going at a slow tempo – a slow, powerful tempo.”
Lisa was soon playing the harp at weddings, restaurants and in storefront windows. “I played alongside many an open casket, too.” Still playing bass in a heavy metal band, Lisa would bring her harp to clubs and open a song with it. She also brought her harp to biker bars. “The bikers would congregate around my van in the alley,” she says. “They loved it. I would show them how to hold it and pluck the strings. Now that was a sight to see!”
A street performer at heart, Lisa used a $100 investment to produce a tape based on her performances on the world-famous Venice Beach – and sold over 50,000 copies. Set to play an International Street Performers Festival in Nova Scotia, she appeared on a Canadian morning show to promote the Festival, saying that the record was in stores. “It wasn’t. But the stores were flooded with people looking for it, so we got Canadian distribution.” U.S. distributors soon followed and her original $100 investment resulted in sales of 200,000 units.
After releasing several CDs on her own label, Lavendar Sky, Lisa signed with Windham Hill Records, releasing two CDs, several compilations and participating in four Winter Solstice tours. After the label was bought by BMG, Lisa signed with New Earth Records. As the first-ever Musician in Residence at the City of Hope National Cancer Center, Lisa was essential in developing the first program of its kind that encourages patients to create their own music to express their feelings and take a more active role in their healing process. The seed for the idea was sown when Lisa comforted the devastated family of one of the injured students of the Columbine High School shooting. “I was supposed to play for her, but she was asleep, so I played for her family,” Lisa remembers. “It was very therapeutic for them. Her brother, who had been witness to that day, spoke about it for the first time.”
Lisa understands the beauty of simple phrases and gives a voice to that wisdom through the melodies of a timeless instrument. She has been fortunate to have carved her own precious niche in today’s increasingly uncertain world. But she has one outstanding dream: to find her birth mother. “I always knew I was adopted. She was a single mother and gave me up so I could have a better chance. I would like her to know that the giving thing she did turned out as she must have wanted.
“And I would like to play my harp for her and let her know that I live in appreciation of her and, most of all, I am at peace.”
Celtic harpist Lisa Lynne Franco began studying music as a child; initially attracted to folk sounds, she took up the guitar and mandolin, later playing bass in a local rock band. While enrolled at Hollywood’s Musician’s Institute of Technology, she concurrently enjoyed a thriving career as a session player; upon discovering the harp in 1985, Franco also formed a progressive rock outfit dubbed Bigger Than Blue. After landing a deal with the German label Innovative Concepts, however, student visa problems forced the band to dissolve, so Franco instead played all the instruments on 1991’s debut LP Bigger Than Blue; three more efforts for the label – Romantic Dreams, My Way and Silken Wings – followed while she formed a new group, Celestial Winds, which earned a significant following playing the boardwalk along Venice Beach. A compilation of material from the group’s cassette releases, Celestial Winds I, appeared in 1994, followed later that year by Christmas Morning; after 1995’s Oceans of Love, however, Franco returned to her solo career, issuing Moonsongs the next year. A pair of independent 1997 LPs, Love & Peace and Fairy Tales (the latter recorded with Elfin Love Tribe), arrived simultaneously with a number of appearances on Windham Hill label compilations; Franco officially joined the record company in 1998, with her debut Daughters of the Celtic Moon credited simply to Lisa Lynne. Seasons of the Soul appeared in 1999. - Jason Ankeny, All Music Guide
Lisa Lynne is a veteran performer who has toured non-stop for the past five years. She has sold over 300,000 albums of her self-produced, original music featuring her Celtic harp. From her humble beginnings as a street performer to her topping the Billboard New Age chart, Lisa has gained valuable insights along the road to success. Lisa’s previous album Seasons of the Soul charted #1 on the NAV radio charts in both July and September 1999. Lisa has just released her newest album Maiden’s Prayer on New Earth Records.
When you walk though Lisa Lynne’s front door, you are transported to another time. It’s a time when no televisions or radios existed, and each night friends and family gather for live music by the fire. Seven Celtic harps line the wall, regal as ships in a harbor. The corners are each filled with instruments of many shapes and sizes, each echoing the history they represent, each one tuned and ready to play. One would never guess it is the year 2001 in the home of Lisa Lynne.
Seeing your collection of harps, one feels a sense of history and magic. How long have you been collecting these beautiful instruments?
They’ve been gradually accumulating. Each one has its own story. In my travels I am always on the lookout for special instruments to bring home. I have a weakness for orphaned mandolins. This room has hosted many a music party. I believe all this wood, the floors, the high ceiling, actually absorb and retain the vibrations of all the music that’s been made here. This room has an extraordinary sound.
I often wonder how it is that certain people “become” musicians. Was your family musical?
There were no musicians in my family, but they were very much music lovers. There was always music in the house, so I tuned in to music at an early age. I bought my first guitar in second grade and taught myself to play. In my teenage years, I joined neighborhood rock bands. I loved playing bass too, and at home I would make up little instrumental songs and bounce tracks with two tape recorders. When I turned 21 I was working full time as a bassist with a band, playing mostly classic rock in a small bar near the Long Beach naval shipyard – a place notorious for harboring fugitives. We moved into playing military bases and biker events. I would go on tours of Alaska and Greenland; I saved enough money to attend Musicians Institute of Technology in Hollywood. I was there to study bass, but ended up playing harp the whole time.
It seems as though there has been an incredible synchronicity in the way your career has unfolded. What made you want to play the harp?
When I was 20, my little friend down the street and I would make costumes and sneak in to the Renaissance Fair, play our mandolins and make a scene. We’d get chased around by security for not having our performer permits. We’d say “But we are gypsies! We are minstrels! We need no passes!” We were actually playing elfin arrangements of Iron Maiden tunes. At that fair I spotted the Celtic harps. I froze in my tracks. I sat down to try to play and got overwhelmed with… heat, actually. I could already play it, everything I ever loved and played came together on this instrument. It seemed like the mother of all instruments, and it played me, really. It was quite something, quite emotional indeed.
Most musicians decide to play an instrument, and then look for a school or a teacher. It was quite different in your case. It seems when you saw the harp and touched it for the first time, it was like remembering a long lost love. So it was love at first sight.
Love at first sound… love at first touch. It’s about the vibration, the large body of wood, the wood against your body. Since I was also involved in the local club scene doing bass with a heavy metal band, I would bring my harp to the clubs, and open a song with it. The sweaty, fist-waving teenagers would be stunned, then melt right into it. I also brought it to the biker clubs where my paycheck band would play. The bikers would congregate around my van in the back alley, and I would pull it out and play little tunes.
The image of the harp girl playing music in a biker alley is very much like you… bringing light into a “dark” place!”
They loved it. I would show them how to hold it and pluck the strings – now that was a sight to see! That’s really how this crusade started: turning people on to the Celtic harp. It’s a relatively small instrument so I could pull it out anywhere. That first year I’d play all day everyday. My back would get so tired that I would play flat on my back with the harp on top of me, so I only had to lift my arms. I wanted to get out of the smoky bars, and just play harp. I would improvise harp parts over my Pink Floyd records. Soon I was ready for weddings, restaurants, storefront windows. I even got hired to jump out from behind a tree and play while a man asked a woman to marry. There were incoming births and outgoing deaths. I played alongside many an open casket, and it was so interesting. Somehow I always pulled it off improvising music that was right for the moment. The best part was being in intimate proximity and witness to so many of life’s most poignant moments. It was excellent experience to truly feel and care about what was going on around me, and to be able to address it without words – just music. I felt I was being brought in to say just the right thing with music.
It seems that in your journey there was always a magic thread connecting all the pieces in a most unusual way. When did you first start recording?
My first recordings came out of Germany about ten years ago. I was sending my homemade tapes to the major labels. At the time, all the big labels had New Age divisions, but I wasn’t getting anywhere. Unsolicited envelopes were returned unopened. So I thought, “It’s a big world,” and I went to the record store and copied down every foreign label address I could find. The very first one I sent a package to called me back, and off I went to Germany and recorded four records there in three years. It was a potent time for developing; I was able to experience playing concerts there. Those records broke through in foreign markets but had no promotion here. I was so young, I let the music, and the presentation of it get away from me, so I came home and thought of a new plan.
The story has an intriguing twist. What happened, what was the plan?
I went into the studio with my recorder player friend and spent a hundred dollars on a recording. We called ourselves “Celestial Winds” and we sold over 10,000 tapes of that super simple music that summer street performing at Venice Beach. From there we got asked to play the new Universal Studios “Citywalk.” I still get a kick out of that. There we were street performing, and they asked us if we would come and “portray” street performers at this tourist attraction. From there we got selected to play the International Street Performers Festival in Nova Scotia.
For a gypsy soul like yours that must have been like a dream come true.
Imagine the world’s top jugglers and magicians staying all together in a college dorm for weeks. The giant cruise ships came to the harbor where we would all do our shows, and it was most excellent. Even the Queen of England was there. We had sold over 50,000 records by then, but still couldn’t get U.S. distribution. We did a promo spot for the festival on a national morning show. We thought it would be fun to just say that our records were in stores, even though they weren’t. The stores got flooded with people looking for our record, so we instantly got major distribution throughout Canada. Our record went to #2 on the indie charts, second only to the Barenaked Ladies. The US distributors followed suit, and we ended up over all selling over 200,000 records from our hundred-dollar investment.
Truly a Cinderella story full of heart-breaking stories… And all this happened before you signed with Windham Hill?
Right, I was not involved in the money part of the Celestial Winds success. So I ended up back at square one, driving my van mall to mall across America, playing all day every day. I started my own company called “Lavender Sky Music” and would sell my records right out of my van. I remember standing in a phone booth at a Boise Idaho mall, when the call came in from Windham Hill. I did two records for them, I went on three Winter Solstice tours with the Windham Hill artists I had admired for so long. We traveled in a big bus with T.V.s like the country stars have. By then I had teamed up with George Tortorelli, the extraordinary flautist, and we have since toured and recorded together non-stop. We travel and perform as a duo mostly, but we have a band as well. Those two Windham Hill records did well for us, but the new record was not released after they were bought out by RCA. Liz Story and I went fishing around the deserted L.A offices, which were piled high with abandoned furniture and upside down boxes.We were looking for our promotional materials, and photo negatives. It was eerie… all the people I knew… just gone… disappeared, like a Twilight Zone episode.
Like Cinderella’s coach that turned into a pumpkin at midnight. So where did you go from there?
I remembered meeting the New Earth folks a few years before, while playing on the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder. I loved that they just hung out with us while we did our thing, and they really got it. I called them up to see if they wanted to do something with me. They were swift to make it all happen, and I think it’s a wonderful match. It doesn’t feel like the corporate scene, where you can get lost in the sauce. It feels like a family. I’ve never had it so nice.
How has your personal growth influenced your way of expressing, and how has your music changed?
I think every musician becomes more focused with each recording experience. I don’t think the source of the music changes, but the ability to refine ideas and shepherd them into fruition is what improves with time. My records are generally recorded live, with two to five players at once. I try to capture my living room music. My longtime engineer, Gil Morales, and I are very serious about inviting in the spiritual aspect.
You have now created your own very sacred space where you record in your own temple-like studio…
Living in Los Angeles, I have had access to and tried all the finest studios, but they are primarily for rock or pop music. We end up spending so much time chasing microscopic hums and buzzes that turn up when we are tracking the delicate harp sections. Once we were trying to record lute and viol in a top studio. We showed up, and both Guns & Roses and Motley Crew were tracking at the very same time. We had to ask them to lower their playback volume so we could finish the lute. And they kindly did… But, yes, now we are properly equipped to roll any time my own studio, that is a blessing. Wherever we record, we light the candles and the sage. Like giving thanks for the food we eat, we give thanks for the music we make. Every step of it, from my private time writing all the way to the mastering, feels sacred, so we make it festive. I cook for all the musicians who come to play.
You said the source of the music doesn’t change. What is the source for your music?
Its true blue human heart / life stuff… the wonder, sadness, glory, love, longing, all of it… the real deal. Whether it’s concert halls, or on the street, something intangible but very real is going on. I love to play in fancy halls with all the colored lights, but in reality, nothing beats a good ol’ southern country fair. I love to play close to people. People strolling by without expectation have their hearts wide open. I can write songs and test chord progressions right then and there while I’m watching them watching me. I get to see first hand the effect of the music. I get to meet the people who buy my records. The beautiful letters I get about how this music matters in their lives, makes charting and retail numbers pale in importance. I see the looks on the faces of children when I let them try my harp, and I am certain I have started a legion of harp players for the future. That will probably be the most important thing I will ever do. I feel driven to keep putting it out there. When I’m out in the world, I feel like a music nurse on the frontlines. That is the source of my music.
Let’s talk more about the harp. There is a lot being said now about the healing and relaxing qualities of harp music and how it can change the mood of the listener.
There are several organizations of harp players addressing exactly that. Harpists are being trained for specifically the purpose of accompanying people healing and in transition. Basically, going into the hospitals and playing for the sick and dying. In my own experience I think it’s just as important to do something for the loved ones and family around the person. I had an experience with the tragedy at Columbine. I was, like everyone, so distraught when I got a call from a friend of one family to let me know they were using my music to soothe one of the critically injured students. I went to Colorado, hoping I could play music in person for the girl. She was never awake that day, but her family welcomed me into their private waiting room, and I realized it was just as helpful to be there with music for them. I was right there when the brother who was witness was able to talk about it for the first time, and the father was able to finally let his tears out. I can’t say I’ve ever felt so blessed to be doing this in my life. On the plane home, I was thinking about the girl, and how her parents talked all about how she loved music so much. I was thinking I would love to get her a little harp for herself, and maybe make the long journey back a little easier. I went online with the harp chat group and told my idea.
The response from harpists all over the world was overwhelming, and together we bought her a big beautiful harp. She was paralyzed from the waist down, but sat up for the first time to play it. So it reaffirms my theory, that although hearing music is nice, doing it yourself is a much more powerful experience. If one day I have large enough funds, I would like to bring harps into every hospital, for anybody who would like to play. People think it’s so hard to learn, but its not. The harp the easiest instrument in the world, because it sounds beautiful at first touch, even doing the simplest thing. Most other instruments have a long period of not sounding too good. But the harp is its own spirit, and will play the music most directly from your heart.
Tell us about your newest record, and what’s in the future for you.
My newest recording has really been a labor of love. I’m really into showing the instruments in their natural setting, and with their natural sound. Some of the music I have chosen is from the 1500s and 1600s. Melodies that have been around this many years have deep meaning and go deep when you hear them, especially when played with instruments that have been around for hundreds of years. There’s nothing like hands on strings, deep breaths, wind through bamboo…
I love to take these early melodies and make new arrangements, connect the parts with pieces of my own… shape them into something that reflects then, and now. I love to feature the players I love to play with. I never put anything on record that can’t be done live. Ultimately, live, the music is at its very best – and most magical. I was fortunate this time to have some special guests from the Lian Ensemble playing ancient Persian instruments. They brought their own training and culture to the tracks. We were all so moved by how the music blended so seamlessly together. It proves again that we are all speaking the universal language.
If you had three wishes, what would they be?
I have so many wishes, I’m not sure I could narrow it down to three, but I’ll try.
I wish for Earth’s recovery. That all the entities that operate from greed, would become enlightened, and healing the environment would become a non-negotiable priority. Then we would have enough time here for every nation to reach peace. Can all that be one wish?
If so, my second wish is that music would be put back in public schools and be considered an important gift to children. The music born from it would be an important gift for the future.
My third wish is for myself, because I have always wanted to find my birth mother.
I always knew I was adopted, and I always wanted to tell her how I thought she was so incredibly brave to go though with having me, alone, in the sixties. She gave me up so I could have a better chance. I would tell her I had wonderful parents and a little sister, and had a childhood full of love and adventure, and that I became a musician, and I live in appreciation of her, and with wholeness and peace.
I wish I could tell her all these things, I wish I could play my harp for her, I wish she could know that the blessed and giving thing she did back then, turned out as she must have hoped, and that I live happily ever after.
Lisa Lynne and Aryeh Frankfurter went on tour during the Summer of 2007. Click here to see the tour poster