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Janet Harbison

Janet Harbison“Traditional to the core and contemporary in sound; Janet embodies Irish harping at its most appealing, original and vibrant.”
- Sean Rafferty, BBC

“Ireland’s national treasure” 
- Mary McAleese, President of Ireland


Dublin born Janet Harbison came to early prominence with the Irish harp winning all national and a number of international competitions between 1979 and 1981.  For many years since, Janet has continued to bring the Irish harp to audiences nationally and internationally and has paved the way for many of the new generation of harpers who are the leading performers today. After a career of over 40 years of working in the Arts, Music Education and Peace and Reconcilliation (in Northern Ireland), in 2016 Janet moves her focus to research and writing on the value of oral music learning to universal music education.  

Janet Harbison has been a prolific composer of new works for the Irish harp as well as a celebrated arranger with over 100 publications from large-scale works (including orchestral-choral suites (‘A Christmas Cantata’ (1993), ‘Colmcille’ (1997) and ‘Brian Boru, Lion of Ireland’ (2014); a symphonic collaboration with the BBC (NI) Symphony Orchestra (with flautist James Galway) (1999); and 4 film scores (1979).  Smaller scale works include mixed instrument ensembles and harp ensembles with from 2 to 8 parts, harp and vocal pieces as well as many solo harp pieces of varying length and intensity.

With a strong sense of purpose and value in the music, the harp, its heritage and power to build bridges of friendship, in the course of her 18 years in Northern Ireland Janet established the Belfast Harp Orchestra in 1992 to ‘tell’ a more harmonious story from the ‘troubled’ province.  Comprising over 20 harpers with guest musicians, singers and dancers, the orchestra performed throughout the western world – in its own right, and also as guest artistes of the Chieftains (with whom they won a Grammy Award in 1993).  

Galvanising support for the Irish harping revival, Janet founded Clárseoirí na hEireann (The Harpers’ Association in 1983); organised many summerschools (Glencolmcille 1986-2002 and Belfast Harp Festivals 1986-2012 and preseing harp at many others), organised many festivals (including the World Harp Festival Belfast 1992, the Brian Boru Millennium Harp Festival 2014), conferences (including ‘Ulster’s Music Traditions: Identity and Ownership’ 1990); masterclasses with international artistes; and established a permanent facility for the harp at the Irish Harp Centre, Castleconnell, County Limerick in 2002. 

To achieve an audience for the harp, Janet created the Harp Orchestra movement, starting with the (Grammy Award winning) Belfast Harp Orchestra (1992 - 2002), the (world touring) Irish Harp Orchestra (1999 - ), the Irish Youth Harp Orchestra (2006-2016), the 7-member Wild Atlantic Harps (2015-)  and the Harbison Harp Quartet (2015 - ).  

Janet continues to compose and teach, runing residential training courses (from a weekend to 3 months) at the Irish Harp Centre in Castleconnell, County Limerick (and elsewhere) for her many adult (amateur and professional) students from around the world, and to conduct (or perform as soloist in) her large-scale harp concert productions such as 'Brian Boru, Lion of Ireland' (2014), 'Colmcille' (1997), 'The Christmas Cantata' (1993) with other performing groups, orchestras, music organisations and university departments.