YORK contemporary harpist and composer Ruby Paul will premiere her new work in her Edinburgh Fringe debut on Monday evening.
At 6pm, at St John’s Church Hall, she will introduce Encyclopedia Botanica, a series of 15 mood pieces for solo harp inspired by the flowers and plants of the British Isles.
“Each piece has the title of a wild flower, like ‘Poppy’ or ‘Daisy’ or ‘Bee Orchid’,” says Ruby. “They’re mainly very common flowers and plants, all the things I experienced and enjoyed in my childhood growing up on the Gower Peninsular, south of Swansea, near Caswell, about a mile from the sea.”
Ruby was the youngest of five children. “That’s the point when parents decide children should bring themselves up! My childhood wasn’t structured in any way by them!” she jokes. “I used to walk to school through the fields, about a mile’s walk, and as I got older I would roam further, going down to the beach and along the cliffs.
“Essentially, I was lucky enough to have the freedom of the countryside to play out, gathering bouquets, making daisy chains and rose-petal perfume, picking field mushrooms, and a love of wild flowers is with me to this day.” So much so that Ruby organises all her music engagements, such as weddings, into flower-named folders.
Monday’s concert marks the release of the Encylopedia Botanica album on Ruby’s own Jewelclick label. “After it came to me that wild flowers would be the inspiration, I wanted the music to reflect different moods, or feelings, and a kind of catalogue of the flowers I loved would be my motivation and focus" she says.
“To create the pieces, I made a picture in my mind and just played how I felt. Sometimes it was a very emotional experience as it took me back to my childhood.”
Each piece was improvised at recording sessions in the Melrose Yard studio in York. “The music you hear on the album is unedited and has all the pauses and little fluffs it was created with,” says Ruby.
“Overall it’s a really relaxing listen but a few pieces are a bit more edgy or ‘spooky’, such as Moss and Lichen. As children, we’d sometimes walk down the valley where there was a limestone cave, which was exiting to go in but very scary at the same time.”
She gives an example of how she created one such flower piece. “I’m not sure if a snowdrop is really a wild flower but it was always exciting to see the blankets of them, the first flowers of spring as a child. My music is like thick flurries and swirls of snow, and uses the harp glissando a lot,” she says. “The glissando is like the signature of the harp – no other instrument can make this amazing sound.”
The chance to premiere Encyclopedia Botanica in Edinburgh came initially at the invitation of the Festival of Spirituality and Peace. “The organisers asked me if I was interested in taking part and it occurred to me that these new pieces would be entirely appropriate,” says Ruby, whose concert will now straddle the Fringe and Spirituality festivals.
In the spirit of Fringe experimentation, she will have an extra ingredient to Monday’s premiere. “I’ll be improvising new pieces with the audiences, though I’m still weighing up in my mind how I’ll do it,” says Ruby.
Encyclopedia Botanica is available at £12 from rubypaul.com