"Her voice recalls misty moors...her harp tunes are like sparkling bits of light...mesmerizing.”
Dirty Linen Magazine June/July 2007
Elizabeth Nicholson is a Portland, Oregon-based Celtic harpist and vocalist. Known for her gutsy, dynamic approach to harp performance, she is counted among America’s foremost interpreters of traditional Celtic dance music -- a genre that features lightning-paced tempos and complex ornamentation that more typically reserve it for melody instruments such as the fiddle or flute. Her harp studies have also included classical, baroque, renaissance, medieval, and Latin music, and she has stretched the traditional boundaries of the instrument into rock, old-time music, and country blues. Also recognized as a vocalist who “sings beautifully...her singing is delicate and pure without being over-precious,”(David Kidman, netrhythms.uk, October 2006), Elizabeth’s possesses an elegant command of traditional song -- from the filigreed ornamentation of Irish ballads to the strident tones of Americana.
A life-long musician, Elizabeth grew up in Chicago, where she studied both traditional Irish harp with Lyn Kirkwood (Iris), and pedal harp with Liz Cifani (The Chicago Lyric Opera). Moving from Chicago to Portland in 1993, Elizabeth continued her musical studies through Reed College with pedal harpist Jenny Lindner (The Portland Lyric Opera), and later began studies with Paraguayan harpist Antonio Centurion, and vocal coaches Mark Bosnian and Thomas Blaylock. Elizabeth became an active member of Portland’s thriving traditional music community -- an influence that has lead to her learn Irish back-up guitar an assortment of other folk instruments along the way.
Elizabeth has worked as a full-time musician in the Portland area since 1998 and has performed in broad-ranging array of settings: She has appeared in many folk festivals, sharing stages with renowned players, including collaborating with legendary fiddler Kevin Burke and opening for the popular Irish band Gaelic Storm. She has toured domestically and internationally, ranging as far afield as Ireland, Portugal, and New Zealand. Her broadcast experience includes a live appearance on the nationally syndicated radio show “River City Folk,“ and many performances on regional radio and television. Elizabeth has also played at numerous weddings, funerals, and other private functions, as well as house concerts, pubs, ceili and contra dances, stage productions, Renaissance faires, and hotel and restaurant venues. Less traditional performances include giving interactive Celtic harp workshops at public schools and senior centers, playing therapeutic music for hospice and acupuncture patients, and playing lead electric harp in a heavy metal band.
A prolific recording artist, Elizabeth currently has a number of CD releases to her credit on the BarBarrick and Waterbug folk labels. Her work has received widespread critical praise and international airplay: her 2008 album "Fly Not Yet" (with band "Stringed Migration") opened at number 11 on international radio charts and received rave reviews from every major international folk music magazine. Her 2006 release "Sink or Swim", was awarded “Folk Album of the Month” on Iowa Public Radio, as well as a highly favorable reception from critics nationwide. Her work has been selected several times as a “top pic” on Rich Warren’s iconic folk program “The Midnight Special,” and has been featured on Fiona Richie’s “Thistle and Shamrock" and "Thistlepod" programs in shows devoted to highlightng outstanding new Celtic releases. Elizabeth's "Celtic Wedding Music" series of recordings with "The Rose and Thistle Band" have been consistent top sellers cdbaby.com, and have graced numerous wedding ceremonies worldwide.
Elizabeth currently is available for solo performances, and as a member of three ensembles: “Elizabeth Nicholson & Stringed Migration” (Celtic and international roots music), "Elizabeth Nicholson and Bob Soper" (international roots music in a duo format with multi-instrumentalist Bob Soper), and “The Rose and Thistle Band” (Celtic and classical music for weddings and private events). In addition to these projects, Elizabeth has collaborated over the years with numerous people from Portland's folk, rock, and classical music communities, and she is always happy to put a customized ensemble together to suit a specific occasion. Custom ensemble options (in addition to harp) include fiddle, Irish and Scottish pipes, guitar, Irish bouzouki, mandolin, flute, whistles, percussion, double bass, tenor and 5 string banjo, button and piano accordion, dobro, cello, keyboards, hammer dulcimer, and male and female vocals.
In addition to performing, Elizabeth teaches folk harp out of her home in inner NE Portland, and remotely via Skype and other platforms. When she is not playing or teaching music, she can generally be found trying to mind-meld with her horse Saoirse, fretting about politics with her partner Bob, or sitting very still beneath a pile of tuxedo cats.