Claire Jones, Royal Harp Strings (Silva)
If you know the name Claire Jones, you were probably following the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011. Claire Jones was serving as the official harpist for HRH Prince of Wales at the time. Her four-year appointment culminated on April 29, 2011. "And that royal wedding was something else in terms of profile and exposure," Claire explains. "I could never have imagined to have had an opportunity such as that and I don't think I ever will have an opportunity like that again. And I'd always wanted to be the royal harpist as well, that was one of the big goals in my life, one of my dreams. So I was ready for that position, and I tried to make the most of it, really."
After a thousand TV and radio interviews surrounding the royal wedding, the career of this young harpist skyrocketed. She began touring the globe, trying to maintain a crazy schedule until she realized her body was wearing out. "I was 27 at the time and in 2013, there had been a buildup of a couple of years of symptoms … pain in my body and fatigue and also quite a bit of migraines and headaches and I was trying to push through, really. I ended up in hospital; I'd had a seizure. And at that point, I think I realized this is quite a bit more serious than I could have imagined. I felt drained of energy … and there was no arguing with my body. It took over."
That's when Claire was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome.
"Luckily, I found three practitioners in the U.K. who helped me privately get better over 18 months to two years," Claire says, "and I'm thrilled to say I'm absolutely fully recovered now. I'm leading a very normal life and fully fit, and I've just returned from a tour in America. And really this album is the soundtrack to my recovery as well."
The release of her new recording, titled Royal Harp Strings, has been part of her healing process. "Lots of pieces connect with that part of when I was ill in bed and wasn't able to move much and they're calming and soothing and there are other pieces that are upbeat and full of life, which is to do with me now," Claire says. "I'm fully fit now and it kind of represents all the stages of my recovery.
"And I'm all for presenting music on the harp in a new way, you know, in quite a modern way really in playing pieces that people would recognize, and really, that's what this new album I've released in the U.S. is all about. It's solo harp with string accompaniment; it's the London Mozart Players and the English Chamber Orchestra here in the U.K. And it's a collection of pieces that really mean a lot to me, personally."
What makes this recording even more personal is that Claire collaborates with her husband, Chris Marshall, who arranged and composed several pieces. including the traditional song, "Scarborough Fair."
"He kind of tried to show the light and the dark of my recovery," Claire says of the piece. "And 'Scarborough Fair' really fits that mid-section of my recovery. There are bits that are light and positive, but there are moments of dark undertones where he manages to twist the arrangement around a little bit. It ends on a high, on a very positive major key, and I just think he's managed to capture that bit of my recovery in a very good way."
Chris Marshall composed an original work titled "Bluestone," which allowed Claire to return to her childhood home as part of her recovery. "'Bluestone' is based on the Preseli Mountains where I'm from," Claire explains. "I was born in that area in Pembrokeshire [in Wales]. The bluestone exists there. They were used to form Stonehenge as well. And Chris would take me in the car up to the mountains to see the view of the bluestones. And the bluestone — the myth is that they're quite healing and mythical and magical stones. So I'd like to think that they had some sort of role in my recovery. And of course, being in the area I was born means all the more."
It's hard not to be charmed by the story and the music of this young harpist, who knows how to pull at those Royal Harp Strings. "I don't just want to reach people with my harp music, I want to reach them with my life experience as well, you know, it's a package," she clarifies. "And I want people to feel like they can speak about these things and relate to these things because so many of us go through such big things. And it's nice to feel like someone else has been there as well, and you can relate to them."