Plucky Limerick woman Siobhan Brady on her high harp

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Siobhan Brady

HARP music is said to tear at the gates of Heaven – and one plucky harpist from Limerick has come close to the celestial kingdom with a concert in the Himalayas.

It took Siobhan Brady and her dad, Sean, from Castletroy along with their support team, seven hours to ascend and six hours to descend – with a grand piano and a harp – from 15,600 feet up the mountain.

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Following Siobhan’s success at an international harp competition in London, where she came first in two classes, she was approached to take part in the ‘Highest Harp and Piano Concert in the Himalayas’ in aid of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust (UK).

High altitudes can simulate the breathing difficulties caused by cystic fibrosis patients and through this 4,800-metre-high concert, we wanted to show how music can help overcome barriers and raise awareness of this life-shortening genetic disease,” said Sean Brady.

The father and daughter achieved the objective on September 6, but not without overcoming huge challenges.

“At the summit, two members of the team needed oxygen and one had to be rushed down due to breathing difficulties,” said Sean.

“My daughter and I had completed three months of hypoxic altitude training at the Delta Sports Dome on Ballysimon Road so we were fine but still felt the effects of high altitude.

“At 15,600 feet, strong winds and a heavy hailstone shower threatened the outdoor performance but luckily the sun came out in time to give my daughter the opportunity to perform.

“The winds also presented a further challenge and Siobhan had to continually retune the harp.  Unfortunately, the opera singer, Neil Latchman, was advised by the team doctor that he had not sufficiently acclimatised and should not attempt the performance at the summit“

Siobhan Brady harp recital in the Himalayas

Limerick-based company, CloudAssist, enabled the 15 member team of volunteers from four different countries to make the concert a reality without the artists meeting up before the ascent.

The company also provided a web conference link back to the composers, Alex Stobbs and Janet Harbison, who are based in the UK that we hosted at 3,500m for the pre-ascent concert in Leh.

Composer Alex himself suffers from cystic fibrosis.

The highest harp concert exceeded the fundraising target of €10,000 for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust (UK) and, on the back of this success, the team are now looking to go higher to conduct a concert on the top of Kilimanjaro which is 1,000 metres higher than the altitude reached in the Himalayas.

Since the return from the Himalayas last month, the project leader, Desmond Gentle, of Camden Piano Projects aged 69 died suddenly in London and it is in his memory that the next Highest concert in Kilimanjaro will be dedicated.  During the highest harp concert, Siobhan performed a piece by Anne Marie O’Farrell, who was the Composer in Residence at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, while Desmond read out a poem “The Prophets are weeping” from the President Michael D Higgins.