Carol Kappus is a highly acclaimed local Celtic harper, teacher, performer, and composer.
Kappus grew up in a family of musicians and has been a musician all her life. She is now an Dexter based musician who has made a great local impact through her talent.
“From the first time I saw a harp as a child attending DSO concerts with my family, I wanted to play the harp,” Kappus said. “Unfortunately, a pedal harp—the only kind of harp available back then—was and still is enormously expensive so that was never an option for me. But about 35 years ago, folks on the West Coast started building and playing Celtic harps and renewing interest in the wonderful world of Celtic music. I stumbled across the Musicmakers harps shop in Minnesota and bought a harp kit that my husband built for me. It was a dream come true for me. I’ve been playing ever since, for about 35 years. “
Kappus said she studied vocal music and French at the University of Michigan and worked for many years as a classical singer.
About 10 or 15 years ago she started the Ann Arbor Celtic Harpers, who loved playing at the Saline Celtic Festival. She also played at the Dexter Library for Saint Patrick’s Day before covid.
“The Dexter Library has a wonderful performance space so I asked them if they would like a show of Irish music for Saint Patrick’s Day,” Kappus said. “These shows became really popular and the year I invited a bunch of little five-year-olds from a local dance school to dance as fairies in one of the numbers, we had such a big audience that the wonderful lady who runs the events at the library was afraid the fire marshal might shut down the show because the room was over capacity! Those were the days.”
She recalled that she started creating a big show for the library every year after that, incorporating various guests who were friends and writing arrangements for them.
“We had Irish dancers, session players, cellists, and my wonderful performance partner, Dayna Plehn, who plays fiddle, dances, and sings very beautifully. Dayna and I performed a lot together over the years, and actually did quite a few shows at the TeaHaus,” Kappus said.
Kappus recently performed at TeaHaus for a Saint Valentine’s Day celebration, with Tea Haus preparing a special menu as well. Kappus has started performing again since Covid.
“Finally last Fall, we started performing again in small local venues like the Dexter Senior Center and the Webster Historical Village and now the TeaHaus,” Kappus said. “Lisa, TeaHaus owner, has been a great friend to me since she moved here and she has been wonderfully generous with letting us use her charming shop for small performances. I hope we can get back to performing a lot more now that groups can finally gather to enjoy live music again.”
Although Kappus is classically trained, she said she has always been very enamored with traditional or “folk” music. Her love of Celtic sounds also prompted her to learn more about Gaelic.
“One of my classmates recommended that I consider going to Scotland to study Gaelic at the Gaelic College, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, on the beautiful Isle of Skye. So off I went,” she said. “What a wonderful place! Studying Gaelic there changed my life! I studied the Gaelic language from master teachers and Gaelic song from one of the best experts in the world, Christine Primrose.”
She said she learned the wonderful songs the old ways—completely by ear, as well as the culture and history of the area. She has always done many original compositions as well.
“I have always been able to ‘hear’ music and started doing little compositions on the piano when I was a kid,” Kappus said. “As I played the harp more and more, I discovered that I preferred to do my own arrangements of the tunes I play. I hear things a bit differently than most folks, with lots of internal harmonies—I love harmony—and unusual chords.”
Kappus has a unique way of describing her own compositions as well.
“I write a lot of relaxing tunes which work well for harp therapists since I love that style and it’s very popular now,” Kappus said. “But my last book was a change of pace. I wrote a whole book of tunes in which I tried to capture the personality of my pets and the animal friends of my friends and students. Some of these tunes are very peppy and jazzy, which is kind of new for me. The book I’m working on now has a section inspired by the important celebrations of the Celtic year, and another based on beautiful memories I have or have heard of from friends.”
Many people claimed to feel healed by Kappus’s music.
“Also, because I like unusual harmonies, my pieces have a romantic, ‘schluryp’ sound which a lot of harpers seem to like,” she said. “Whatever the reason, I’m sure glad so many folks like what I write.”
Kappus said there are particular qualities about harp music that people are drawn to for relaxing, healing, and even meditating.
“There is something about the overtones in the sound and the way the strings ring in sympathy with each other that has a magical effect on us humans,” Kappus said. “Because of this, the Celtic harp has become very popular with harp therapists, who play for patients in hospitals, nursing homes, hospice settings, and so forth. There have been actual studies done which show that when people listen to this music, their blood pressure comes down and they often have less need for pain medications, sometimes lasting for hours. It is indeed magic.”
She has 11 harps with two more beings built for her at present. She said the sound of each harp is different depending on the wood it is built of, the strings, and its build.
Celtic harps come in many different sizes, from around 12 strings to 38, even 40 strings. They have levers that we use to change the pitch of each string so they can play in different keys.
“The harp I brought to the TeaHaus is my favorite. It was built by Dave and Sharon Thormahlen, harp builders in Corvallis, Oregon,” Kappus described. “This harp only weighs 17 pounds and has an amazing voice for such a light harp. It has strings made of a new substance called fluorocarbon, which has a bright, sparkly sound in the upper range and a warm, clear, clean sound in the bass It has high-tech Camac levers from France and a beautiful black lacquer finish with Bubinga wood trim. I play this harp for hours every day and it always brings me joy.”