Harper, singer, composer, performer and tutor, Wendy Stewart has toured the world spreading her knowledge, understanding and love of the harp, and Scottish traditional music.
Born and brought up in Edinburgh, she was surrounded by music from the start. Her father, an accordionist, was eclectic in his music tastes, which had her listening to everything from Scottish dance bands to Russian choirs.
Her sister was the first to encounter the harp, buying one from Bill Smith of The Corrie Folk Trio, but it was Wendy who was hooked, and she began lessons and a great friendship with inspirational teacher Jean Campbell.
Soon, she was performing at Clarsach Society gatherings, local and national Mods and picking up gigs as an accompanist to Gaelic singers at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, spending her summers playing and working with family in Assynt.
After finishing a Zoology degree and moving to North West England, her musical horizons broadens further, joining bands including Donald Maguire’s Occasional Band, and Fat Hen, playing music from all over the world – Irish, Welsh, English, Swedish, French and even some Cajun concertina !
A return to Edinburgh in 1990, saw her joining Ceolbeg – the band at that time already established as an important force within the Scottish folk scene. The next decade would see Stewart tour the world and release four albums with the band.
Ceolbeg disbanded in the early 2000s. Since then, Stewart’s work as a performer and composer has only continued, with a variety of solo and collaborative projects, many merging her scientific side alongside the harp such as in `Maxwell`s Music` – a piece commissioned by Dumfries and Galloway Environmental Arts Festival on the pioneer and local boy James Clerk Maxwell. Continuing Ceolbeg`s theme of pipes and harp, she released Hinterlands in 2009 with Gary West, to great acclaim, as well as four solo albums.
Since moving to Dumfriesshire, she’s been increasingly involved in the arts in the South West and was part of the Macmath collective, bringing back to life and showcasing songs collected from the Galloway area by William Macmath. In the late 19th century, Macmath worked in the area to collect and research these traditional ballads, many of which would eventually be included in Francis Child’s seminal collection of English and Scottish Popular Ballads. With fellow musicians Aaron Jones, Claire Mann, Emily Smith, Jamie McClennan, Robyn Stapleton, and Alison Burns, the project was nominated for Community Project of the Year at the 2015 Scots Trad Music Awards.
Stewart is equally as active as an educator. She’s produced six books of harp music, tutors workshops all over the world, and has previously been a principal study harp tutor at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. She’s even involved in running annual harp building workshops in partnership with the maker of her own Bohemian harp – Christoph Löcherbach.
Being a focus for the harp in the South West and active in community music is very important for Wendy. She is Convenor of the Dumfries and Galloway branch of the Clarsach Society, was Artistic Director of Moniaive folk festival for 8 years and was instrumental to Moniaive and Glencairn’s winning bid for a 2015 Creative Place Award. Stewart was also involved in setting up and running the most southerly Feis in Scotland, Feis an Iar Dheas (Festival of the West and South) plus she has taught Gaelic and Scots music , song and games for the past 8 years in almost all the Primary schools in the region – from Canonbie to Drummore – through the wonderful Feis Rois/YMI scheme.
Most recently, her long running love of combining word and harp, begun with The Shore Poets in Edinburgh in the 90s, has surfaced again with two collaborations using harp composition as soundscape and setting .
One is with Chrys Salt MBE, on the piognant story of WW1 veteran and Uist man, Angus Macphee in `Weaver of Grass. The other, called `The Village and the Road`, is with Tom Pow and the Galloway Agreement ( Wendy Stewart, Ruth Morris, Gavin Marwick and Stuart Macpherson) and deals with mass movements of today from countryside to urban and the ecological great thinning of species. Having been performed to great acclaim at Dumfries and Galloway Arts Festival. It is planned to tour in 2020 as a theatre piece under the direction of Mathew Zajac.