I can't say that I even knew there was such a thing as "Celtic harp" before 1987, when I stumbled on a recorded performance by the Chieftains, and immediately went on the 'warpath' for more information. Nobody seemed to know anything about it.
My brother, a pastor, was serving in Atlanta about that time, and at his house I finally found a Laurie Riley tape with a picture of the instrument and enough music to make me positively rabid for more. And in Atlanta, I made the acquaintance of two more "Lauries:" one, a girl working at DEC who had a 31-string Cunningham for sale; the other, the instrument itself.
My wife says the harp's name can't be "Laurie" because that's not Tolkienish enough. But I reminded her of Galadriel's song, the one in Qenya which begins: 'Ai! Laurië lantar lassi surinen', etc. That's enough for me. Besides, these things have enough personality to know what their own names are!
Laurie the harp sat in my living room for years while I waited for one of our daughters to learn to play, which they never did. So, in 1996, I finally gave in to the urge myself and found a teacher. I play (fool with) a number of instruments, and have even had a college course or two in theory, harmony, and such, so it hasn't been a very hard pull for me. I immediately started collecting books of arrangements by Sylvia Woods, Kim Robertson and Alison Kinnaird, as well as picking up and arranging (de-ranging) tunes by ear, in the age-old traditional way.
What to do with it? Well, I'm not exactly quitting my day job (yet). In fact, for St. Paddy's Day in 1998, I took the harp in to work and played a few tunes here and there over the course of the day, right there in the cubicle. That drew a lot of interest, so for 1999, I conned my teacher into coming to my office with his instruments and we put on a two-hour Celtic jam featuring the dueling harps( his harp is by Dusty Strings ), his hammered dulcimer (tiompán!) and my 12-string guitar. The H.R. Dept. chipped in with an Irish-themed potluck goodie feast. A good time was had by all.
My teacher and I also collaborated to provide the music for a friend's wedding in May 1998. Another hit, showing that the harp, of all instruments, must be the most forgiving of a green, untempered musician.
Lately I have taken to dropping in on friends who happen to be convalescing from various ailments and surgeries, and serving up a mix of the latest traditional favorites from the Parrish household. So far, it hasn't seemed to make any of them sicker. They actually claim to like it!
I have also been participating in the meetings of the Mountain Folk Harp Society of Asheville, NC. Since 1999 the MFHS has worked a (fairly regular) Christmas gig at the Blue Ridge Community College of Hendersonville, NC, (which hosts a number of local musical groups at that time each year), as well as a benefit concert at the Biltmore Estate. In 1999, we hosted a Saturday workshop with the noted Scottish harper/composer Billy Jackson, and another one in 2001. Early in 2003, the MFHS hosted Grainne Hambly for a workshop and concert (I did manage to catch that one!)