Two Peninsula-area musicians who comprise the group Magical Strings have been creating art and beautiful music together for more than 40 years.
Husband-and-wife team Philip and Pam Boulding, who live on a 5-acre farm in Ollala, first met in Seattle in 1977.
Philip had just moved to the Pacific Northwest from Colorado after graduating high school, while Pam had previously lived in California.
Soon, the couple fell in love with Washington as well as each other, and they have been making and performing music together ever since.
Philip plays the harp, while Pam’s instrument is the hammer dulcimer, a trapezoidal-shaped sound board over which strings are stretched. The player holds in each hand small mallets, which are used to strike the strings, producing unique sounds.
Pam said when she first heard a hammer dulcimer being played, it spoke to her spirit, prompting her to go in search of one to buy. Little did she know at the time that her quest would last nearly two years, eventually concluding with a surprise no one saw coming.
“I finally found one on consignment at a Seattle music store for $125,” Pam said. “At the time, that was exactly the amount of money I had in my pocket.”
Pam took the night to consider the purchase.
When she went back the next day, Pam found that the store had gone out of business. Her search for a dulcimer appeared to have reached a dead end.
Six months later, an advertisement for hammer dulcimer lessons caught her eye. Her plan was to purchase just an instrument, then teach herself how to play. But when she called the phone number in the ad, the person on the other end said purchasing the instrument, which was handmade, came with mandatory lessons.
Reluctantly, Pam agreed. Looking back now, Pam concedes she made the right choice. The instructor, who had also made the dulcimer, was Philip. The two fell in love, and married soon after.
“We became Magical Strings from the beginning, she and I,” Philip said. “I just had to find my counterpart, and there she magically appeared.”
Magical Strings found their home in Olalla, a sprawling parcel aptly named Magic Hill. There, Philip and Pam raised five children and have continued to build instruments, teach lessons, and host an annual Summer Harp Camp for almost four decades.
Philip and Pam passed their love of music on to their children. For instance, their youngest child and only daughter, Brittany, has emerged as a highly regarded violinist in her own right. Brittany is a member of the Seattle Symphony, the concertmaster of Northwest Sinfonietta, a chamber musician with the Auburn Symphony, and a frequent soloist.
Philip, who builds all of the harps and dulcimers the couple play and use for lessons, commutes to work every day by leaving his house and walking a few yards across Magic Hill to his workshop, designed and constructed by twin sons, Morgan and Marshall.
In addition to their work at Magic Hill, Philip and Pam have toured and performed across the U.S. and internationally. Ireland, a favorite destination for more than 30 years, is where the Bouldings won a group competition at the Granard Bi-Centennial Harp Festival.
Ireland is a source of continual inspiration for Magical Strings, said Pam.
We have to experience to create, and Ireland excites and awakens our capacities to write music, write poetry, stories, and paint.
“We have to experience to create,” Pam explained, “and Ireland excites and awakens our capacities to write music, write poetry, stories, and paint.”
Recounting their most recent visit to Ireland last summer, Philip said his creative juices began to flow as he sat on a bluff overlooking Ballinskelligs Bay on the Emerald Isle’s Southwest Coast.
“The wind began to blow and created organ-like tones upon the strings of my harp,” said Philip. “My imagination carried me and I began improvising with the wind. Our hostess that evening responded to my story by exclaiming, ‘Ah, that was the fairy wind. It happens in Ireland, you know.’”
“Fairy Wind” became a musical composition, as well as the title of Magical Strings’ most recent recording. The CD features a combination of 11 original compositions and four traditional songs from the Celtic tradition.
Philip also draws inspiration from other island cultures such as Jamaica, Hawaii, Madagascar and Japan. This diverse blend is described as “Celtic World Classical,” said Philip.
The couple, who have routinely toured the U.S. East Coast from Maine to Virginia for nearly 40 years, begin their next excursion this month.
They will return to Washington, however, just in time for their annual Summer Harp Camp, which usually begins in late July.
People of all ages from across the country visit Magic Hill for this three-day weekend experience during which Philip and Pam give harp and dulcimer lessons. Some guests camp out on the Boulding’s property, which overlooks Colvos Passage, while others stay at nearby bed and breakfasts.
Philip and Pam provide all of the instruments, which are available for rent or purchase. Meanwhile, the Boulding’s sons, Geoffrey, Brenin, and twins Morgan and Marshall, prepare the food.
During the December Holiday Season, Magical Strings becomes an all-encompassing affair that includes Philip, Pam, their kids, and even grandchildren, who perform all over the Pacific Northwest in “Celtic Yuletide” concerts.
“This year’s Celtic Yuletide will be our 39th concert season,” said Pam. “Almost everyone on stage, whether they are playing an instrument or Irish Step-Dancing, is related.”
For more information about Magical Strings, visit magicalstrings.com.
Camille Lemke is a Parkland-based freelance writer and a member of MediaLab at Pacific Lutheran University. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.