Student Profile: Maeve Gilchrist

Mark Small
August 8, 2006

It's hard to deny that the music we hear as children—the records or instruments our parents played—influence our tastes as adults. Case in point: Maeve Gilchrist, who listened to a huge variety of music as a child growing up Portobello, Scotland, and has wound up with an extraordinarily rich and colorful musical palette.

"My mother's side of the family is Irish and two of my aunts are harpists," she says. "There are lots of music and musicians on that side of the family. We had many parties with people playing music and dancing at our house. The joy of music was embedded in me at an early age."

Musician without Borders

Her father, Jim Gilchrist, writes feature stories and music reviews for the Scotsman newspaper and plays the border pipes. His huge record collection offered young Maeve an introduction to folk music from various cultures; European and American jazz and fusion; Cream, Pink Floyd, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and Ravi Shankar albums; and classical music. Gilchrist is firmly grounded in traditional Irish and Scottish music, but her mind is wide open to almost any kind of music—as long it's made with sincerity.

"To me, if music has depth and roots, it will come across as honest music no matter what the genre," she says.

Gilchrist began studying classical piano at age 7, and took up the clàrsach (Gaelic harp) two years later. Between the ages of 10 and 17, she studied piano, harp, and voice at the government-funded City of Edinburgh Music School. Recognizing Gilchrist's multifaceted musical gifts and her passion for traditional as well as jazz and contemporary music, the school's director suggested she continue her studies at Berklee. Hearing that Berklee's World Scholarship Tour would stop in Dublin, Gilchrist went to audition and received a scholarship. Winning Edinburgh's prestigious Donald Dewar Award gave the 17-year-old Gilchrist the additional funding needed to cross the pond and study at Berklee in 2003.

Adhering to a no-musical-boundaries credo, Gilchrist chose professional music as her major because it offers the widest selection of courses. "I've taken some great percussion classes with Jamey Haddad and Joe Galeota," she says. "I also took South Indian rhythmic solfege, an introductory bass lab, vocal labs, and improv labs with the harp." Classes such as the Mixed World Music Ensemble led by faculty members Haddad and Alain Mallet helped Gilchrist pull many of her interests together.

"Everyone in that ensemble came from a different background, and we were encouraged to bring our roots to the table," she says. "We ended up developing a nice world music/jazz sound. That ensemble taught me how the harp could fit into different musical situations and how to be a tasteful musician."

Front and Center

Gilchrist has had plenty of occasions to play with faculty members and students during her years at Berklee. Her plaintive voice and appealing harp style draw on Celtic, jazz, and other sensibilities and have found an appreciative audience around the college. Gilchrist has been featured several times at concerts on the Berklee Performance Center stage, including Singers Showcase, the fall convocation concert, and the International Folk Festival.

Her most recent high-profile Berklee performance came at the 2006 commencement concert. She sang honorary degree candidate Melissa Etheridge's "You Can Sleep While I Drive" as Etheridge listened from the audience. Etheridge's presence might have unnerved some young performers, but not Gilchrist. "It's a beautiful song with gorgeous lyrics. I'm used to doing my own thing, so I just did it from my point of view and sang it as honestly as I could." Gilchrist played her harp and gave the vocal a lovely Celtic twist, eliciting thunderous applause from the audience.

Gilchrist has taken the first steps for her post-Berklee career by developing a website and recording her first CD, Reaching Me. The disc showcases her original songs and a trio with fellow students bassist Andres Rotmistrovsky and drummer Marcelo Woloski, both from Argentina. Gilchrist received additional help from Berklee faculty members Stephen Webber (engineer), Mark Wessel (producer), Haddad (percussion), and Mallet (keyboards), as well as others.

Gilchrist plans to relocate after finishing her Berklee studies in December 2006.

"I want to move to New York," she says. "I love Scotland and want to go back at some point, but careerwise, it will be better to stay here a while. I have made a lot of great contacts and my trio is here. In New York there are so many musicians of all styles to play with and to learn from. As long as the music is good and honest, I'll play it."


Maeve's Top Five Artists

  • Charles Mingus — "He was such a revolutionary! All of his music was so unique whether it was a film score, or a big band piece. He was also an amazing bass player."
  • Paul Simon — "'Bridge Over Troubled Water' really moves me andGraceland was a wonderful album. I like how he incorporates world music styles and players. His lyrics are always great and his music so sincere."
  • Joni Mitchell — "Joni had such a fresh sound on her Ladies of the Canyon and Blue albums and later did so many other kinds of music. These days her voice is lower, but her approach still very beautiful."
  • Nina Simone — "She incorporated her classical training on piano in her approach to jazz. She didn't intend to become a singer. A nightclub owner told her he wouldn't pay her if she didn't sing, so she sang. I appreciate how she refused to be categorized, she just did her thing." 
  • John McLaughlin — "He's another who has worked in so many styles. Shakti is still one of my favorite groups. In his work with Miles, he was among the first jazz musicians to start exploring electric music."