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Jay Ansill is a composer and folk musician, known primarily as a Celtic harpist and fiddler. Ansill has released several solo albums including Origami, A Lost World (an adaptation of poems by Robert Graves), and three privately released tributes to The Incredible String Band. Ansill has worked as a collaborator with Robin Williamson, Tony Trischka, Maria del Mar Bonet, Rodney Anonymous (of the Dead Milkmen), Marah, and Honeychurch.
Ansill is also an accomplished practitioner of Origami and has written two books on the subject; Mythical Beings and Lifestyle Origami. The two books were published as a single volume in 2004 as The Origami Sourcebook.
Ansill was born and raised in the Philadelphia suburb of Cheltenham Township. He became interested in folk music while at Cheltenham High School and before long he was playing mandolin and fiddle at square dances and Irish Ceilis. While still in high school, he formed the Schuylkill Valley Nature Boys, a band that played all kinds of folk music and became well known in Philadelphia in the early 1980s for a station ID they recorded for WXPN FM.
As his range of abilities as a musician widened, Ansill developed an interest in composition. While never formally studying music, he has closely studied several composers with whom he felt an affinity, most notably David Amram, and has developed a unique approach to writing new music. Much of Ansill's writing centers on the Celtic harp, although recently he has been writing and arranging for strings and has written a woodwind quintet.
This music is firmly rooted in the traditional music of the United States and the British Isles, but combines elements of classical music, jazz and rock. It is music that is very modern, yet it strikes directly at the ancient heart of music. The emotional power and stylistic adventurousness of Ansill's music also owes a great deal to the literature of the twentieth century, particularly the work of Laura Riding, Robert Graves and James Joyce. Ansill was nominated twice as Best Folk Instrumentalist by the Philadelphia Music Foundation and in 1990 his album Origami, a collection of original compositions, was voted Best Folk Recording. He was also nominated for two Barrymore Awards in the same year for theatrical scores for productions of The Grapes of Wrath and Charlotte's Web at the Arden Theatre in Philadelphia. Ansill is a regular collaborator with Mabou Mines theater company.
The Folk Harp Journal says that "He has created a new language for the Celtic harp."
In 1994, Ansill released Mind and Body, a collection of new original music that includes settings of poems by Yeats and Graves, as well as some music written for theater, and some music that expands the boundaries of the harp through the use of compelling rhythms and improvisation.
In 2004, he was awarded an Independence Foundation grant and spent two months in Majorca and Barcelona learning traditional music from the region.
In 2009, Anne Hills performed four songs with the SW Michigan Symphony Orchestra, three of which featured music by Ansill and all of which were orchestrated by him.
In 2012, Jay launched his "Cheese Project", a collection of cover versions of cheesy pop songs from the 1960s and '70s.
In 2014, Jay and Anne performed a series of Jay's arrangements of settings of Graves Poems by Ivor Gurney, as well as a selection of his own settings for string quartet and occasionally Celtic harp in Deia Mallorca for an audience that included many family members and friends of Robert Graves.
In 2016, Jay and Anne Hills released Fragile Gifts, a collection of songs, mostly written by Anne and Jay was released. It features more "classical" arrangements for strings, brass and woodwinds in various combinations.
In 2017, Mabou Mines premier's Lee Breuer's Glass Guignol in NY, for which Jay is the composer.
In 2018, Ansill provided the live music for Lane Savadove's event, Company.
- "'Peter And Wendy': We Believe". The Washington Post – via Highbeam (subscription required). 7 May 2007. Archived from the original on 29 March 2015. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
- The Cheese Project - About Jay
- MyCityPaper, October 20-26, 2005 - The Stringer, Catching up with longtime Philly sideman Jay Ansill by Mary Armstrong
- Broadway World, Apr. 19, 2018 - Photo Flash: EgoPo Classic Theater Presents LYDIE BREEZE TRILOGY by BWW News Desk
- Bucks County Courier Times, Dec 25, 2015 - Lifestyle, Doylestown composer’s fire works well on ice in ‘Hans Brinker’ By Michael Elkin
- AllMusic - Claudia Balant, Credits
- Talkin' Broadway, Sep 23, 2018 - Regional Reviews: Philadelphia, Company, EgoPo Classic Theater / 2018 Philadelphia Fringe Festival - Review by Rebecca Rendel
- The Folk Harp Journal, Spring 1992 - Article: Jay Ansill's gratuitous guide to shameless self-promotion (reference only)
- The Philadelphia Inquirer, Saturday, April 11, 1992, Page 43 - "He folds a Japanese art into music of the Celts" by Mary Armstrong
- My City Paper, October 20-26, 2005 - "The Stringer, Catching up with longtime Philly sideman Jay Ansill" by Mary Armstrong
- Bucks County Courier Times, Dec 25, 2015 - , - Article: Doylestown composer’s fire works well on ice in ‘Hans Brinker’ By Michael Elkin