Today in the harp class in Dundee we had fun trying out harp accompaniment to medieval bardic poetry! Everyone was very game!
We looked at the poem which was the centrepiece of Wednesday’s concert, Ceannaig Duain T-Athar a Aonghas (pay for your father’s poem, Angus). It is addressed to Aonghas Mòr, the father of Aonghas Og the companion of Robert the Bruce and the leader of the Islesmen at the Battle of Bannockburn in June 1314. (The picture here shows Angus Og’s gravestone on Iona – see Ian MacDonnell’s work for more info).
Ní fhuil a nÉirinn ná a nAlbainn
Aonghas mar thusa, a thaobh seang
Aonghais fháid bhraonghlais an Bhroga
láid, a Aonghais, comha ad cheann.
In Ireland or in Scotland, there is not another Aonghas like you! You graceful form! May Aonghus of the dewy grass of Newgrange, send you gifts, Aonghus!
(Aonghus an Bhroga was the chieftain of the Tuatha Dé Danann, son of the Dagda, and lived at Brú na Bóinne i.e. Newgrange)
It’s pretty sycophantic stuff, extended ego-stroking of the rich and powerful Lord of the Isles, effectively the King of the West of Scotland, but it is also subtle and powerful word – magic, and the voice of the harp supporting and helping to project the verbal presentation of the complex nested ideas has a lot of presence and power.
Yesterday evening I was in Sleat, presenting the medieval Gaelic poetry addressed to the Clan Donald Lords of the Isles, alongside Gaelic singer Gillebrìde MacMillan. We did two different hour-long sets, the first a more formal presentation in the atmospheric acoustic of the Museum of the Isles, and the second after a delicious buffet supper in the Victorian Stables building on the Armadale estate.
The audience, who comprised the great and good of Clan Donald, were entranced and delighted by Gillebrìde’s singing of the classical Gaelic verses praising their 12th and 13th century ancestors Angus Og as well as Donald himself.
As well as playing the harp to accompanying Gillebrìde’s delivery, I also did some solo harp tunes on the replica Queen Mary harp, including Cogaidh no Sith. I was delighted to get the same reaction as when I played it in St Andrews – people said it mesmerised them and seemed much shorter than the 15 minutes (I played a half-version with only 6 variations).
I understand there was some videotape made as well as photographs – I have not seen any of this yet though.
Sleat was beautiful; this morning I woke up early and walked down through a wooded valley to a secluded bay where I was able to swim in the sunshine before going back to the B&B for a hearty breakfast with fresh local eggs and strawberries.
Here’s the view across to Morar while waiting on the 8:30am ferry this morning:
I am really looking forward to repeating some of this material with Gillebrìde on Sunday 29th at the MacMhuirich Symposium. Do come along if you can, at 7pm at the Western Club, 32 Royal Exchange Square, Glasgow G1 3AB.
I have recorded the Lament for the Union programme and I am putting it out as a handmade CD single!
http://www.earlygaelicharp.info/union/ will get you the details as well as a sample track.
It’s not officially released until 1st July, but I have made up some pre-release copies to take along to tomorrow morning’s performance, 11.30am at Cupar Corn Exchange.
I have long been interested in the organisation of society, the use of symbols and ideas to motivate people and populations, and the structures and institutions that express and control the aspirations and ideas of peoples. Many years ago I got hold of a copy of Uniting the Kingdom (ed. Grant & Stringer, 1995), a book of historical essays on the relations between Scotland and England from earliest times through to the present day. From that point of view the current Union is a curious and unusual settlement.
I find it very interesting to be here at the time of the referendum, when people are talking passionately on all sides about the way that the nation and the state and society are set up, administered and controlled.
I have for some years been aware of the pibroch titled “Lament for the Union”. Now that I have finally got it up and running as a harp tune, I love it! The ground is a plaintive, emotional lament, full of regret and pathos. The variations by contrast are very different, with unexpectedly changing rythym from 4-time to 3-time and back to 4 time, and with a brooding, urgent, almost menacing sequence of theme notes, and a progression of gestures which becomes quite frantic, like the excited chattering of political activists.
I have put together a programme of a few other tunes with direct connection to the political events of three hundred years ago, when Scotland and England stopped being independent nations and joined together as a united kingdom. I will be playing this new programme for the first time at a referendum-themed art exhibition in Cupar this coming Saturday. I don’t know how many people we will get turning up at 11.30am on a Saturday morning but either way it will be a good opportunity for me to shake down this new programme!
Corn Exchange, Cupar, Fife
Saturday 21st June 2014 , 10.00 am – 4.00 pm
featuring contributions from
‘Yes’, ‘No’ and ‘Undecided’ writers, artists, and musicians
Today was the first in my series of lunchtime harp concerts in St Andrews. This is the first year that we have not been running these in the Cathedral ruins so I was apprehensive both about the new venue, and how many people would come.
In the end the venue was wonderful. All Saints church hall is a very atmospheric place, with lovely carved oak panelled walls decorated with painted wooden plaques, and big high arched windows letting the light from the sky stream in. The acoustics of the room are very nice for the harp as well.
Turnout was modest, but no less than we used to get at the cathedral for the first event of the season.
I played Cogadh no Sith, an epic half-hour pibroch. People were entranced; more than one commented that it felt like a lot less than half an hour, how they were “sucked in” to the music.
I’m looking forward to the next in the series on 2nd July already!