All posts by simonchadwick

“Traditional Music in Ireland”

I remember Ben Bagby taking a text describing African mbira players, and using it to get an inspiring description of what medieval harp music might be like. (‘Imagining the early medieval harp’, in A Performer’s guide to medieval music, ed. Ross Duffin, Indiana University Press, 2000, p.340-3)

So today I done the same with this text from Tomás Ó Canainn, Traditional music in Ireland, Routlege and Kegan Paul, London, 1978, p.87-90

The square brackets are where I have removed all the pipe-specific words and terms. In our minds we can insert harp references, so that we can try to read this as a guide to how to play Irish harp. Continue reading “Traditional Music in Ireland”

Restoration ecology and breeding in captivity

I had an idea that the Historically Informed Performance (HIP) and Early Music movement is kind of like breeding endangered species in captivity, or even using genetic engineering to recreate extinct species of animals. In this sense, listening to a historically informed performance using scholarly reconstruction of historical repertory, style and playing techniques on replica instruments, is a bit like going to a zoo, to see the exotic animals on display.

Continue reading Restoration ecology and breeding in captivity

Examples of Irish Melody

In my book Progressive Lessons, I included a full size full colour facsimile of Edward Bunting’s loose sheet titled “Examples of Irish Melody”. These settings of the three beginners’ tunes are interestingly different from the ones we have from Denis O’Hampsey and Patrick Quin, and I have been using them more and more in my teaching.

It is very interesting to work through these settings with complete beginners in my classes, as well as discussing the implications with my established students. It really feels like a proper system for playing the Irish harp in the old Gaelic tradition is starting to emerge.

Continue reading Examples of Irish Melody

The Cambridge 48 – an early 17th century composition

“But Cambridge forty-eight, for many years, was the greatest peal that was rang or invented” (Tintinnalogia p.2)

In Duckworth’s Tintinnalogia, published in 1668, he gives the full text of “three old peals on five bells, which (though rejected in these days yet) in former times were much in use” (p.15-17). I am interested in these three as rare testimony of the state of change ringing in its true infancy in the early to mid 17th century.

Continue reading The Cambridge 48 – an early 17th century composition

Knowing about na comhluighe, but not using it?

Patrick Byrne explained to the collector, John Bell, about the unison strings on a Gaelic harp which are called na comhluighe, or the sister strings:

The open on the bass string of the Violin is one of the Sisters on the harp. The next string below on the harp and it, were tuned in unison, for which reason they were called the sisters. These two unison notes are sometimes called, and in ancient times were called, Ne Cawlee – or the companions. Afterwards they were called the Sisters.
The harp is tuned to the Sister note

(John Bell’s Notebook, cited in Henry George Farmer, ‘Some Notes on the Irish Harp’ Music & Letters vol. XXIV, April 1943)

But did Byrne actually use na comhluige on his own harp?

Continue reading Knowing about na comhluighe, but not using it?

Tactile cues in string feel

When I first strung my first harp with brass wire, I ordered only four reels of brass from Malcolm Rose, in just four gauges of wire. I was inventing my own stringing regime, and I was inspired by the late 19th century scheme on the harp in the Kingussie museum, which was measured and published by Keith Sanger and Alison Kinnaird in Tree of Strings (appendix  A, p.213)

I thought it was not sensible to follow a late Victorian revival scheme, and the jumps in tension and touch between the gauges seemed crude, and so I purchased more reels to fill in the intermediate gauges, and ever since I have (like others working in this field) aimed to have gentle transitions in tension and touch from one gauge to the next.

Continue reading Tactile cues in string feel

Gaelic harps in 18th century Scotland

As part of my work to re-connect with the most recent threads of the old Gaelic harp traditions, I have been working a lot on the late 18th and early 19th century Irish tradition-bearers. In some ways that work is easy; we have portraits, we have their harps in the museums, and we have live transcriptions of their playing, both treble and bass.

But what about the Scottish side of the tradition? What do we actually know about the 18th century Scottish harpers? To begin, what do we know about the instruments they were playing?

Continue reading Gaelic harps in 18th century Scotland