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.
We have democracy in Dundee! As a break from the hardcore work on gestures we have been doing recently, I had prepared handouts for a new tune that I was planning to give my harp class this afternoon.
However at the beginning of the class, some of them who had been here last week were chatting to those who had missed it, about the pibroch figures we had been looking at. So in the interests of fairness I put it to a democratic vote, new tune or more slogging though the complex ornaments? No-one voted for the tune, and with one or two abstentions everyone else from the youngest to the oldest wanted the standard variations! I was very impressed at their ambition and dedication to this difficult music!
So we returned to the standard variations class handout, and worked through crunluath, crunluath a-mach and crunluath fosgailte; we scrutinised the pipe notation and sang the cannteraichd, before discussing strategies for translating this onto the harp. I was pleased to see everyone managing by the end to play though an octave scale for each one.
Next week I think we’ll leave the pibroch for a bit and try the new song air.
In my Dundee class, we have been working on the Magnificat antiphon, Salve Splendor, from the 14th century Inchcolm Antiphoner, a manuscript of chant from the island of Inchcolm in the Firth of Forth.
Here are some recordings I have put together illustrating different approaches to this lovely little song.
First off, singing it straight off the manuscript page. Click here for the facsimile at Edinburgh University Library
And here are the words:
Salve splendor et pa-
Hail, glorious one and protector
-trone, iubar que iusticie. Orthodoxe doctor bone pastor et vas gratie. O Columba Columbine,
light of justice,correct teacher & good, shepherd and vessel of grace. O Columba, dove-like,
felicis memorie tue fac nos sine fine, coheredes glorie.
happy memories of you, give us without end, co-heir of glory.
And here is the recording:
Next, playing the song version though on the harp:
And finally, jazzing it up with some twiddles and drones:
The latest Wire Branch Newsletter has an article about video lessons, with me as one of the four teachers interviewed. It’s a very interesting article, by Sam Tyler, which has some useful things to say about learning the harp through one-to-one lessons over the Skype videoconferencing system. Sam describes in turn the four tutors she interviewed, with comments and quotes about their very different approaches and working methods.
For more info please visit my Video Lessons page.
For November only: I am offering FREE trial video lessons! Just mention “Wire Branch” in your enquiry to email@example.com
The same issue also has a great article by Karen Loomis about her recent work on the Lamont and Queen Mary harps, illustrated with two 3-D X-ray reconstruction images, one of each harp.