“Nathaniel Gow’s Dance Band Concert” last night at the Edinburgh Assembly rooms was far, far more exciting, beautiful and moving than I had expected. The venue was just stunning, the band was amazing, the dancers were elegant and alluring, the programming was just perfect and the audience was almost full and really engaged with the entire project.
For my 10-minute set in next Friday’s 1817 bicentenary concert, I have been thinking about what tunes to play, and how to approach them.
I was in Kilkenny the other week, for the fourteenth annual Scoil na gCláirseach – summer school of early Irish harp. During the week, I explored some of the issues I have been working on so far this year, namely the new setup for the medieval Gaelic harps, and the issues of using fingertips instead of long nails for playing the 18th century Irish harp repertory.
Today I presented my concert in St Andrews, “the Memoirs of Arthur Ó Neill”.
I read excerpts from his autobiography, and played the tunes referred to in the anecdotes.
Here is my video of the complete, half-hour performance:
Edward Bunting‘s first field notebook, which he used to take down live transcriptions from the old harpers in 1792 and later, is kept at Queens University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4/29.
Usually known as ms29, it is a small oblong notebook stuffed full of sketchy drafts and scribbled transcriptions from the playing of the last tradition bearers.
On page 1 of the book is a two-staff arrangement of “The Banks of Claudy”.
Speaking on 10th July, 1849, the Irish harper Patrick Byrne explained to the antiquarian John Bell, the system for tuning the early Irish harp. After starting at na comhluighe, and using a cycle of 5ths to set the middle octave of the harp, he says
Then you sound the G on the violin & B & D, and the octave above which is G which makes a common chord
I’ve been playing almost every day now for a week and a half, using the tips of my fingers, with my nails trimmed short. Here are a few preliminary observations.
As I played through some of his settings of Carolan and other baroque Irish harp music, using a copy of an 18th century Irish harp, I started thinking about the whole issue of playing the harp with long fingernails.