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?
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
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
Having just re-wound a harp that had its strings wound on to the front of the tuning pins, I wondered if there was any evidence as to which way the old harpers wound their pins.
Continue reading winding strings on to tuning pins