Trying to describe the process

On Saturday I presented a talk in Belfast, at the Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich as part of the HHSI Discovery Day events within the Remembering Bunting Festival.

The Discovery Day is a composite event I have been doing for the past year or two, in collaboration with Siobhán Armstrong, Sylvia Crawford, and a sean-nos singer (either Róisín Elsafty or Eibhlís Ní Ríordáin). The format is to have a concert of harp and voice, given by Siobhán and the singer; a talk, given by me, and an introductory class for complete beginners given by Sylvia Crawford. Each lasts for a bit less than an hour and they usually run pretty much back-to-back, to give a kind of complete overview of the old Irish harp traditions.

Every time I do a Discovery Day talk I end up taking a different angle or approach, partly based on where in the country we are doing the event, and partly based on my current research interests and directions. For this event, I wanted to pick up on the work of Edward Bunting in particular, since it was his festival, and other presenters during the festival weekend were talking about the manuscripts in Queen’s University, or Bunting’s corpus of published music.

My talk also picked up on my recent focus of understanding the transcription process as the primary evidence for old Irish harp performance practice; and I wanted to correlate this in to the method of working with replica harps and portraits of harpers.

I was not as confident and articulate as I would like to have been for this talk, but since I had made the effort to film it I thought it might be useful as a record of where I am at the moment.

Róisín Elsafty and Siobhán Armstrong during the concert
Sylvia Crawford during the beginners class

Bunting tune collecting statistics

As I work on the transcriptions project I am also assembling a spreadsheet of tunes and metadata to try and get a grip on attributions, variants, and titles.

I entered all of the attributions from the three printed volumes today. There are printed attributions for the 1840 tuns in the introduction, giving names, places and dates of collection. For the tunes published in 1797 and 1809, we have the annotated volumes in the British library (Add MS 41508) which Karen Loomis drew to our attention.

I counted 285 tunes in total. Of them, 149 (52%) are tagged as coming from harpers. 88 of these tunes (31%) he either does not say, or he gives us only a place, or he gives us a name without saying who is is. My guess is that most of these are from singers, fiddlers and other traditional musicians. 9 (13%) come from pipers. 3 (1%) come from a book, and the remaining 36 (13% are sourced from a collector or correspondent.

To be more crude, half the tunes that Bunting published are from harpers; a third are probably from traditional musicians, and most of the rest are sent to him by scholars and gentlemen.

I tried to do the same with the transcriptions in ms29 and ms33(1) but I haven’t identified enough of the tunes, or gathered enough attributions evidence yet, for the numbers to be meaningful. In time!