This page is to explain some of the projects I’m working on right now, or which I may or may not start working on in the future.

You might also want to look at my list of potential research projects, which I am probably not going to get around to doing, but which may be useful for prospective PhD candidates looking for an idea of something they could usefully do.

Old Irish Harp Transcriptions Project

This has been my main artistic and research project since Autumn 2019. I am searching for, identifying, categorising and analysing musical notations which appear to have been written down as live transcriptions of the playing of old Irish harp tradition-bearers. So far I have only found this kind of notation in the manuscripts of Edward Bunting. Mostly they seem to have been done by Edward Bunting himself, but I am starting to tentatively suggest one or two live transcriptions from harpers done for Bunting by other people. I hope that in time I may identify live transcriptions from harpers, made by other people in the 19th century, in other collections or archives.

By “transcriptions”, I am referring to notations that seem to have been written live, at speed, as a direct response to what a traditional informant was actually playing, in real time. I am distinguishing these from “copies” which are written more slowly and carefully, with deliberate thought, and also “arrangements” which have creative adjustments to the melody and added accompaniment, for the piano.

In January 2020, I wrote a blog post titled Old Irish harp transcriptions project, which marked the beginnings of writing up my work here.

  • I have made a tune-list spreadsheet listing all the tunes in Bunting’s transcription notebooks and printed collections, and indicating both the nature of any transcriptions, and the tags or attributions given to them.
  • I have been compiling PDF indexes and text-transcripts of the key transcription notebooks: Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections MS4.29, MS4.33.1, and others.
  • I have been studying individual tunes, writing up my conclusions here on this website. In October 2020, I made a kind of half-way-point interim summary, and in April 2021 I made a summary of the second major section of the project.
  • I started making YouTube demonstration videos of the transcription notation realised as old Irish harp performances, but this has pretty much stopped while I focus on making commentaries and machine audios of the remaining live transcription manuscript pages.

The main research aims of this project are to narrow down the evidence for “what is old Irish harp performance style?” By ruthlessly excluding consideration of harp tunes that are passed down to us as piano arrangements, or through the fiddle, pipe or song tradition, I hope that we can get a more focussed view of the idiomatic Irish harp style which came to an end in the early 20th century. Creating a view of what the harp style is like will help inform revival attempts.

The Irish harp tradition through the long 19th century

Now that I have found traditional harpers still alive in the first decade of the 20th century, my next project is going to focus on these neglected tradition bearers. I want to know about their lives, their harps, their music, and their context.

The genesis of this project was in May 2022, with my research into George Jackson (1833-1909), who strung a harp in 1908. Read my write up of this here.