my very old teacher
a pupil of Hempson
He plucked the
strings with his
J P Sherwin
In my book Progressive Lessons, I included a full size full colour facsimile of Edward Bunting’s loose sheet titled “Examples of Irish Melody”. These settings of the three beginners’ tunes are interestingly different from the ones we have from Denis O’Hampsey and Patrick Quin, and I have been using them more and more in my teaching.
It is very interesting to work through these settings with complete beginners in my classes, as well as discussing the implications with my established students. It really feels like a proper system for playing the Irish harp in the old Gaelic tradition is starting to emerge.
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”.
As I have been practicing the Fairy Queen for tomorrow’s concert, and I have the Downhill harp here this week, I thought I would do a quick Youtube of it as a record of where I am at the moment.
Earlier this year the Historical Harp Society of Ireland acquired an interesting harp, made by James McFall in Belfast.
I don’t know the exact date of manufacture, but it must be between about 1900 and 1950. We know that McFall adverised the availability of harps withe wire strings as well as the more usual gut-strung revival instruments.
I have completed the revision of my harp tutor book. “Progressive Lessons for Early Gaelic harp“.
The 1st edition was published in 2009 and I was starting to be unhappy with some of the text and instructions, and also with the music notation. When I first wrote the book, I was really unsure about including notation of the tunes. I seriously considered just omitting all the notation, and I did just that when I re-wrote the book in simplified form as “Clarsach lessons for young harpers“.
I feared that people would put the book up on their music stands and start sight-reading from the notation – and I have seen that happening.
So for the 2nd edition I am making a brave experiment – I wrote to Queens University Belfast to request permission to reproduce facsimiles of Bunting’s manuscripts, and so the music notation of the first edition has now been replaced in the 2nd edition with manuscript facsimiles. This has forced me to explain the music more clearly in the text, but the idea is that the text explanation plus the recorded examples on the CD will make everything clear.
So “Progressive Lessons” has become more serious and hardcore – but I feel OK with that because “Young Harpers” is available as a more easy and accessible introduction to the material.
I haven’t announced the 2nd edition yet – I’ll update the web pages for the 1st April update. But any orders placed from now on will get the 2nd edition.
I have digitised the first of the three sides I have of these old Dolmetsch transcription discs. I chose the “test” side to do first as I assumed it would be the least interesting.
Actually it turned out to be really fascinating. There are 5 tracks. The first starts with the voice of Arnold Dolmetsch himself, announcing his performance of Lord Salisbury’s Pavan on the Clavichord. At the end he laughs and says “hopeless!”
Then we have three tracks of Mabel playing the early Irish harp. Two of them are fragments of An Seann Triucha (the Old Trugh) – from Bunting’s Ancient Music of Ireland, 1809, p.6.
I do not recognise the third track. I wonder if it is some Welsh music from Robert ap Huw.
You can listen to these tracks here:
Today I sent out an announcement of the availability of my new book, “Gestures”. You can find out more here: www.earlygaelicharp.info/gestures
I considered many different options for publishing this book, including approaching another publisher, though I prefer to publish in house through earlygaelicharp.info. Normally, one would use a commercial printing company to make and bind the books, but a conventional printers needs a run of 1000 to make economic sense – the setup costs are high in relation to the cost per unit. I was not sure this made sense for such a niche specialist publication.
I also considered using a print-on-demand company. These will print and bind one copy at a time for you – Lulu is perhaps the best known, though there are others who focus more on the needs of small publishers. However a big problem with these is the cost of shipping the printed books from the company; what you gain in flexibility of being able to order small numbers, you lose in the economy of scale for delivery.
In the end I have decided to keep this book entirely in-house, and it is being published as a hand-made book. Below you will see a photo of the first batch being assembled in my workshop. The big advantage of this method is that it gives me complete control over the design of the binding – in this case it is traditionally hand-sewn to make sure that the book will easily open completely flat – an important consideration for a music book, that will be placed on a music stand.
Anyway, I enjoy bookbinding as much as book design and writing!