I don’t know of any historical information about Cormac Ó Ceallaigh the harpmaker. Perhaps that’s not surprising for a Catholic at the times of the penal laws, living and working in a wooded valley up in the mountains, and working in an old oral tradition.
But there is a fair amount of traditionary information referring to him. By its nature this information may be wrong, but I thought I could try lining up what I have found so far, to collate all the different information, look for patterns, and maybe get ideas for future research or clues for other places to look.
Continue reading Cormac Ó Ceallaigh
“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.
Continue reading Playing the harp for Nathaniel Gow
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.
Continue reading early 19th century Irish harp music
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.
Continue reading Some observations on playing with finger-tips
Today I was working on tunes collected by Edward Bunting from the 18th century Irish harper, Arthur Ó Néill, for my concert in St Andrews on 3rd August.
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.
Continue reading “…the fleshy part of the finger alone”
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.
Continue reading The Fairy Queen
Practicing for my Carolan concert this coming Thursday lunchtime, I have got the Downhill harp back from my student who usually has it and I was reminded of how I often talk about the importance of using an appropriate instrument for different repertory. Continue reading An cruit bheag ‘s an cruit mhor
Today I performed my Lament for the Union concert in St Andrews. I played the programme of music from my CD-single of the same name, and I used my Downhill harp for the event. The big growly voice of this harp worked very well for this pungent 18th century music, and suited well the airy acoustic of All Saints Church hall.
As well as the candles lit, we also had a big vase full of red and purple roses. At the end audience members each took a rose away “to remember the Union”.
Two years ago to the week, I had my HHSI Student Downhill harp here in preparation for using it for a concert – my Carolan, Connellan and Lyons programme which I played outside in the Botanic Garden. While the harp was here I carved the lettering on the forepillar, and gilded the carved letters.
This week the harp is again at my house, as I am going to use it for my Lament for the Union concert next week. And so how could I resist continuing my very protracted programme of decorating the instrument?
As well as some subtle painted highlights, today I carved the lettering for the poem on the soundbox. I traced my photograph of Cormick O’Kelly’s original 18th century poem, but I changed the lettering to be relevant to me and to this particular instrument. I like the idea of changing the poem – like how a modern harpsichord maker puts a replica Ruckers or Blanchard rose in the soundboard of their replica harpsichord, but replaces the old master’s initials with their own.
I was originally planning to gild this lettering but now that it is finished, because the letters are significantly smaller than the gilded forepillar ones, and because there are so many more of them, I decided I liked them natural wood. The poem is quite hard to read with all the ligatures and the crowded capital letters with few word spaces. I think it gives a subtle lift to the whole instrument.
I love it when ancient things have inscriptions on them, it is a kind of literature, and it is also a kind of direct communiaction between the thing and ourselves, more direct than we usually get with archaeological objects where the comminication has to be inferred or reconstructed. I am very pleased to have captured a little of that atmosphere and ambience on my harp now, even though it is not actually an ancient harp or even an ancient text – nonetheless it is like the harp is speaking directly to us.
I was also struck by the final 2 words of the poem: “call me”, like the monster in The Forest.
Next Wednesday, I will present a topical concert of tunes from three hundred years ago when the Act of Union was signed between England and Scotland.
The concert is on Wednesday 3rd September, at 12.45pm, in All Saints Church Hall on North Castle Street in St Andrews, and is titled “Hot political tunes from three hundred years ago”.
I will present tunes from my new EP-CD Lament for the Union – thoughtful musical pieces which were composed or played in the years around 1707. They reflect contemporaries’ feelings on the newly signed act of union, and express a wide range of emotions felt by people at the time, from sorrow, to anger, to excitement, to cheeky practical joking.
For this concert, I plan to use my reproduction of the baroque Irish “Downhill” harp made in 1702.