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

A little history

I have been asked to do a historical overview talk at almost every Scoil na gCláirseach for years and years. Every time I do it, I try to make it new and fresh, to basically come up with a new overview. I think that way, I challenge myself to think about what story I want to tell, what are the important strands that we want to focus on.

Here’s my August 2019 talk, videoed by the Irish Traditional Music Archive.

I only had half an hour allocated, which made me focus even more. In this talk I didn’t speak about the modern revivals; sometimes I would make these an important part of the story. But somehow the medieval museum ambience made this aspect seem less important. And for the week-long participants at the summer school, the revival was what we talked about each day.

I’m always interested in the questions and comments….

Early Irish harp at Áras an Uachtaráin

On Friday I was at Áras an Uachtaráin with Siobhán Armstrong and Eibhlís Ní Ríordáin, for Culture Night. We gave a 20 minute presentation to the President’s guests; I spoke for a few minutes and then Siobhán and Eibhlís played and sang.

Continue reading Early Irish harp at Áras an Uachtaráin

Erard Grecian harp

On Saturday I was at Hospitalfield house, near Arbroath. This amazing 19th century country house is now conserved and run as an arts centre. A recent project was to restore the Erard Grecian double-action pedal harp that has been at the house since about 1830.

Saturday’s event was an inaugural concert for the newly-restored harp, and I was asked to give the pre-concert talk on the harp and its place in Scottish music. Continue reading Erard Grecian harp

Colonial views of Gaelic harp traditions

Yesterday I gave my lecture on the clàrsach or Gaelic harp, to the undergraduate students on the Scottish Music degree course at the University of St Andrews.

As is my wont nowadays, I filmed the lecture for you, but there was a mix up with my battery charging, and the camera died 40 minutes in, so you are missing the last 11 or 12 minutes.

Continue reading Colonial views of Gaelic harp traditions

Medieval Gaelic harp setup and repertory

At Scoil na gCláirseach last month I presented a lecture and a workshop on the medieval Gaelic harp traditions. The lecture outlined my recent work on the setup and tuning of the medieval Gaelic harps, while the workshop later in the week explored the different strands of evidence for medieval Gaelic music.

Continue reading Medieval Gaelic harp setup and repertory