I was discussing Burns’s March with one of my students, saying how it was the most important model for old Gaelic harp (Irish harp, clarsach) technique and style. They said that there was a need for written-out versions fully marked up with fingering and damping.
I resist this because I don’t like working in a literal and literary way; I would rather prioritise memorisation, improvisation and study of the manuscript sources. However, I see that there is some value in writing out the first tunes in full. Indeed, it is how I started, working though Ann Heymann’s two-colour notations in her book “Secrets of the Gaelic harp”.
So today I sat down and write out Patrick Quin’s version of Burns’s March, transcribing and transposing from the field draft in Bunting ms33(3) p.61 & 63. Full colour facsimiles of these two pages will be published very soon in the 3rd edition of my book Progressive Lessons.
There are of course a number of questions in a project like this, the most pressing being the transposition. As written, Bunting’s manuscript draft appears to be in A pentatonic major, with two sharps. I don’t believe this is a sensible place to play it on the harp, so I have bumped it down one note to be in G pentatonic major. Did Quin use a slightly higher pitch standard? Or was Bunting’s perfect pitch a little flat?
I have written in fingerings and dampings using Ann Heymann’s two colour scheme, as I believe this is the most unambiguous system there is. However, my ideas may well change over time and I don’t believe that this notation is the same as what I played on my Youtube of this version a month or so ago.
I am wondering if I should do the same for each of the beginners’ tunes featured in the book, that is, Mailí Bhán, Féileacán, and O’Hampsey’s Burns’s March. Do you think that would be a useful “appendix” to complement the book’s presentation of the manuscript sources, and the audio and video demonstrations of my performance versions of them?
One thought on “Quin’s Burns’s March”
For the latest ideas on how to finger this tune see Sylvia Crawford’s book An Introduction to Old Irish Harp Playing Techniques (2021).
I discuss the sources for Burns’s March here.