“Traditional Music in Ireland”

I remember Ben Bagby taking a text describing African mbira players, and using it to get an inspiring description of what medieval harp music might be like. (‘Imagining the early medieval harp’, in A Performer’s guide to medieval music, ed. Ross Duffin, Indiana University Press, 2000, p.340-3)

So today I done the same with this text from Tomás Ó Canainn, Traditional music in Ireland, Routlege and Kegan Paul, London, 1978, p.87-90

The square brackets are where I have removed all the pipe-specific words and terms. In our minds we can insert harp references, so that we can try to read this as a guide to how to play Irish harp.

It has already been pointed out that the harmonic accompaniment provided by the […], particularly in the hands of an insensitive player, is a very mixed blessing indeed. The layout of the […] is a direct invitation to the [musician] to put the […] of his hand across all […] and obtain block chords which tend to obscure the melody, not only because of their chordal nature but because of the lack of balance between the […] and the […]. Many [musicians] do not seem to be aware of the musical satisfaction given by the interplay between a decorated melodic line and […] which provides a large number of higher harmonics…

The fact remains, however, that the […] are an integral part of the [instrument] and are used  to a greater or lesser extent by most [players]. In dance music they are employed mainly as a rythmic device giving either a vamping bass as shown in Fig 6.5 or, occasionally, a two-part chord may be held right through a bar. The vamping bass is often obtained by using […] for the single notes on the […], while the double notes are produced by striking the […] simultaneously with the […]. When playing at speed this results in a rocking action of the wrist in going to and from the bass…

It is possible to get single notes on the […] as well, if these are desired… Two-part chords… are quite simple and are extensively used, as shown in Fig. 6.6

…any attempt to provide a full chorded accompaniment throughout a tune is bound to be boring. The preferred method, and that adopted by the better [players], is to introduce the […] during the repeat of the tune or a part of it, as a means of varying the arrangement.

The picture at the top is a drawing of Tomás Ó Canainn’s hands, from the cover of his book.

One thought on ““Traditional Music in Ireland””

  1. Note that these chordal patterns on the regulators are played with the right hand (see sketch of Ó Canainn’s hands at the top of the page). Just like the right hand is used for the bass on the Irish harp.

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