Harp string labels

Recently I wrote a new page on, about possible inscriptions on the Queen Mary harp. As part of this I reviewed my photographs of the labels glued on the harp labelling some of the strings, and then I had the idea of photoshopping and cleaning up the photos, scaling them, printing them out and glueing them onto my replica in the appropriate positions.

For those of you with a Queen Mary replica who want to join in the fun, here is the image I ended up with. Print it out at 486dpi onto good old fashioned white or off-white laid paper, cut out along the black edges, and stick on using flour and water paste. The numbers go on the right hand side* of the string band (so they are visible for a left orientation player), and they are upside-down when the harp is in playing position, so the player can read the letters. They go in order, counting from the treble: 1 [illegible], 8 [c], 9 [b], 11 [G], 15 [C], 22 [C].

Any problems or questions let me know! If you send in a photo of your harp with the labels stuck on, I will feature it here!

*Right and left hand side of the harp are described as from the viewpoint of the player, not of an onlooker

Ian MacKenzie Memorial Concert

On Saturday 12th December I’ll be in Edinburgh for the first Ian MacKenzie Memorial Concert. I was honoured to be asked to play at Ian’s funeral in Kintail almost a year ago. The concert looks to have a very interesting lineup and should be worth attending, not least for the promised homebaking and the exhibition of Ian’s super photographs.

The concert is at 7.15 pm, at the Columcille Centre, Edinburgh, 2 Newbattle Terrace, Morningside, Edinburgh EH10 4RT

Full details on


Yesterday I was listening to In Our Time and they were discussing unicorns. The discussion of how unicorns were depicted in medieval art was very interesting and made me think of the unicorn on the forepillar of the Queen Mary harp, carved perhaps in South Argyll, Scotland, in the 15th century. That one is slightly unusual in that it has a short, thick, snout-mounted horn rather than the usual long twisted forehead-mounted one, but most strange of all is that it is stuffing a fish into the mouth of a Lindworm (wingless bipedal dragon). It is also not clear what the projection above its eye might be – a forelock or mane, or an eyebrow, or a rudimentary second horn?

The illustration here shows the Queen Mary harp unicorn as copied by David Patton on my replica of the harp.

Music of Patrick Byrne, ‘The Last Irish Harper’

An event of interest coming up at James J. Hill House, 240 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102 USA:

Music of Patrick Byrne, ‘The Last Irish Harper’

Date: Nov. 20, 2010
Time: 7 p.m.

The bright, ringing sound of metal strings distinguish the ancient Irish harp from its other string relatives. Using historical techniques on a period replica, Ann and Charlie Heymann will perform the repertoire of Patrick Byrne — an Irish harper whose death in the mid-19th century brought a thousand-year-old tradition to a close. Byrne’s younger brother, Christopher, emigrated and settled in Faribault; Liam O’Neill of “Irish On Grand” will narrate and read excerpts of a letter between the brothers. Participants can meet the performers at a post-concert reception. Tours of the Hill House will also be available. Reservations recommended.

Video lessons

The latest Wire Branch Newsletter has an article about video lessons, with me as one of the four teachers interviewed. It’s a very interesting article, by Sam Tyler, which has some useful things to say about learning the harp through one-to-one lessons over the Skype videoconferencing system. Sam describes in turn the four tutors she interviewed, with comments and quotes about their very different approaches and working methods.

For more info please visit my Video Lessons page.

For November only: I am offering FREE trial video lessons! Just mention “Wire Branch” in your enquiry to

The same issue also has a great article by Karen Loomis about her recent work on the Lamont and Queen Mary harps, illustrated with two 3-D X-ray reconstruction images, one of each harp.

Provand’s Lordship concert in Glasgow

On Sunday, 12th September, at 2pm, Provand’s Lordship in Glasgow will host a concert of medieval and Renaissance Scottish harp music.

The concert is a unique opportunity to discover the music of the old Highland castles and great houses from hundreds of years ago. The early Gaelic harp, with metal wire strings sounded using long fingernails, was an important part of Scottish music and culture for centuries, until it died out in the 18th century.

Provand’s Lordship is Glasgow’s oldest house, built in 1471, one of only four medieval buildings to survive in the city. This is just the kind of domestic setting in which this music would have originally been heard hundreds of years ago. The house is now displayed as a museum, with period interiors and a medieval garden.

The recital will be performed by historical harp specialist, Simon Chadwick, using a beautiful replica of the medieval clarsach of Mary, Queen of Scots. The 500-year-old original, preserved in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, is too rare and fragile to string and play, so Simon commissioned his replica from a sculptor in Ireland. Decorated with woodburning, carving and paint, and strung with wires of brass, silver and gold, the replica harp is a stunning medieval art object.

The programme will feature historical Scottish harp music, brought back to life from books and manuscripts. As well as stirring battle marches, and salutes for the great Highland families, Simon’s speciality is the grand Gaelic laments, which would be composed by a harper on the death of his patron.

Simon has been studying the old Scottish and Irish harp traditions for over 10 years, and bases his work on the oldest sources of music and playing techniques, preserved in manuscripts and antique printed books. He teaches his discoveries to students in St Andrews, Dundee, and Edinburgh, as well as further afield using the internet. He has just returned from Ireland where last month he helped run the annual summer school for early Gaelic harp, and he has also just this week completed his fourth season of performances in the Cathedral ruins in St Andrews. His CD, “ClĂ rsach na BĂ nrighe”, features Scottish music from the 13th to the 18th century, performed on the replica Queen Mary harp.

Event details:
Sunday, 12th September
Concert starts 2pm, and runs for 30-40 mins
Admission free
Provand’s Lordship, 3 Castle Street, Glasgow G4 0RB

September’s Cathedral recital

Tristan being sent into exile, from a medieval German woodcut

On Tuesday 7th September at 12.45pm, early harp specialist Simon Chadwick will be playing historical Scottish and Irish music in the ruins of St Andrews Cathedral.

Using his decorated replica of the medieval Scottish ‘Queen Mary’ harp with gold and silver wire strings, Simon will play a selection of music associated with ancient Scottish, Irish and British heroes.

Starting with a medieval composition said to have been performed before King Arthur and his Knights as they sat at the Round Table, the programme will look at the medieval Gaelic legends of Fionn and Oisean, before finishing with a heartbreaking lament for the forlorn Cornish lover, Tristan.

This event is the last in Simon’s summer series of medieval harp concerts in the cathedral. Performed in the Priors House, a medieval vaulted chamber set within the ruins of the Cathedral in St Andrews, this series brings to life different aspects of ancient and historical Scottish music, from the medieval church, to stirring battle marches, to weeping Gaelic laments.

The harp Simon uses is a unique replica of the clarsach of Mary Queen of Scots. The 500-year-old original is preserved in a glass case in the National Museum in Edinburgh, as featured on the BBC’s “Reporting Scotland” last month, with Simon providing musical accompaniment! Simon commissioned his replica from Irish harp maker Davy Patton in 2006-7. With its amazing soundbox carved out of a single huge willow log, and its intricate carved and painted decoration, the replica harp is a precious medieval art object that fits very well into the ancient ambience of the cathedral.

Admission is free. Tickets can be reserved in advance by calling the Cathedral visitor centre on 01334 472563.

A preview of this event will be performed in the Wighton Centre, Dundee Central Library, Dundee, DD1 1DB, Wednesday 1st September, 1.15pm.

Video demonstrations of Indian Classical music

The music of North India is mesmerising, and shrouded in tradition and culture. There, raga is the art of life – it is the music of the mind. The tracks in this album focus on three instruments – the tabla, the alap and the voice – all central to the existence of Raga. Each instrument is broken down into the individual sounds that make up the intricate compositions. Performances on all three complete this introduction to the fascinating sound of Raga. This material is drawn from the Open University course AA317, Words and music.

Thanks to Stuart at footstompin for this link. If you really want to know what alap means, try – needless to say it is not an instrument, despite the confusion of the OU caption writer.

I was most fascinated by the vocables used to describe the different tabla gestures, and also the connection explained by the player of the guitar-shaped instrument between string music and vocal music.