10 years ago today, on 26th November 2004, I started the website http://earlygaelicharp.info
Thankyou to everyone who has helped and followed the project over that time!
We are exhibiting at the harp festival. We have had a good time so far, making sales, restringing harps and running an ad-hoc fingernail repair salon! The medieval harp chocolate bars have been a great talking point!
This afternoon two pedal harpists are at the Holywell stand next to ours, practicing classical duets on two pedal harps. It is very civilised and pleasant here out at the end of the school campus.
My new CD released today features five solo harp tracks of late 17th or early 18th century music attributed to a great local hero of the West of Scotland – Raghnall Mac Ailein Òig. These grand formal tunes come from the pibroch tradition of the pipes, and also from early fiddle and vocal sources, and I have turned them into dreamy, beautiful clarsach meditations. Each tune has a very different atmosphere, and the CD booklet includes five full-page illustrations made by Ealasaid Gilfillan especially for this project. These unique and intense montage images really give you a sense of the meaning of each tune.
For more info, please visit www.earlygaelicharp.info/tarbh
As a companion to the CD I have also made a set of web pages all about Raghnall Mac Ailein Òig – Ronald MacDonald of Morar, said to have lived 1662-1741. The pages include all the references I used as sources for the CD and also include links to a number of fascinating songs and stories on archive audio recordings at Tobar an Dualchais – the online portal for the tape recordings preserved in the School of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh.
My previous reconstructions of the Iron age lyre bridge discovered by archaeologists at Uamh an Ard Achaidh (Skye Pasture Cave) on the Isle of Skye, have interpreted the broken fragment as having only 3 string positions, framed by 4 pyramids along the top of the lyre.
However, it is possible that the flat shoulder on the surviving half of the bridge represents the broken off base of two more pyramids. If this were repeated on the missing other half, that would give a total of eight pyramids with seven string positions.
This week I made a bridge following this plan. I used a piece of yew wood from near St Andrews.
This small slim paperback of 130 pages is part of Oxford University Press’s “Very Short Introduction” series. I have been collecting these for many years, and I have found them to be highly variable. Some are just a little dull; some are rather biased, postmodern, or narrow; but some are just brilliant. This newly published work by Thomas Forest Kelly, published this month, is one of the brilliant ones. I would highly recommend it and to that end I have already listed it for sale in my Emporium:
It is a superb pocket size introduction to the idea of “early music”. The first chapter considers the basic ideas, investigating peoples constant urge to look to the past for their art. Three subsequent chapters comprise the heart of the book, dealing respectively with the history of mainstream Western music in the medieval, Renaissance and baroque periods. These three chapters so easily and concisely explain the styles and types of music in each different historical time, that they are highly recommended as the best overview and introduction to this difficult subject. This is followed by one chapter discussing performance practice and ideas of authenticity, and a final chapter (which reads more like an appendix) listing notable individuals and organisations involved with early music during the 20th century in Europe and America.
I have long been searching for an accessible overview history of western music, and this one finally fits the bill. Coincidentally, Cambridge University Press have recently published a “Companion to Medieval Music” which is not very short, and naturally not concerned with Renaissance or baroque music.
Both of these titles will be included in July’s Emporium update – but you get a sneak preview here first!
We are just back from the Edinburgh Harp Festival. It is hard work, running the Emporium stall all day each day, but we managed to talk to some interesting people.
Today I sent out an announcement of the availability of my new book, “Gestures”. You can find out more here: www.earlygaelicharp.info/gestures
I considered many different options for publishing this book, including approaching another publisher, though I prefer to publish in house through earlygaelicharp.info. Normally, one would use a commercial printing company to make and bind the books, but a conventional printers needs a run of 1000 to make economic sense – the setup costs are high in relation to the cost per unit. I was not sure this made sense for such a niche specialist publication.
I also considered using a print-on-demand company. These will print and bind one copy at a time for you – Lulu is perhaps the best known, though there are others who focus more on the needs of small publishers. However a big problem with these is the cost of shipping the printed books from the company; what you gain in flexibility of being able to order small numbers, you lose in the economy of scale for delivery.
In the end I have decided to keep this book entirely in-house, and it is being published as a hand-made book. Below you will see a photo of the first batch being assembled in my workshop. The big advantage of this method is that it gives me complete control over the design of the binding – in this case it is traditionally hand-sewn to make sure that the book will easily open completely flat – an important consideration for a music book, that will be placed on a music stand.
Anyway, I enjoy bookbinding as much as book design and writing!
Just been eating fresh local strawberries from the farmers market, while listening to Bill Taylor’s performance of Caniad Tro Tant from his new CD, Musica. A nice idea of his in the liner notes!
New this month, the Emporium is pleased to be carrying an unusual title, a book that was published in 1992 — I have got hold of some of the last copies left. Linda Gowan’s technical study Am Bròn Binn documents the survival of a medieval ballad into the 20th century living tradition.
There are a number of Gaelic ballads which survived late enough to be recorded by collectors. Few have been published or studied though, which makes this book all the more valuable. Click here to see some videos of recent performances of the ballad ‘Am bròn binn’ by the tradition bearers.
If you are interested to find out more about this kind of music, I would recommend Breandán Ó Madagáin’s book Caointe agus Seanceolta Eile which includes an audio CD of him singing the various kinds of old Irish music.
These traditions were of course common to Ireland and Scotland, but they seem to have mostly died out earlier in Ireland.
Other items new for June are two rare and hard to find items. I have perhaps the last new, shrink-wrapped copies ever of Bill Taylor’s long-out-of-print CD Two Worlds of Welsh harp Music. Very limited numbers.
Also I have Seamus MacNeill’s useful book Piobaireachd, a great overview of the Scottish Highland piping traditions.