THE GUT STRUNG IRISH HARP: The development of the harp and its players, in Ireland, from c.
1819 to the present day
Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirement for the degree of Master of Arts
University of Wales, Bangor 30th September, 2003
SUMMARY From the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Irish harp removed itself from all the associations of its wire strung predecessor, becoming transformed into a drawing room instrument for genteel ladies, like the pedal harp on which its design was based. It came to represent a Romantic, sentimental form of nationalism, as depicted, for example, in Moore’s Irish Melodies. Throughout this time its symbolic importance increased inversely to its actual usage as a musical instrument, but it began to be promoted again as a result of a cultural renewal at the turn of the twentieth century, being taught by nuns and lay teachers in convent schools, for about the next 70 years. Around the 1950s, as Ireland was undergoing social and economic change, the tourist industry was boosted, and the Irish harp became part of the scenario of cabarets and ‘banquets’. With the aim of raising the status of the instrument, the organisation Cáirde Na Cruite1 was formed in 1960, by individuals with a background influenced by western art music. Harp players, however, did not receive recognition by the general body of traditional musicians until around the 1970s. At this time Ireland was immersed in a folk music revival, and harp players were inspired to explore the ‘traditional’ possibilities of their instruments in terms of playing dance tunes, which have become the most popular form of music to be played on the Irish harp today, particularly by young people. There are many more teachers and summer schools available compared to 30 years ago when this form of harp playing was in its infancy, and techniques and repertoire are being passed on. However, while the instrument has proved its viability as a traditional instrument, it has many years of stereotyping to overcome before it is embraced fully in that role.
‘Friends of the Irish harp’.
CONTENTS Page List of accompanying material Contents of audio CD List of illustrations Acknowledgements Author’s declaration Introduction Preliminary notes Chapter One: John Egan’s ‘Portable’ Harp Chapter Two: Nationalism and Thomas Moore Chapter Three: Cultural renewal Chapter Four: The convent schools Chapter Five: The celebrity harpists and the tourist industry Chapter Six: The folk and traditional music revivals Chapter Seven: Cáirde Na Cruite: the early years 5 6 8 10 11 12 14 16 20 30 38 44 48 53
Chapter Eight: The Irish Harp as a High Art Concert Instrument 62 Chapter Nine: The emergence of the ‘traditional’ Irish harp Chapter Ten: Style and technique: Máire Ní Chathasaigh 74 79 3
Chapter Eleven: Style and technique: Janet Harbison Chapter Twelve: The response from the established musical organisations Chapter Thirteen: A meeting of minds Chapter Fourteen: Promotion by Comhaltas Chapter Fifteen: How valid is the Irish harp as a traditional instrument? Conclusion Appendix I: The wire strung harp
97 104 111
116 126 127
Appendix II: Small harp makers in the early twentieth century 136 Appendix III: The Irish harp’s contribution to the 2003 Feis Ceoil Appendix IV: Two examination systems Bibliography Discography Videography Internet websites consulted 142 147 149 155 157 158
DVD containing two extracts from Celtic Harpestry: Live from Lismore Castle.ACCOMPANYING MATERIAL 1. 1998: 440 079 319-3).
. 2. Ireland (Polygram Video. Audio CD containing musical examples.
‘Planxty’: ‘The Humours of Ballyloughlin’ (extract 2) 17. Ní Chathasaigh. Gráinne: ‘The Rectory Reel’ 6
. these examples are extracts from complete musical items) 1. ‘The Chieftains’: ‘An Ghéagus an Grá Geal’ 4. Máire: ‘The Humours of Ballyloughlin’ (extract 3) 16. ‘Planxty’: ‘The Fisherman’s Hornpipe’ 10. ‘The Chieftains’: ‘Ceol Bhriotánach’ 6. Máire: ‘The Humours of Ballyloughlin’ (extract 2) 15. Harbison. O’Hara. Ní Chathasaigh. O’Farrell.CONTENTS OF AUDIO CD (denoted in the text by the symbol ♫) (Unless otherwise stated. Anne-Marie: ‘My Lagan Love’ 7. Máire. Chris: ‘Paddy Whack’ 19. Ní Chathasaigh. Mary: ‘Silent. Anne-Marie: ‘Peter Street’ 8. ‘Planxty’: ‘The Well Below the Valley’ 11. O’Farrell. Janet: ‘Harling’s Jig’ (extract 2) 22. and Newman. O’Farrell. Harbison. Máire: ‘The Humours of Ballyloughlin’ (extract 1) 14. Harbison. Ní Chathasaigh. Stivell. Ní Chathasaigh. Máire: ‘The Humours of Ballyloughlin’ (complete) 18. Janet: ‘O’Neill’s Calvacade’ 23. Mary: ‘Seoladh Na Ngamhna’ 3. ‘Planxty’: ‘The Humours of Ballyloughlin’ (extract 1) 13. Hambly. Alan: ‘Port Ui Mhuirgheasa’ 12. O Moyle’ 2. Janet: ‘Harling’s Jig’ (extract 1) 21. Belfast Harp Orchestra/ ‘The Chieftains’: ‘MacAllistrum’s March’ 20. Anne-Marie: Thomas’s Bugeilio’r Gwenith Gwyn 9. ‘The Chieftains’: ‘Boil the Breakfast Early’ 5. O’Hara.
Hambly. Gráinne: ‘Martin Hardiman’s’ 25. Fearghal: The Mason’s Apron (complete)
.24. Gráinne: ‘Celia Connellan’ 26. Seosaimhín and Harbison. Janet: ‘Bean Dubh an Ghleanna’ 27. McCarton. Ní Bheaglaoich. Hambly. Róisín: ‘The Gold Ring’ 29. Hambly. Comhaltas Tour Group: ‘The Steeplechase’ 28.
Figure 15: T. 1846 edition. Rest in this Bosom’. dated 1819. Figure 18: Godefroid: Etude de Concert (extract). played by piper Liam O’Flynn.
. Figure 10: ‘Family tree’ of harp teachers at Loreto Abbey and Sion Hill convent schools. Figure 11: Mary O’Hara in 1954. McGrath: ‘The Parting of Friends’. O Moyle! Be the roar of thy water’. from Moore’s Irish melodies. the Tear and the Smile in Thine Eyes’. Figure 12: Arr. Figure 21: Transcription of the first section of ‘The Humours of Ballyloughlin’. played by Máire Ní Chathasaigh. Figure 14: Bodley: ‘Duet Scintillae’ (extract). Figure 17: Thomas: Bugeilio’r Gwenith Gwyn (extract). from Moore’s Irish Melodies. Figure 7: Moore’s ‘Come. Larchet Cuthbert: ‘Carolan’s Farewell to Music’. Rest in this Bosom’. Figure 3: Daniel Maclise’s illustration for ‘The Harp that Once through Tara’s Halls’. 1’ from Larchet-Cuthbert’s The Irish Harp Book. Figure 6: The melody of Moore’s ‘Come. arranged by Mother Attracta Coffey. Figure 13: Arr. 1846 edition. Figure 2: Extract from Moore’s ‘Silent. Figure 20: Transcription of the first section of ‘The Humours of Ballyloughlin’. Kelly: ‘Interlude’ (extract). and their ‘descendants’. C. Figure 19: Harp by Daniel Quinn of Dublin. 1846 edition. from 1900 to 1911.ILLUSTRATIONS Figure 1: The ‘Portable’ harp by John Egan. Figure 16: O’Farrell: Prelude for Irish Harp (extract). Figure 8: Prize winners in the Feis Ceoil in the small Irish harp category. Figure 5: Daniel Maclise’s illustration for ‘The Minstrel Boy’. Figure 4: Daniel Maclise’s illustration for ‘Erin. Figure 9: ‘Study No. from Moore’s Irish Melodies.
Figure 23: Arr. Figure 42: Arr. Figure 34: Arr. low-headed) Figure 37: O’Neill Harp. Figure 27: Harbison’s alternative hand and finger position for playing traditional music. seventeenth century (large. dated 1902 Figure 40: Clark’s ‘Irish Harp’. early twentieth century Figure 41: Arr. Figure 31: Picture from ‘Brú Ború’’s promotional leaflet. eighteenth century (large. compared to today. fourteenth century (small. Kim Fleming: ‘Garret Barry’s Jig’. Calthorpe: ‘Túirne Mháire’. Figure 29: Maps indicating the numbers of centres for Irish harp tuition in 1986. Figure 24: Arr. lowheaded) Figure 36: Otway Harp. 1904 Figure 39: McFall ‘Tara Harp’. Ní Chathasaigh: Carolan’s ‘Eleanor Plunkett’ Figure 26: Classical technique hand and finger position. Ní Chathasaigh: Carolan’s ‘Lord Inchiquin’. Figure 28: Harbison’s playing of ‘Harling’s Jig’ (extract). Ní Chathasaigh: ‘The Pullet’ (extract). Figure 33: ‘Father Dollard’s Favorite’. Figure 30 : Photograph in ‘Brú Ború’’s promotional leaflet.
. high-headed) Figure 38: Advertisement by McFall. Ní Chathasaigh: ‘Walsh’s Hornpipe’ Figure 25: Arr.Figure 22: Transcription of Máire Ní Chathasaigh’s performance of the repeat of the first section of ‘The Humours of Ballyloughlin’. Figure 32: Photograph from the front of the Comhaltas tour (2000) cassette tape. with her suggested accented notes indicated. Figure 35: Trinity College Harp. with variations indicated.
. Sister Carmel Warde. Cormac de Barra. from Sion Hill School’s archives. for their examination syllabus. for the photograph of Mary O’Hara. Fionnuala Rooney. for Irish translations. The Feis Ceoil Association. Sheila Larchet-Cuthbert. Aine Ní Dhuill. Cormac Bowell. for the copy of the 2003 festival programme. Patricia Daly. Tracey Fleming. for the copy of James MacFall’s advertisement. Janet Harbison. Sister Carmel Warde. Kim Fleming. Simon Chadwick. Anne-Marie O’Farrell. Fearghal McCarton. Kathleen Loughnane. Gráinne Yeats. The Royal Irish Academy of Music. Séamus MacMathuna. Colm O’Meachair. Aibhlín McCrann.ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Acknowledgements are made to the following: The Irish Traditional Music Archive The National Library of Ireland For interviews: Máire Ní Chathasaigh.
STATEMENT 2 This dissertation is the result of my own independent work/investigation. A bibliography is appended. Signed……………………………………………………………… Date………………………………………………………………… STATEMENT 1 This dissertation is being submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts. Date…………………………………………………………………. if accepted. to be available for photocopying and for inter-library loan. Signed………………………………………………………………. STATEMENT 3 I hereby give consent for my dissertation.. Other sources are acknowledged by footnotes giving explicit references. Date…………………………………………………………………. ……………………………………………………………………… Signed………………………………………………………………. and for the title and summary to be made available to outside organisations. except where otherwise stated.AUTHOR’S DECLARATION DECLARATION This work has not previously been accepted in substance for any degree and is not being concurrently submitted in candidature for any degree.. Signed……………………………………………………………… Date…………………………………………………………………
and rested on the left shoulder. and therefore the one which appears to have changed the most. Until the seventeenth century. Until then the instrument was wire strung. played with the fingernails3 with a complex regime of damping. 173. This study concerns the development of the modern. the harper commanding a privileged place in Gaelic society. as will the aspects of political and social change in Ireland during this time that were linked to its development. The strings were tuned diatonically. It is the oldest instrument within it. Máire: Ed. having been played here for more than a thousand years. gut or nylon strung Irish harp. by far the most dramatic change in the history of the Irish harp occurred in the early nineteenth century.2 Although there were some changes in size and shape between the tenth and eighteenth centuries (see Appendix I).
.Vallely.INTRODUCTION In 1999 Máire Ní Chathasaigh wrote of the Irish harp: No other instrument symbolises both the continuities and discontinuities of the Irish music tradition so thoroughly.4 The circumstances surrounding its birth at the beginning of the nineteenth century will be explored. the ‘celebrity’ harpists produced by these schools in the 1950s and the subsequent establishment of Cáirde Na Cruite which aimed to raise
Ní Chathasaigh. but were not equally tempered. male dominated tradition. it was an aristocratic. 1999). and the writer will consider the effect of the cultural renewal in Ireland at the turn of the twentieth century. which shares none of the above features. 3 This practice began to die out in the seventeenth century. The changed role of the instrument will be examined. The Companion to Irish Traditional Music. The study will then focus on the role of convent schools in promoting of the instrument in the first half of the century. Fintan: ‘Harp’. (Cork. 4 A brief account is given in Appendix I of the decline of the wire strung harp and the efforts of individuals to revive and preserve it.
The influence of the general traditional music revival which began in the 1960s will be explored.the cultural status of the instrument and its player. and finally the writer will consider the instrument’s position within Irish traditional music as a whole. Present day trends will be examined in detail. and how it led to a dramatic change in the repertoire and image of the Irish harp player from the 1970s onwards.
Longford): Participation in workshop. Note: the writer was not permitted to film or record any of the workshops or concerts during this course. Sion Hill Convent (19th April. 2003). Unrecorded interview (4th July.PRELIMINARY NOTES For the evaluation of the Irish harp’s current status. Recorded interviews with the following teachers: Máire Ní Chathasaigh. -Attendance at Granard Harp Festival (Co. Informal conversations with participants.
-Visit to the workshop of Colm O’Meachair. 2003). Cormac de Barra. Anne-Marie O’Farrell. Louth (29th June-4th July. Tracey Fleming. Gráinne Yeats. 2003): Observation of classes and workshops. Recorded interview with one participant. Aibhlín McCrann. Carmel Warde.
. Manchester (16th February. fieldwork was undertaken as follows: -Participation in workshop given by Máire Ní Chathasaigh at Chethams School. Kathleen Loughnane. Termonfeckin. Unrecorded interview with Sheila Larchet-Cuthbert. -Observation and filming of workshop given by Janet Harbison at her Harp Centre in Limerick (23rd April 2003). 2003) -Telephone interview with Sr. Aine Ní Dhuill. -Attendance as a ‘listener’ at the Cáirde Na Cruite Harp Festival. Co. Filmed interview with Kim Fleming (24th April 2003).
Observation of the Irish harp in the pub session situation. Warrenpoint (26th-27th July. -Attendance at Traditional Music Festival. Co. Thomastown. all quotations in the dissertation originate from the writer’s recorded interviews while undertaking the above fieldwork.
. 2003). Recorded interview with Fionnuala Rooney.
Unless otherwise stated. Kilkenny (1st August. 2003). -Recorded interview with Séamus Mac Mathuna (8th August. -Recorded interview with Janet Harbison (31st July. 2003): Observation of Irish harp competitions. 2003). 2003). -Recorded interview with Patricia Daly (28th July.-Attendance at Ulster Fleadh.
7 Photograph from Rimmer. it had similar string tension and spacing. (Dublin. www. consulted on 15. which pulled out to raise the instrument to an appropriate playing position. Richard: The Story of the Irish Harp.6 In London in 1810. In a probable attempt to compete with Erard’s revolutionary design. Robert Bruce: The Irish and Highland Harps (Edinburgh. Joan: The Irish Harp. (Dublin. which was made from two pieces of wood. in 1819 Egan produced his ‘Portable’ harp and offered it to customers who purchased the full-sized instrument (see figure 17). The forepillar was not straight like the pedal harp. 1904).clarsach. gut strung.000 ‘Portable’ harps. often decorated with gold shamrocks. blue or green paint finishes. imitating the wire strung instrument. 1977). William: Traditional and Historical Scottish Harps.net/Bill_Taylor/traditional. 8 Taylor.htm. the French manufacturer Sebastian Erard marketed the first double-action pedal harp. and required the same playing technique with the ‘thumbs up. 69.5 Initially he specialised in single-action pedal harps. with a rounded back and flat soundboard. however. fingers down’ hand positioning. as well as the small wire strung models which were supplied to the second Belfast Harp Society (see Appendix I). The model currently in the possession of the Historical Harp Society which has recently undergone a cosmetic restoration and is housed at the Museum of Fine Arts.09. Egan made over 2.03. 105. has 32 strings.CHAPTER ONE John Egan’s ‘Portable’ Harp John Egan was a successful Dublin instrument maker who manufactured harps between about 1800 to 1840. it was tuned in the key of E flat.8 Designed to be played by pedal harpists. supplying them with black. but was made with varying degrees of curvature.
. Boston. Armstrong. The ‘Portable’ harp was about three feet high. 1954). Like the single-action pedal harp. and also similar to the pedal harp in the shape of the neck and soundbox. A stabilising rod was incorporated inside the bottom of the soundbox. from E
Figure 1: The ‘Portable’ harp by John Egan. dated 1819
flat two octaves below middle C, to A flat three octaves above. Most of the harps had seven levers set into the forepillar, called ‘ditals’. They were connected to rods inside the forepillar, and when one of them was depressed it operated in a similar way to a pedal on a single-action harp, resulting in a change of key due to the rod turning small forked discs on the neck, next to the corresponding strings.9 After George IV’s visit to Ireland in 1821, Egan obtained the royal warrant and his harp became the ‘Royal Portable’. He was then able to advertise in 1922 as ‘Portable Harp maker to the King’.10 The instruments were mostly designed and marketed with the cultured but amateur nineteenth-century drawing-room in mind. Thomas Moore (see below) is believed to have owned one of these harps and to have used it to accompany himself in the performance of his Irish Melodies.11 In 1805 Lady Morgan12 purchased an Egan harp, but it is unclear whether it was wire strung or an early, experimental form of his ‘Portable’ harp13. She led a movement to make the Irish harp fashionable, especially the latter gut-strung version, which Egan supplied to many titled ladies, until about 1835. One of these ladies, the Marchioness of Abercorn, enthused, albeit rather patronisingly, in a letter to Lady Morgan: Your harp is arrived, and, for the honour of Ireland, I must tell you, it is very much admired and quite beautiful. Lady Aberdeen played on it for an hour, and thought it very good, almost as good as a French harp14…Pray tell poor Egan I shall show it off to the
Sources of information concerning Egan’s ‘Portable’ harp in Hurrell, Nancy: ‘A Harp from 19th Century Ireland: The Royal Portable Harp by John Egan’, Folk Harp Journal, No. 119, (Walton Creek, Spring, 2003), 52, and in Hayward, Richard: The Story of the Irish Harp, (Dublin, 1954). Hayward owned one of these harps, using it in his lectures in the 1950s. 10 Hurrell, Nancy: ‘A Harp from 19th Century Ireland: The Royal Portable Harp by John Egan’, Folk Harp Journal, No. 119, (Walton Creek, Spring 2003), 52. 11 Maher, Tom: The Harp’s a Wonder, (Mullingar, 1991), 96. 12 Lady Morgan: a novelist, who also published a small collection of Irish airs in 1806 (Flood, W. H. Grattan: The Story of the Harp (London, 1905), 148). 13 Ibid, 148. 14 Possibly a reference to Erard’s pedal harp.
best advantage, and I sincerely hope he will have many orders in consequence.15 Though a passing fashion, great importance is however attributed to the ‘Portable’ harp in this study. The modern folk harp played today, both in Ireland and Scotland, evolved from Egan’s design.
Flood, W. H. Grattan: The Story of the Harp (London, 1905), 151.
CHAPTER TWO Nationalism and Thomas Moore The political history of the Irish harp has…been conflated with its musical history and the harp limited to playing a silent role as a dominant symbol within nationalism. This has resulted in the loss of its own particular historical musical voice.16
In 1791 a nationalist political movement based in Belfast was established: the Society of United Irishmen. Members were wealthy Ulster Presbyterians who had been, like Catholics, subject to the penal laws and excluded from public life. Although this law was changed in 1780 as far as Protestant dissenters were concerned, much anger and resentment remained due to what they considered to be the injustices on which the whole system of the Protestant ascendancy was built. Their radical aim was to unite with mainstream Protestants, and indeed Catholics, to overthrow the Anglican ascendancy and create a united Ireland, independent from Britain.17 The Society, which had some connections with the Belfast Society for Promoting Knowledge (see Appendix 1), used the arts and the growing antiquarian interest in Ireland’s past, as a means of effecting social and political change, and its ethos, as a result, became imbued with a cultural nationalism. It adopted the harp, which it perceived as representing a golden age prior to English rule, as its insignia, with the motto ‘It is new-strung and shall be heard’.18 The Society was quashed when its more militant faction attempted to overthrow British rule in 1798. The movement failed to gain the support of the Protestant majority, even the less wealthy, for whom
Lanier, S. C.: ‘ “It is new-strung and shan’t be heard”: nationalism and memory in the Irish harp tradition’, British Journal of Ethnomusicology, vol. 8, (Milton Keynes, 2000), 21. 17 Beckett, J. C.: A Short History of Ireland, 7th ed., (London, 1986), 95-117. 18 Boydell, Barra: ‘The Female Harp: The Irish Harp in 18th- and Early- 19thCentury Romantic Nationalism’, RidIM/RCMI Newsletter XX/1 (National University of Ireland, Maynooth College, Spring 1995), 11.
illustrated by the recent difficulty in the funding of the Belfast Harp Orchestra. this time basically Catholic in nature. In other words.com/janetharbison/biographical. From then to the present. was to bring together the two communities to celebrate what is essentially a shared heritage. 119-131. injustices were still perceived. the general perception is still that Irish culture (music. native Irish tradition comprised mainly of Gaelic song. nationalism in Ireland has been strongly associated with Catholicism.03. This situation has a parallel in the present day. Janet Harbison. Protestants may have perceived them to be representative of an alien and Catholic form of nationalism.19 How did these events affect music in Ireland in the early nineteenth century. consulted on 10.difference in religion was a greater issue than social injustice. Furthermore. the harp in particular? The interest in Irish antiquarianism still persisted. The rural. After an unsuccessful repeal of the union in the 1840s the militant Young Ireland movement emerged to challenge these issues. language. This was instigated by Daniel O’Connell. However. who in 1829 was instrumental in bringing about ‘Catholic emancipation’. literature and art) is inextricably linked with Catholicism. two distinct musical traditions existed in Ireland in the nineteenth century: rural and urban.belfastharps. On the other hand there was the sophisticated tradition of the mainly urban
Ibid. but the cultural nationalism of the late eighteenth century did not. In 1801 Westminster passed the ‘Act of Union’.04. However. Catholics were now allowed to vote and have seats in parliament.htm. for instance in land ownership and in the fact that the Catholic peasantry was still forced to pay tithes to the Anglican Church.20 One of the main aims of its founder. A new kind of nationalism emerged in the nineteenth century. http://www. This may account partly for the difficulty in funding the harp societies. fiddle and pipe music.
. uniting the British and Irish parliaments and making the link between the two countries stronger than ever.
Bloomington. 1792-1903: Revival and Preservation (D. (Cork. with often unsympathetic and elaborate piano arrangements. 218. One of these was Edward Bunting (1773-1843) (see Appendix I). 1966). along with the piano. 24 O’Boyle. The ten volumes of his songs attained great popularity throughout the nineteenth century. dissertation. 223. Sean: The Irish Song Tradition. for drawing-room entertainment. but suffered considerable condemnation for its elaborate and chromatic treatment. who performed in Dublin and Belfast in 1831. 22 Hogan.22 The influence of visiting pedal harpists. sanitised version of the native music. 13. who favoured art music imported from the European mainland. in Ireland and England.24 However. 1976). 12. for example Paganini. Cliona: The Irish Harp Tradition. The contemporary critic Gamble remarked. Indiana University School of Music. the music they collected would have been considered too raw and naïve in its natural form for the polite and cultivated Anglo-Irish drawing room. Joyce (1827-1914). (Sherries.Anglo-Irish. This interest was of an antiquarian kind and gave rise to several volumes of collections throughout the century. Ita: Anglo-Irish Music. Modal tunes were forced into the major and minor tonality of Western art music. 1808-1834). W. 23 Ibid. on the arrangements of both Stevenson and Bunting:
Doris.25 The poet Thomas Moore (1779-1852) used these often inaccurate transcriptions for his own verses (Irish Melodies.Mus. 1780-1830.23 no doubt contributed to the increasing popularity of that instrument. The music was arranged by the fashionable composer John Stevenson (1762-1833). such as Bochsa and Labarre (1821 and 1829 respectively). and what emerged has often been criticised as an artificial.21 Public concerts featured some well-known virtuosi. 1997). 221.
. The middle and upper classes also professed an interest in folk music. and two other important figures were George Petrie (1789-1866) and P. borrowing extensively from Bunting. 25 Ibid.
Glover. Janet: ‘Harpists. Breandán: Folk Music and Dances of Ireland. 30 Harbison.26 For example. 27 Extract from Ed. Carson notes: ‘This applies equally well to Irish singing’ (Carson. a paper presented at the Crossroads Conference. Crosbhealach An Cheoil: Tradition and Change in Irish Traditional Music.: Moore’s Irish Melodies. 61).29 she comments: Breathnach’s definition of ‘folk’ is apparently limited to the labouring native classes. who collected folk songs in England at the turn of the twentieth century. Coleraine University. does it only qualify as ‘folk’ when it has filtered through the social classes to the lowest orders? It seems that the spokespeople for Irish music are class restrictive. in which the third and seventh intervals were ‘mutable and vague’. 1996. 1966). In criticism of Breandán Breathnach’s view in Folk Music and Dances of Ireland. It is wonderful indeed how any men who have hearts in their bosoms should be so far misled by the ear as not to perceive that native Irish music would lose its charm the instant that it was shackled by the symphony and accompaniment of modern art. and found that singers used ‘one single loosely-knit modal folk-song scale’. quoted in Hogan. I pose the question: despite the often aristocratic origins of a tradition. 1859). O Moyle! Be the roar of thy water’. note the chromatic piano introduction to Moore’s ‘Silent. (Cork. and the use of the sharpened seventh in the melody which was probably absent in the original. J. (Dublin.They have both built on an entirely wrong foundation. Ita: Anglo-Irish Music. who asserts that the description of this invented kind of parlour music as a ‘folk’ or ‘traditional’ genre in its own right. In this regard. (Dublin. is quite valid.30
Gamble: Society and Manners in the North of Ireland. as he obviously considers any aspect of music…associated with the aristocracy to be unacceptable. 1986). W. Ciarán: Pocket Guide to Irish Traditional Music (Belfast. 1780-1830. 28 Ciarán Carson quotes Percy Granger. 1971). Harpers or Harpees?’. 95. 92-93.28 An alternative view of Moore is held by Janet Harbison. which was likely to have been modal (see figure 2 27). It is like taking the lark from the forest and bidding it pour forth its ‘wood notes wild’ in a cage. 29 Breathnach. Hogan does not provide the date of the quotation.
Figure 2: Extract from Moore’s ‘Silent O Moyle! Be the Roar of thy Water’
A. is illustrated with another common nineteenth-century image. illustrated by D. The following stanza.W. So sleeps the pride of former lays. Spring 1995). the Maid of Erin. for instance. that once beat high for praise. Maclise. Maynooth College.32 Moore produced an illustrated version of his Irish Melodies in 1846. 32 Ed. 33 Boydell. RidIM/RCMI Newsletter XX/1. the Tear and the Smile in Thine Eyes’. of which a self-indulgent languishing in a ‘Celtic’ golden age was a characteristic feature. Glover: Moore’s Irish Melodies. and Harbison.31 Moore’s verses were of a sentimental. 1866). Thomas: Irish Melodies. in an idealised version of actual history. The instrument is in chains. CD1057/58). As Walter Scott did for Scotland. (ESS. Now hangs as mute on Tara’s walls. In the illustration that accompanies
Flannery. (London. 34 Illustration from Moore.33 The artwork is flowery and ornate. As if that soul were fled. James W. 5. 1859). So glory’s thrill is o’er. (National University of Ireland. representing Ireland under foreign domination (figure 435). with engravings by the artist Daniel Maclise.Harbison has accompanied the tenor James W. J. nostalgic nature. (Dublin. 35 Ibid. ‘Erin. the Irish Melodies of Thomas Moore. Janet: Dear Harp of my Country. ‘New Edition’. 13. in keeping with the Anglo-Irish disposition. in a recent recording of a selection of Moore’s Irish Melodies. is well-known: The harp that once through Tara’s halls The soul of music shed. Moore made Ireland romantic. with much symbolic use of the harp. is very common. either to represent Ireland itself or Ireland’s ‘glorious’ past prior to England’s rule.and Early 19th-Century Romantic Nationalism’. and on one level the songs are also patriotic. For instance in ‘The Harp that Once through Tara’s Halls’ a bard is depicted in an idyllic ‘Celtic’ setting (figure 334). His use of the harp as a symbol. 21-2. Flannery on the Irish harp. languishing sadly over her harp.Y Recordings. And hearts. Barra: ‘The Female Harp: The Irish Harp in 18th. Now feel that pulse no more.
Figure 3: Daniel Maclise’s illustration for ‘The Harp that Once through Tara’s Hall’. from Moore’s Irish Melodies. 1846 edition
.Figure 4: Daniel Maclise’s illustration for ‘Erin. the Tear and the Smile in Thine Eyes’. from Moore’s Irish Melodies.
romantic.37 Whatever the musical.
. a battle is depicted. Whether or not the nature of this profile is helpful to modern-day performers of the instrument is another issue. On the contrary. nostalgic and often feminine image of the Irish harp persisted well into the twentieth century. A third. quite the opposite occurred. 100. given the nationalist content of his songs and the fact that he himself was a Catholic. Although the instrument had a small role in the nineteenth century in terms of its actual use. which will be addressed later in the dissertation. Moore succeeded in raising it to iconic status through its romantic portrayal in his publications. 1997). The instrument was certainly kept in high profile in people’s minds at least. There was nothing in Moore’s verses to threaten the status quo. due to their popularity with the English and Anglo-Irish. however. This sentimental. the boy clutching a harp with broken strings (figure 536). they are highly relevant to the study of the Irish harp. his Irish Melodies. James W: ‘Dear Harp of My Country’: The Irish Melodies of Thomas Moore (Nashville.
Ibid. acceptable to the polite tastes of the drawing-room. It must be emphasised. Far from bolstering a Catholic nationalist cause. See Flannery. sentimental form of nationalism was emerging.‘The Minstrel Boy’. ethical or political judgements of Moore’s Irish Melodies. that the nationalism was of a completely different character to that of either the United Irishmen or the Young Irelanders. Moore’s popularity with the Anglo-Irish. There are many more examples with similar imagery. were (and still are) associated by many with colonial oppression. seems somewhat paradoxical in the light of the political situation described above.
Figure 5: Daniel Maclise’s illustration for ‘The Minstrel Boy’. from Moore’s Irish Melodies. 1846 edition
song and dance. It had a devastating effect on all aspects of Irish society. 39 ‘Irish literary festival’
. The Gaelic League established the Oireachtas39 in Dublin in 1897. to scholarship of a more serious and substantial nature. Gearóid: A Pocket History of Irish Traditional Music. The four harp solos are listed as ‘selected’ melodies. The Gaelic League was established by Douglas Hyde and Eoin McNeill in 1893. Kenny. 83-84. Fantasia on Irish Airs. Owen Lloyd. especially rural. Milligan Fox’s Annals of the Irish Harpers (1911) and O’Neill’s Irish Minstrels and Musicians (1913). performed by Mr. In the first two decades of the twentieth century several scholarly works raising the awareness of the Irish harp were published. (Dublin. Two and a half million people were lost to starvation. and in the next decade the emigration figures rose to almost thirty percent.38 In the 1890s. and finally. Flood’s The Story of the Harp (1905). ‘especially written for the Oireachtas’. performed by Mrs. again by Mrs.CHAPTER THREE Cultural renewal The famine in Ireland reached its height between 1845 and 1849. Love in Secret from the Bunting collection and The Kissing Match (a Munster jig). The programme for the first of these festivals consisted of competitions (mostly of a literary nature) interspersed with musical items on the pipes and the Irish harp. 1998). disease or emigration during this period. when the country finally began the long process of recovery. Brian
Ó hAllmhuráin. and in 1903 the Irish Folk Song Society was formed. What characterised these works was a move away from the sentimental and romantic portrayal of Irish music (the harp in particular) in the nineteenth century. specifically Armstrong’s The Irish and Highland Harps (1904). a cultural renaissance was born. and aimed to promote the Irish language as well as instrumental music. Kenny.
From the beginning competitions have been held for pedal harp. Malachy McFall. Each evening for a week concerts were given. 1897.42 The writer has been unable to find information concerning their repertoire. In any event. They were Owen Lloyd (one of the performers at the first Oireachtas described above). Programme for the Oireachtas. 1992). presumably either because there were no entries or because the standard was not high enough to merit a prize. John: The Heritage of the Harp. any size’. Rotunda.41 In 1903 the cultural revival was also felt in Belfast. 43 Ibid.40 played by Mr. during the first year. but in this case no prize-winner is mentioned.
. the venue of the Harp Festival of 1792. from the Bunting collection. W.Boroihme’s March. were prompted to organise a centenary celebration. the class was not offered again. 42 Magee. Dublin. 81-82. and Mrs. such as Autumn. modelled on the Welsh Eisteddfod) was founded by Dr A. including the harps of O’Neill and Hempson. ‘illustrating the advance and retirement of a troop of warriors’. 28. In 1897 the Feis Ceoil (‘music festival’. and although well attended. An interesting class was offered. The early programmes list test pieces for the instrument. Kerin and Maguire. in the section for ‘Competitions of Archeological Interest’: a class for ‘the Irish Wire Strung Harp. Toner. The first Feis Ceoil included a ‘special prize’ for the ‘performance of old Irish airs on the harp’. James McFall (see Appendix II). which was actually held on a date to mark the library’s move to new premises. but the kind of harp used was not specified. Owen Lloyd. the Misses Davis. only six harpists performed. by John Thomas. on Monday 17th May. held in the Round Room. Patterson.43 to promote and foster both art and traditional music. (Belfast. and there was also an exhibition of harps by the contemporary Belfast maker. Memorabilia of the 1792 festival were on display.
Probably Brian Ború’s March. Members of the Linen Hall Library. Prizewinners’ names for each competition were always published in the following year’s programme. or Irish Literary Festival.
are very idiomatic to the instrument. Flood is likely to have obtained the extract from one of these publications. Studies and pieces were specified from particular publications by Mother Attracta Coffey:44 27 Studies and Melodies for Irish Harp. However. However. lush crotchet chords.47 It will be noticed that one of the
An accomplished harpist and Mistress of Music at Loreto Abbey. 45 Extract from Flood. H. If this arrangement is compared to the original in Moore’s Irish Melodies (figure 746). but from 1904 requirements were more formalised. (Cork and Dublin. Also.In the following year (1898) the ‘Small Irish Harp’ (gut-strung) is mentioned for the first time. 239. These programmes have provided the source of all information written above. 1905). At first competitors were stipulated to choose their own pieces. 46 Extract from Ed. J. Moore’s arrangement is quite sparse in texture with quite busy continuous quavers. many of which would have probably been arpeggiated in imitation of Romantic pedal harp music. relating to these events during this period. that Mother Attracta’s melodies were also printed as piano arrangements. Sheila Larchet-Cuthbert notes in The Irish Harp Book (Cork and Dublin 1975). it is not until 1901 that prizewinners are listed. which had to be ‘Irish in character’. W. 154155. a good example is provided of how an Irish harp player at this time may have adapted a melody from one of the many nineteenth-century collections that would have been available. 313-4. See Larchet-Cuthbert. and it is an indication of what might have been played at the Feis Ceoil. Glover. Rathfarnham. the two C# accidentals could be managed quite easily. but the harp version’s full. 1975). from 1900 to 1911. and this was the case until at least 1912. W. 47 The writer was able to gain access to the programme for the first Oireachtas and to the programmes for the Feis Ceoil from 1897-1912. Figure 8 shows the prize-winners in the Feis Ceoil in the small Irish harp category. Sheila: The Irish Harp Book. Flood gives an example of one of Mother Attracta’s arrangements: a version for small harp of Moore’s song ‘Come. assuming that the harp had semitone-levers (see section below on harp makers). it still appears very much to be a harp arrangement as some of the chords have too wide a spread to be played comfortably on the piano. 239. Rest in this Bosom’ (see figure 645).
. Grattan: The Story of the Harp (London. 1859). as it states ‘Piano’ next to the stave. but would be quite possible on the harp.: Moore’s Irish Melodies. (Dublin.
arranged by Mother Attracta Coffey
.Figure 6: The melody of Moore’s ‘Come. Rest in this Bosom’.
Figure 7: Moore’s ‘Come Rest in this Bosom’
from 1900 to 1911
.Figure 8: Prize winners in the Feis Ceoil in the small Irish harp category.
and the support of the Gaelic League and Feis Ceoil
Flood. (London.50 She continues: Through his enterprise and advocacy. like the pedal harp.
. and ‘boldly advocated the introduction of the instrument into National Schools. 59. O’Neill.48 Similarly. the Irish harp has been ousted in popular circles by the pianoforte and violin. 1905). the promoters [of the revival] have wisely directed their energies in other channels. 153. Capt. was a principal force behind the making of Irish harps in Belfast at this time. Malachi McFall. 1987). Charlotte: Annals of the Irish Harpers.49
Charlotte Milligan Fox noted that the turn of the century historian. reprint of original 1913 edition. instead of the squeaky harmonium and tinkling pianos so often found’. the Rev. the contemporary author Flood remarked: …the feeling is irresistibly borne on the impartial observer that. (London. 50 Milligan Fox. Monsignor O’Laverty of Holywood. O’Neill noted: Accepting the decree that the piano has permanently supplanted the harp in popular favor. This is perhaps not surprising considering the instrument was originally developed primarily for amateur drawing-room entertainment and. If the wire strung tradition had been a largely male domain. Francis: Irish Minstrels and Musicians. save as a matter of sentiment. 1911). H. 476. popular with cultured ladies. It is also interesting to note the predominance of female names. also performed at the Belfast Harp Festival two years previously. Concerning the Irish harp competitions held at the Oireachtas and Feis Ceoil. Grattan: The Story of the Harp. this list certainly appears to be an early indication of the gut strung instrument’s appropriation by the female gender. (Cork and Dublin.prize-winners in 1905. W.
its use was still limited to a circle of enthusiasts.
. and even in London it is occasionally heard as an accompaniment to song at the concerts of the Folk Song and Irish Literary Societies. in its new. 60. gut-strung form. of saving the harp from extinction.
Ibid.Committees.51 These remarks are indicative of the situation which pertained throughout the first half of the twentieth century. The Irish harp was being revived. and was gaining popularity (see Appendix II for a description of Irish harps being made at that time). rather than instigating a true revival. the Irish hand harp is not obsolete. However. whose main role was one of preservation.
A civil war followed. due to poverty and emigration (Ó hAllmhuráin. cylinder recordings and 78 rpm records. dance halls and religious festivals. The first formalised ensembles were created. Firstly. many more musicians were lost through emigration. albeit in urban Ireland.
. known as the ‘Easter Rising’. 106-109. 54 This organisation. opposed Ireland’s union with Great Britain. so that musicians such as Sligo fiddler Michael Coleman. the Gaelic League established branches throughout the country as well as in Irish communities in Britain. Under its terms. Secondly. part of the United Kingdom. often thought to be the most influential Irish musician of the twentieth century. resulting in great social and economic instability in much of Ireland. leading to the War of Independence in 1919. 55 Irish political leader in power from 1932 to 1948. (Dublin. those people who remained in Ireland were encouraged by Eamon de Valera. The political party Sinn Féin54 launched an armed rebellion. Gearóid: A Pocket History of Irish Traditional Music. not to hanker after material wealth but
Ó hAllmhuráin notes that the status of traditional music in rural areas of Ireland at this time was in decline. whose name literally translates as ‘ourselves alone’. who emigrated to New York in 1914. 53 See Ó hAllmhuráin. 1998). This persisted for about the next 30 years. twenty-six counties achieved independence (known as the ‘Irish Free State’). 97).55 as a means of surviving the poverty. and had a devastating effect on Irish traditional music. involving the Irish Republican Army.CHAPTER FOUR The Convent Schools The cultural renewal at the turn of the century generally had a positive impact on traditional music. A truce was reached in 1921 when the Anglo-Irish treaty was signed. Gearóid: A Pocket History of Irish Traditional Music. (Dublin.53 Events in 1916 were pivotal in their influence on Irish traditional music. could reach wide audiences. There were also media advances in radio. where music was provided for Gaelic League gatherings.52 Supported by a short period of economic stability. 1998). leaving six counties in Ulster with a predominantly Protestant population.
Jazz music. Eithne Vallely and Liz Doherty. Vallely. 98-99. Any form of ‘unsupervised’ dancing was officially banned in 1935. mistress of music at Loreto Abbey. It has already been noted that Mother Attracta Coffey. 111. 1998). where both the Irish harp and pedal harp were taught. The Crossroads Conference: ‘Tradition and Change in Irish Traditional Music’. a percentage paid to the government. due to its long association with aristocracy and nineteenth-century drawing rooms. of which the latter
Quoted in Ó hAllmhuráin. At the turn of the century. She also published an Irish Harp Tutor and 27 Studies. Janet Harbison berated what she considered to be the prejudices against the Irish harp by well-known authorities such as Sean O’Riada and Breandán Breathnach. and an example of one of her arrangements has been given (figure 6).57 but it is this very separation from other traditional instruments that may have ultimately saved it from extinction in the early twentieth century. 1996). was not considered a folk instrument. Harpers or Harpees’. literature. and in which many musicians had developed a low self-image? The simple answer lies in the fact that the instrument. in ‘Harpists. (Dublin.…[be] satisfied with frugal comfort and [devote their] leisure time to the things of the spirit. This perception of the Irish harp still persists in some circles today. Hammy Hamilton. Ed. had an active involvement in the syllabus for Irish harp in the Feis Ceoil. Gearóid: A Pocket History of Irish Traditional Music. language and heritage fostered by the Gaelic League. to the chagrin of many modern exponents of the instrument. How did the Irish harp fit into this scenario in which Irish people were becoming increasingly ashamed of their culture. Whether or not one considers this philosophy to be laudible. 57 For instance. only allowed to continue in Dance Halls at which one was charged an entrance fee. (Dublin. the fact is that trying to control public morality in this way did lead to an erosion of culture. The most important of these were Sion Hill Convent and Loreto Abbey. art and modern cinema were also subject to strict censorship. both in Dublin.
. Fintan.56 This puritanical notion was readily taken up and enforced by the Catholic Church. convent schools played a leading role in the renewed interest in Irish culture.
She was big in stature and big in mind. the instrument continued to have great importance in these schools.include studies and exercises adapted from similar publications for piano. The ‘family tree’ in figure 10 shows these harp teachers and their students. teaching both the pedal and Irish harp during the 1930s and 1940s. 1999). Sheila: The Irish Harp Book: a Tutor and Companion. all of whom are noted in this dissertation. 61 Máire Ní Chathasaigh is a notable exception. is a typical example. (Cork and Dublin. 59 From Larchet-Cuthbert. 62 Dempsey. The exercise shown in figure 9 adapted from Viner. It is remarkable to note that it would be possible for most of the leading Irish harp players of today to trace their ‘ancestry’ back to key figures from these two convents. Her charismatic personality was described recently in a book of reminiscences. 27. for about the next seventy years.59 From the 1920s. Mother Alphonsus O’Connor succeeded Mother Attracta. Where known. (Dublin.61 At Loreto Abbey. dates are included in the ‘family trees’.60 Unhindered by the Catholic Church. (Cork and Dublin. 239. the Irish harp had already had a long association with the convent school. Jeannie Reddin: I still feel her spirit.58 In 1975 these studies were incorporated into Larchet-Cuthbert’s The Irish Harp Book: a Tutor and Companion. therefore. Anne: The Abbey:An Appreciation of Loreto Abbey. Her personality was just phenomenal and I feel her spirit to this day. 1975). Sheila: The Irish Harp Book: a Tutor and Companion. Rathfarnham.62
Larchet-Cuthbert. 1975). states that his harps are ‘in use in all the leading Convents throughout the world’. based on scale and arpeggio patterns. for example by Czerny and Viner.
. shown in Appendix II. 60 McFall’s advertisement from the early twentieth century. when Irish traditional music was sinking into decline. by pianist and former pupil. or from pedal harpists such as Naderman and Bochsa.
Figure 9: ‘Study No. 1’. from Larchet-Cuthbert’s The Irish Harp Book
) (1955 .)
Laoise Kelly (1973 .) Fionnuala Rooney (1980 .)
Anne-Marie O’Farrell (1966 .) Roisín Hambly (1983 . and their ‘descendants’
Michael Rooney (1975 .1920)
Mother Alphonsus O’Connor
Nancy Calthorpe (1914 .)
Derek Bell (1935 – 2002)
Sion Hill Mairín Ní Shé
Mary O’Hara (1935 .)
Aonghus Rooney (1982 .)
Gráinne Hambly (1975 .)
Figure 10: ‘Family tree’ of harp teachers (indicated in red) at Loreto Abbey and Sion Hill Convent Schools.1998)
Aibhlín McCrann (1956 .Loreto Abbey Mother Attracta Coffey ( .
In an interview with the writer she remarked that both the Irish and pedal harps were given ‘great importance and time’ at Loreto Abbey.Another former harp student of Mother Alphonsus. was Sheila Larchet-Cuthbert. of great importance to this study as a founding member of Cáirde na Cruite.
1991). London for our harpists to entertain guests for a week or two…These were great days when the Sion Hill Harp School flourished. with her three sisters. maybe twenty girls in all would entertain the guests for two hours. Sister Carmel recounts that the formal teaching of the Irish harp began in 1949 by Máirín Ferriter (née Ní Shé).
See Maher. Mary O’Hara.66 Killarney Hotels. 101.64 travelled to London to perform for a BBC television programme.CHAPTER FIVE The celebrity harpists and the tourist industry A former member of the teaching staff at Sion Hill Convent. and has provided some of her recollections of the Sion Hill Harp School. Kathleen Watkins. Before the Summer holidays we awaited invitations from Bunratty Castle. They are primarily aimed at tourists. Sister Carmel Warde. having been active members of the Gaelic League. Deirdre O’Callaghan and Deirdre Flynn. Limerick. 63 In 1951. now manages the school archives.. She was one of the performers. Sister Carmel related how this event triggered a nationwide popularity for the Irish harp: Looking back over the 1950s and 1960s I recall very happy busy days preparing for Jury’s65 Cabaret. 65 A Dublin hotel popular with tourists. Ní Shé had come from a background of influence by parents who had an intense interest in Irish music. Now president of the Feis Ceoil Association.
. Dublin. Co. 1942. An adult harp student herself. Tom: The Harp’s a Wonder (Mullingar. Dublin Hotels and the Hilton Hotel. at the 150th anniversary of the Belfast Harp Festival at Collins Barracks..A troop of Sion Hill Harpists. 66 ‘ Medieval’ banquets involving musicians and singers are held here. four young pupils of Máirín Ferriter. Christmas time was another highlight for our Harp School… charity concerts were given in various hospitals and nursing homes throughout the city and far beyond. literature and language.
The photograph of Mary O’Hara in figure 11 was taken in 1954.67 Performers in this genre were primarily singers who accompanied themselves in a simple, chordal style. No published arrangements existed at that time, and their repertoire consisted largely of songs taken from collections such as ‘Moore’s Irish Melodies’ or the Petrie Collection, with adapted accompaniments. Present-day performer and authority on the Irish harp, Janet Harbison, was a pupil at Sion Hill Convent where she studied the Irish harp with Máirín Ferriter in the 1960s. She relates that her teacher: taught the harp players of Sion Hill by ear. She could not read music and those of us, her harp students, who also learned piano, were often called upon to sound the music she had in books…The tradition we inherited came directly from the drawing rooms of the nineteenth century.68
Mary O’Hara was the foremost exponent in this genre. It is interesting to note that while her vocal style derived in many ways from western art music, her early arrangements were usually simple and modal. For instance, her version of ‘Silent, O Moyle’(♫ 1)69 is entirely sung and played in the Aeolian mode, in contrast to John Stevenson’s elaborate piano arrangement (figure 2). Another example of a simple, unpretentious accompaniment can be heard in ‘Seoladh Na Ngamhna’(♫ 2),70 which consists of arpeggios and sparse open fifths. Given that her harp was equipped with semitone levers and therefore capable of performing accidentals such as sharpened sevenths in a minor scale, one could conclude that her choice of arrangement was due to an aversion to over-romanticising the music in the way that Stevenson and others had in the nineteenth century.
Copy of photograph supplied to the writer by Sister Carmel Warde, from the School’s archives. 68 ‘Harpists, Harpers or Harpees’, The Crossroads Conference: ‘Tradition and Change in Irish Traditional Music’, Ed. Fintan, Vallely, Hammy Hamilton, Eithne Vallely and Liz Doherty, (Dublin, 1996), 95. 69 From O’Hara, Mary: Irish Magic (Cedar: GFS369). 70 Ibid. Translated as ‘Driving the Calves’.
Figure 11: Mary O’Hara in 1954
A simple style of arranging by other performers in this genre could possibly be explained by the fact that they were first and foremost singers, and consequently less proficient on the instrument had they been primarily harpists. Indeed, according to Gráinne Yeats, 71 the overall standard of Irish harp-playing was very low at this time. She is disparaging of the image that was portrayed in general by these performers: What you had, basically, were beautiful young girls singing sweet folk songs, playing little chords, and they weren’t really playing the instrument. They were using it solely as an embellishment of the song… Mary [O’Hara] was the best, and she sang beautifully, but you did have a lot of terribly inefficient ones.
The activities of the Sion Hill harp School described above reflect the significant social and economic changes taking place in Ireland in the 1950s and 1960s. The television performance by the four Sion Hill harpists was part of the School’s involvement in the government initiative to promote the tourist industry in Ireland, known as An Tostal.72 An economic plan devised by Irish politicians, Sean Lemass and Thomas Whitaker in the late 1950s,73 with an emphasis on free trade, led to greatly increased prosperity and a more consumerist society compared to the austerity of the 1930s and 1940s. Many Irish emigrants returned, and Ireland became a desirable holiday destination. Furthermore, a new liberalism was developing in the Catholic church, culminating with the Second Vatican Council74 in 1963: the Irish harp was emerging from its cosseted convent environment, into the realms of the tourist cabaret.
Born in 1925, Yeats has had a distinguished career as a singer, performer of the Irish harp, teacher and scholar. 72 Literally, ‘gathering’. 73 See J. C. Beckett: A Short History of Ireland (London, 1986), 169-170. 74 http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/index.htm, consulted on 0.07.03.
1971). greatly compromised quality and style. as the adulteration of [radio] programmes purporting to consist of traditional material confuses an ill-informed public and debases the general taste. 76 Breathnach. Furthermore. however. (Dublin. 128-129. according to some commentators. the returning emigrants ‘The Clancy Brothers’ and Tommy Makem were highly successful in the 1950s and 1960s.76
Another development in the 1950s was the advent of the pub ‘session’. Breandán: Folk Music and Dances of Ireland (Cork and Dublin. 1998). 77 An informal gathering of musicians. What began. the author on Irish traditional music Breandán Breathnach commented: We are now informed in all seriousness that the lighter commercial ballad personified by the guitar as the basic accompanying instrument must be regarded as coming within the definition of Irish traditional music…The effect of this policy must be wholly pernicious. guitar accompaniment and often sentimental and nostalgic thematic material. Gearóid: A Pocket History of Irish Traditional Music. and the subsequent packaging tended to compromise this spontaneity. 125.77 These first began in London by Irish immigrants working for building companies on the post-war reconstruction of the city. and this. with their exuberant style.
. and gained popularity in Ireland in the 1960s. As with the cabaret harpists. In particular. dancing was not normally permitted at these sessions. a fact which perhaps
See Ó hAllmhuráin. as an occasion for spontaneous music-making. was soon marketed by both the tourist and drinks industry. popularity was the key criterion of these ballad singers. For instance.75 which coincided with a more widespread popular folk revival and ‘hippie’ revolution occurring in the USA and Britain.CHAPTER SIX The folk and traditional music revivals Another product of this changing Irish society (or perhaps partly a cause) was the phenomenon of the so-called ‘Ballad Boom’.
80 ‘Society of Irish musicians’. 75 Carolan compositions were included in O’Neill’s Music of Ireland: 1850 Melodies. Other developments in the 1950s did prevent Irish traditional music deteriorating into trite and bland commercialism. the musicians of different regions heard each other. In addition. For instance. reels in particular. resulted in the neglect of other genres such as songs. Purists such as Breathnach were cautious in their praise of such radio programmes. Equally significantly. repertoire and techniques. which gave rise to the exchange of ideas and techniques. Additionally. in accordance with common usage the organisation will be referred to as ‘Comhaltas’. first published in 1903 and mainly aimed at fiddle players.
. in which the music of these rural pockets could be heard in cities.encouraged the separation of music and dance in Irish music. The pub session has now become an important fringe event at the Fleadh. 79 See Breathnach. Comhaltas instigated the annual Fleadh Cheoil. slow airs or historical harp tunes. maintaining that they would lead to a blurring of regional styles. and a forum for the exchange of styles. Throughout the remainder of the study. and one of the first factors to contribute to the beginnings of a revival of the true tradition was the radio broadcasts by piper and collector Séamus Ennis (from 1947-1951). 1971). Comhaltas has developed an educational programme which it
Harp tunes had not previously been the exclusive domain of harp players. become the main focus of the social life of today’s traditional musician. however. 81 ‘music festival’. the focus on the often loud and fast playing of tunes.78 The pub session has. 124. often for the first time.81 a competitive festival providing a platform to perform for appreciative audiences. Breandán: Folk Music and Dances of Ireland (Cork and Dublin. The formation of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann80 by members of the Dublin Piper’s Club to promote Irish traditional music in 1952 was also a constructive step in this direction.79 but they undoubtably did much to raise the morale of traditional musicians and encourage them to be positive about their own heritage. Small sub-cultures had remained in rural areas despite the years of repression by the Catholic church.
In 1960 he formed ‘Ceoltóirí Cualann’ (later to become ‘The Chieftains’) and raised the respectability of Irish music by introducing dress-suits and classical-style arrangements. held in Dublin. It was something that you paid lipservice to…Probably with Comhaltas it got off to a bad start. Throughout its early years. as explained by Aibhlín McCrann. particularly Mise Eire (‘I am Ireland’).
. We would see ourselves as custodians of the old. [Their attitude] was understandable in some ways. in particular the Scoil Éigse.delivers through its 400 branches in Ireland and abroad. the Irish composer Séan O’Riada (1931-1971) came to the public eye through his film scores. a long-term collector and researcher for the organisation: I suppose we would generally be perceived as being conservative. the current secretary of Cáirde Na Cruite: Comhaltas did the harp no favours in the 1950s. Most importantly.
The lack of recognition of the Irish harp as a traditional instrument by Comhaltas at this time was confirmed by Séamus MacMathuna. however. incorporating traditional melodies into the score. you’re fine for cabaret and the American circuit: “the Colleen behind the harp”’. because what they were hearing wasn’t their perception of what Irish music should be.
In the 1960s. and what’s been seen through the generations as being important…The harp was looked at as a bit of a sacred cow in the early years [of Comhaltas]. it
‘summer school’. whilst retaining a traditional style of playing. Comhaltas had a negative view of the Irish harp due to the image of the instrument described above. about the War of Independence. if you like. and kind of neatly put it into a little box and said: ‘Ah. because they just totally ignored it.82 an summer school of traditional music which includes workshops and lectures.
Yeats explained his reasons thus: I think he was depressed about the standard of harpplaying at the time. believing it to be close in sound to the former instrument. Sean: Our Musical Heritage (Portlaoise.85
As there were no wire-strung harps being played in the 1960s. he believed that the instrument had completely died out by the middle of the nineteenth century with the last of the wire-strung harpers. observing that his concept of an ensemble of musicians was not ‘traditional’ either. and of the current ‘parlour’ style of harp-playing: To revive the true harping tradition was impossible: instead. 84 The writer is unclear about what is meant by this comparison. I think. as exemplified by John Thomas’s arrangements of Welsh folk songs. because it was very.
A book was later published based on this series. 78. 1982). It is perhaps a reference to the Romantic style of pedal harp playing emerging in Wales in the nineteenth century. was not one that appealed to Séan. 1996). O’Riada had a deep interest in the music of the harpers recorded in manuscripts such as Bunting’s. The Crossroads Conference: ‘Tradition and Change in Irish Traditional Music’. Sean: Our Musical Heritage (Portlaise. 1980). Fintan. that ‘the harp in former times was our outstanding glory in music’. very low… the little girl image. 77. Because we’re talking here about a very old and beautiful tradition. Janet: ‘Harpists. His complete disregard for the gut-strung Irish harp was shown when O’Riada refused.
. Eithne Vallely and Liz Doherty.was music to be listened to.84 quite different from the Irish style…I think it is a pity we do not try to reconstruct a style closer to the traditional style. See Harbison. Osian: The Story of the Harp in Wales (Cardiff. edited by Thomas Kinsella. when asked by Gráinne Yeats. And he was right. 98. O’Riada chose to play the harpsichord in ‘Ceoltóirí Cualann’. Hammy Hamilton. Ed. In an interview with the writer. Vallely. rather than to be danced to. (Dublin. 1982). See Ellis.83 However. singing sweet songs. Janet Harbison noted a contradiction in O’Riada’s point of view here. a style of harping was developed which was based mainly on Welsh harping. instead of propagating an invented style which has nothing to do with tradition. Harpers or Harpees’. asserting in a 1962 radio series entitled ‘Our Musical Heritage’. 85 O’Riada. See O’Riada. and was dismissive of the gut-strung instrument which replaced it. to compose a piece of music for the instrument.
to return to this ‘old and beautiful tradition’. and the results of his research appeared in the Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society between 1927 and 1939 (see O’Sullivan. his main aim was to reunite melodies transcribed by Bunting with their original words (which were not included in the latter’s publications). Donal: ‘The Irish Folk Song Society’. Times and Music of an Irish Harper. Ed. was seminal and inspirational at a time when Irish traditional music was in the early stages of a major revival. Carolan: the Life. probably culminating with O’Riada. In this regard the scholarly work of Donal O’Sullivan (1893-1973) was very important. published in London in 1958.
In his research on Bunting’s manuscripts.86 His work. and to move away from overly-sentimental representations of Irish music. Fleischmann. 1952). 297. (Cork. Aloys: Music in Ireland: A Symposium.Throughout the first half of the century there had been a gradually increasing desire amongst the purists.
88 The main objective was ‘to restore the Irish harp. she felt motivated to explore the history of the instrument and its music.
. The desire to raise the status of the Irish harp and dispel the ‘banquet ladies’ image associated with the instrument. Sounding Strings Nos 7 & 8. Her initial aim in this was to add variety to her performances. began to learn the Irish harp as an adult with Mercedes Garvey. Gráinne Yeats.89 The founders of the society came largely from a background of classical training.87 However. what was native to
See Bell. Gaelic League-influenced approach to Irish culture. then a classical singer and performer of unaccompanied Gaelic song. Furthermore. to a place of honour and to make more widely known and appreciated all that had survived of the heritage of Irish harp music’. the tutor for the pedal and Irish harp at the Royal Irish Academy of Music. Tom: The Harp’s a Wonder. and had an educated. symbol of ancient culture. Dublin. 103. she explained that as a history graduate. Summer/Autumn 1995). she discovered the music in collections such as Bunting’s. 88 ‘Friends of the Irish harp’. (Mullingar 1991). 2.CHAPTER SEVEN Cáirde Na Cruite: the early years In 1953. (West Lothian. Cáirde Na Cruite. what was indigenous. Aidan: ‘Gráinne Yeats’. Aibhlín McCrann commented on the difficulties faced by these individuals: It was a struggle to achieve everything they had achieved…to fight to preserve what they felt was heritage. it was necessary for the founding members of Cáirde Na Cruite to be single-minded and determined. 89 Maher. in order to break free of the commercialised image associated with the Irish harp and strongly perpetuated by the tourist industry. motivated Yeats and five other like-minded individuals. Becoming familiar with all the scholarship available. in 1960. including Sheila LarchetCuthbert and Mercedes Garvey to form.
Mercedes: My Gentle Harp (Dublin. 5. As regards printed music.
. It was felt. To encourage new compositions for the instrument. 14. that the situation was now irreversible: the new instrument with its classically-derived technique and semitone levers was ‘here to stay’.the country…It [was] an entirely different attitude of mind. To teach and foster learning.92 arranged by Mercedes McGrath. Gráinne Yeats recounted to the writer that Quinn was absolutely incredulous when asked by her to make a wire-strung harp in the 1950s.90 they accepted the fact that the latter instrument had firmly entrenched itself as the new Irish harp. 1992). Nobody was interested in making the wire-strung harp instrument. The piece in figure 12. 93 Mercedes Garvey’s mother. To hold public performances. To preserve what was left of the treasury of Irish harp music in manuscripts. explained Larchet-Cuthbert. To publish arrangements and a tutor (at this time there was no music in print suitable for playing on the Irish harp). and the only maker in Ireland was Daniel Quinn. While the founders were well aware that in the ‘golden age’ of the harp in Ireland the instrument was strung with wire and played with a completely different technique to its gut-strung successor.
The methods by which they set out to achieve their objective of ‘restoring the Irish harp to its place of honour’ were described to the writer by Sheila Larchet-Cuthbert: 1. 2.91 There were very few Irish harp makers during the 1950s and 1960s. the founders of the society concentrated on publishing arrangements for the gut-strung Irish harp. George Morley in London made small gut-strung harps with levers. See Appendix II: ‘Small harp makers at the turn of the twentieth century’. 3. 4. 92 From McGrath.93 ‘The Parting of
See Appendix I: ‘The wire-strung harp’. indeed.
Figure 12: Arr. McGrath: ‘The Parting of Friends’
Pieces in the tutor are arranged for solo harp. 97 Larchet-Cuthbert notes that Kelly was ‘influenced by Irish folk music and Anglo-Irish composers such as Stanford. Sheila: The Irish Harp Book: a Tutor and Companion. rich chords.. 98 From Larchet-Cuthbert. The example in figure 13 is from the first category. is an example. 1975).Friends’ from the Bunting Collection. Sheila Larchet-Cuthbert began the task of writing a tutor for Irish harp.97 Figure 15 shows an extract98 from this rather atmospheric piece.C. the extract in figure 14 is from an atonal work for two harps by Seóirse Bodley (1933. for example the use of harmonics. harp and voice. 116. which relies for its effect largely on the use of added sevenths. and compositions by contemporary players and composers.
From Larchet-Cuthbert. Kelly (1917-1985). (Cork and Dublin.). 1975). the occasional plucking with the fingernails and près de la table. 95 From ibid. by T. The irregular phrasing and unpredictable nature of this piece. which has featured on the Feis Cheoil syllabus for Irish harp since the early years of Cáirde Na Cruite. compiling repertoire from the following sources: arrangements of music from the harper composers such as Carolan. Sheila: The Irish Harp Book: a Tutor and Companion. an arrangement by Larchet-Cuthbert of ‘Carolan’s Farewell to Music’.95 In this work the composer uses several special effects which by this time had become quite familiar to pedal harpists playing contemporary compositions. is ‘Interlude’. ninths and elevenths. and harp ensemble. 96 Playing near the soundboard.96 A popular repertoire piece from The Irish Harp Book.
. (Cork and Dublin. 241). In contrast.94 It is a fairly lavish but harmonically conventional arrangement using full. glissandi. 1975). common qualities of many pieces in the historical harp tradition. (Cork and Dublin. arrangements of pieces from the nineteenth-century collections such as Petrie. would have been unfamiliar to the majority of banquet harpists with their repertoire of folk songs with simple harp accompaniment. 211. 103. Harty and Hughes’ (The Irish Harp Book: a Tutor and Companion.
Figure 13: Arr. Larchet-Cuthbert: ‘Carolan’s Farewell to Music’
Figure 14: Bodley: ‘Duet Scintillae’ (extract)
Figure 15: T. C. Kelly: ‘Interlude’ (extract)
65-9. the thumbs should be placed high. The finger.
.101 Four years later his opinion appears to
This results in the fingers pointing downwards. Breandán Breathnach wrote that he expected Larchet-Cuthbert’s inclusion of works by ‘composers of the first rank in Ireland…whether by design or otherwise. 1975). [to] achieve a considerable advance towards breaching that barrier between “art” and folk-music in Ireland. because it indicates that the advocated method of playing the Irish harp was directly taken from pedal harp technique: To obtain a full and beautiful tone. The completed action of fingers and thumb is vital if the performer is to produce not only a full and beautiful tone but resonance as well. and paved the way for other harpists to develop this concept. Throughout the study the use of this term will also be adopted. The thumb travels to the side of the first finger and makes contact with it. This complete finger action is essential. The most noteworthy in this field today is harpist and composer Anne-Marie O’Farrell. 1971). believing the harp tradition to have died out with the last of the wire-strung harpers.The section of the tutor which describes ‘the position of the hands’ is important. whose work will be explored later in the dissertation. having ignored it altogether in the chapter on the harp in Folk Music and Dances of Ireland (1971). This is generally referred to amongst Irish harp players as the ‘classical’ technique. 17-18. Larchet-Cuthbert. 101 Breathnach. was hitherto dismissive of the gut-strung Irish harp.100
In a foreword to the tutor. like O’Riada.’ Compositions of this nature demonstrated the potential of the Irish harp as a highart ‘concert’ instrument. published in 1975. It is interesting that Breathnach. Sheila: The Irish Harp Book: a Tutor and Companion. on releasing the string should travel inwards to the palm of the hand and make contact with it. without straining and the fingers extended. (Cork and Dublin. Breandán: Folk Music and Dances of Ireland (Cork and Dublin. the wrist being slightly advanced towards the strings99…The manner of plucking the strings is of great importance.
perhaps a testament to the efforts of Larchet-Cuthbert and other members of Cáirde Na Cruite to portray the instrument in a positive light. In approximately the first fifteen years of Cáirde Na Cruite’s existence there was little or no communication between the two organisations.I look forward with confidence to the realisation of the author’s hopes that this work will inaugurate a new and exciting era for our national instrument. that the approach to the Irish harp by early members of Cáirde Na Cruite.
. such as Gráinne Yeats. to see in it a nucleus from which will develop a national school of harping with a distinctively national style.102
Indeed. was largely influenced by their western art music training. he acknowledges that: Any live tradition is no more than a body of practices and techniques which had a beginning at some point of time in the past and has been acted upon and moulded in its transmission to the present by a cohesive body of practitioners. even the repertoire of the old harping tradition.. then. reels and hornpipes. It is not too fanciful. and had nothing in common with mainstream Irish musicians who practiced the oral tradition and favoured dance music such as jigs. In the foreword to The Irish Harp Book. 1975). however. (Cork and Dublin. It must be emphasised.
Larchet-Cuthbert. concertina and button accordian. according to Séamus MacMathuna of Comhaltas. Sheila: The Irish Harp Book: a Tutor and Companion. The present cultivation of the Irish harp has been sustained too long to be dismissed as an ephemeral interest in things of the past. in the next 30 years Breathnach’s prediction proved accurate. Sheila Larchet-Cuthbert and Mercedes Garvey. were the fiddle. and the writer will explore this ‘national school of harping’ from chapter nine onwards. 8-9. whistle. pipes.. brought to the fore by O’Riada in the 1960s only created a ‘token acknowledgement’ amongst the general body of traditional musicians. The established and accepted traditional instruments at this time.have changed. flute. As related to the writer by MacMathuna.
and was devised by her. Aine Ní Dhuill. by the Royal Irish Academy of Music. born in Belfast in 1935. Dublin. a process which will be explored in the next chapter. A system of graded examinations exists to serve the requirements of those wishing to pursue the Irish harp as a concert instrument. Derek Bell. the festival has changed its focus since its inception. the set pieces for the Irish harp competitions do tend to reflect an art music bias. Now sponsored by the multinational company Siemens who have perhaps had an influence in the festival’s focus.siemens. began teaching at this instutution in 1990. and the music itself. the Feis Ceoil now describes itself as ‘Europe’s longest running classical music festival’.ie/feis (consulted on 05. oboist and composer.
. Interestingly. Now in its 107th year. to promote the Irish harp as a high-art concert instrument. having studied at the Royal College of Music.08.03).103 Certainly. will be the focus of this chapter. The syllabus is described in greater detail in Appendix IV.CHAPTER EIGHT The Irish Harp as a High Art Concert Instrument Though the role of the instrument and its repertoire ultimately deviated dramatically from Cáirde Na Cruite’s initial vision. he began learning the pedal harp at the age
See www. The instrument’s contribution to the festival in 2003 is described more fully in Appendix III. The means by which this has been achieved. up to the present day. when it was designed to promote both art and traditional music. Already an accomplished pianist. was the most well known exponent of the art music genre of Irish harp playing. the Feis Ceoil continues to provide a platform for the relatively small number having an interest in this aspect of the instrument’s repertoire. a significant minority of harp players has continued. It has been in place since the current tutor of pedal and Irish harps.
For example. with Sheila Larchet-Cuthbert and Gwendolen Mason. and in the second playing. in a decidedly subsidiary role. He died in 2002. Harper-Composer’. 2000). Bell’s solo contributions as a member of ‘The Chieftains’ consisted of arrangements of harp tunes such as Carolan’s. Derek: ‘How I Came to the Harp or How the Harp and I Came to Each Other’. Vol. From 1972 he became a member of ‘The Chieftains’. Nora Joan and Stanffer. Sylvia: ‘Derek Bell. he did not contribute melodically to dance tunes. in the three-part reel ‘Boil the Breakfast Early’(♫ 4). and Clark.E. was not in the nature of what is generally termed as ‘vamping’. or florid renditions of slow melodies. In 2000 he was awarded an M. 47 (originally published by North Creek Press. in concert-hall performances. slow airs and historical harp pieces. such as that entitled ‘Ceol Bhriotánach’(♫ 5). however. 2002). From ‘The Chieftains’: Chieftains 5. The American Harp Journal. From ‘The Chieftains’: Chieftains 5. ‘for composition and for services to traditional music’. helped to raise the status of Irish traditional music by introducing art music-influenced arrangements of dance tunes. formed in 1963.
. no. 4 (New York. Winter. Derek Bell’s harp. 106 A very simple form of accompaniment.106 but was thoughtfully considered and had a significant role in the musical texture. the second part ends with an effective short counter melody. No.119 (Walton Creek. Five years later he became principal harpist and oboist with the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra and subsequently professor of harp at the Belfast Academy of Music. mainly using primary triads. when in an accompanimental role within the ensemble. 17.104 It has already been noted that ‘The Chieftains’.107 the first playing of the first section of the tune is punctuated with emphatic single chords at the end of each phrase. (Claddagh Records Limited: CC16). lent an orchestral quality to the sound.108 with an elaborate arpeggiated accompaniment. 27-9. 108 ‘Breton Music’.of 25.
Biographical material obtained from: Bell. 107 From ‘The Chieftains’: Chieftains 9: Boil the Breakfast Early (Claddagh Records Limited: CC30). as can be heard in the recording ‘An Ghéagus an Grá Geal’ (♫ 3).B. in which he played both gut and wire strung Irish harps. Spring. 105 ‘The Goose and Bright Love’. This. (Claddagh Records Limited: CC16). Folk Harp Journal. 2003). but provided chordal accompaniment.105 On the whole.
The thing I like about classical training is that it teaches you to produce this tone yourself. and the pedal harp from age 20 with Helen Davies. For instance. as a result of his celebrity status his name has become almost synonymous with the instrument. at the Royal Irish Academy of Music. traditional dance music has undergone a radical change in context. I don’t know if there’s enough of that shown in traditional music teaching.I’ve noticed in some situations [that using amplification in performance] can become a substitute for tone production. and to have a tonal palette from which you can select the sound you want. is Anne-Marie O’Farrell. Subsequently she obtained an MA in composition with first class honours at the National University of Ireland. Bell has done much to encourage this perception of the instrument due to his visibility as a member of such a high-profile group as ‘The Chieftains’. Maynooth. many of which are mutually influential. During this time. and to project it. Born in 1966. it is a fact that since the beginning of the revival in the 1950s. monodic form solely to accompany dancing. because I got a whole extra physical strength in the hands…. O’Farrell is a musician with a wide range of interests. While the notion of projecting one’s sound is a concept which belongs largely to art music. O’Farrell studied the Irish harp from age nine with Nancy Calthorpe. Her other studies were piano and singing. It is now rarely heard in its historical solo. in interview she remarked: I found when I took up the pedal harp that my Irish harp playing was transformed. and also composition. Sheila Larchet-Cuthbert and Mercedes Garvey. The only Irish harp player of a younger generation having a bias towards western art music and significantly coming to the fore in the present day.Although. the role of the Irish harp as a high art instrument in the past 30 years or so has been relatively small in terms of the number of people actually playing in this genre. as noted above. 64
. in which field she obtained her first degree at University College Dublin. In the writer’s opinion.
this is not to say it has no validity.
. baroque and early music) and twentieth century
From O’Farrell. Anne-Marie: My Lagan Love (CMR Records: CMCD 1075). often at large venues.O’Farrell’s views are therefore highly relevant to the practice that has developed over the last 50 years of playing traditional music purely to be listened to. Ibid. classical (e.109 It is a Romantic arrangement with lush arpeggios and occasional chromatic harmony. remarking that she was subject to considerable frustration in her early years of learning the harp: There’s such a vast difference between the great range of things that composers have said through the piano. as opposed to what’s been said through the Irish harp. for example the reel ‘Peter Street’(♫ 7).g. with satisfying added-seventh harmonies adding to the light-heartedness and charm projected in the performance. While appreciating the current popularity of dance tunes being played on the Irish harp. Different aspects of O’Farrell’s ‘tonal pallette’ are apparent in her recording of ‘My Lagan Love’ (♫ 6). and with sensitive and musical use of phrasing and dynamics.110 in its polish. are far removed from those produced by musicians with a traditional background. either solo or as part of a group. especially her piano playing.My knowledge of piano repertoire made me musically curious. However. provided that one recognises it as belonging to a genre in its own right. the occasional playing of the melody in a different octave. have inspired her to extend the repertoire for the Irish harp. and effects usually associated with the pedal harp such as glissandi and harmonics. she maintains that ‘a happier balance of folk. It was musically very limited…. This is a pleasing and different rendition of the reel. The result is an interpretation which sounds like a dance tune played by a musician with classical training. O’Farrell’s renditions of dance tunes. or at least what I’d come across at that point. O’Farrell’s broad musical education. smoothness and evenness of tone.
O’Farrell has certainly made strides in addressing this issue. 29. Spring 1998).music would contribute to young harpists becoming better musicians’. unless addressed. Spring 1996). Anne-Marie: ‘Expanding the Repertoire’. as it were. and also working with contemporary composers113 and writing for the instrument herself. To continue the analogy. that composition for the Irish harp is an area to which she has devoted
O’Farrell. non-pedal harp and electronics. will ultimately hinder the development of the instrument’. she has collaborated with the composers Paul Hayes.9 (West Lothian. having dedicated considerable time and effort to the task of searching for music that is appropriate for transcription. the simple fact that one is bilingual does not in itself necessarily enable a greater proficiency in either language. 30). however. from an early age. O’Farrell would go so far as to maintain that ‘the shortage of advanced repertoire for the non-pedal harp is a problem which. there are many musicians who perform both traditional and art music successfully. the problem is one which therefore has relevance only to those wishing to pursue the Irish harp as a concert instrument. Spring 1996). Donal Hurley and Fergus Johnston in works for mezzo soprano. 112 Ibid. AnneMarie: ‘Expanding the Repertoire’. like two separate languages. O’Farrell remarked. 40-41.112 As there is no shortage of tunes to play in the traditional musician’s repertoire. Sounding Strings No. 14 (West Lothian.111 Certainly. Her short and atmospheric work Prelude for Irish harp (figure 16114).9 (West Lothian. 113 For example. Sounding Strings No.
. composed in 1996 for one of her students. 114 Printed in Sounding Strings No. in a concert featuring electro-acoustic music (see O’Farrell. but the writer would question whether this fact has any contribution to rendering them ‘better musicians’. and would suggest that their ability to perform convincingly in both genres stems from the different skills being learned in parallel. certainly demands a virtuosity not hitherto commonly expected of the non-pedal harpist.
Figure 16: O’Farrell: Prelude for Irish Harp (extract)
but Irish harpists are in need of music to play…I [don’t do] it as a kind of circus trick…I’m simply looking for more music to play. the harmonics being played in the left hand either an octave or a 12th below. Anne-Marie: My Lagan Love (CMR Records: CMCD 1075). performed on whichever string is not already ‘in use’. in O’Farrell’s words. Musical extract from O’Farrell. in which the harpist is required to use enharmonics (for example. together with numerous lever changes (there are 69 in the Thomas118). as in the opening passage of the former work (♫ 8) (see figure 17). In the writer’s opinion. however: Hand on heart. ‘jumping around madly’.
. and it is this type of practice. O’Farrell’s solution is to play one of the notes in question as a left hand harmonic.115 and Felix Godefroid’s Etude de Concert. [they are] not in need of a transcription for Irish harp. She remarked. such as John Thomas’s Bugeilio’r Gwenith Gwyn. preferring to work on transcriptions of the considerable amount of appropriate material already available. Using harmonics in this way inevitably results in the left hand. 118 See liner notes to O’Farrell. As this is not possible on the Irish harp. (Anne-Marie O’Farrell: CD1903). Notated extract from the sheet music published by Adlais.limited time. Anne-Marie: The Jig’s Up. B flat and A sharp on two adjacent strings) to achieve rapid unison notes. bars 2-7) is more complex. that raises the question of whether anything is gained from transcribing these idiomatic pedal harp pieces.116 O’Farrell’s treatment of the middle section of the Godefroid (figure 18117. of more value to the Irish harpist’s repertoire are the transcriptions that benefit from the particular qualities given
‘Watching the White Wheat’. O’Farrell has transcribed some works from the pedal harp repertoire. 117 Notated extract from the sheet music published by Salvi. An example of one of the challenging aspects of transcribing pedal harp repertoire occurs in both of these works.
Figure 17: Thomas: Bugeilio’r Gwenith Gwyn (extract)
Figure 18: Godefroid: Etude de Concert (extract)
and the use of the right hand to change a lever. O’Farrell used all these techniques in a 71
. and would give. O’Farrell has developed some innovative techniques in this area which she hopes will eventually become standard.S. For instance. and it’s a nice extra that Bach was very much in favour of having his music transcribed for other instruments…Also. often they play transcriptions by people like Marcel Grandjany. big. whooshy flavour. As the use of levers becomes highly relevant in the playing of music with a complex harmonic language. and they have a very nineteenth-century. for the following reasons: A lot of Bach’s music is similar in range to the Irish harp. in harpistic terms.to it by that instrument. Bach. reaching over the harmonic curve of the harp. O’Farrell has transcribed much of the Baroque lute and keyboard repertoire for the Irish harp. the Irish harp has the capacity to sharpen or flatten a string in one octave but not in another.
Interestingly. not the same sound. but certainly closer to it than the pedal harp…When pedal harpists play Bach. For instance. whose second movement contains B flats and B naturals played consecutively in different octaves. the thickness of the strings would be closer to the type of harp which would have been played at the time. She particularly favours J. to transcribe for the Irish harp than the pedal instrument. whereas a pedal mechanism causes all the strings of the same note name to alter. which quite transforms the character…On the Irish harp you can do it more faithfully. and you could be utterly faithful to the original. the changing of a lever with a knuckle while a finger of the same hand plays a string. on occasion O’Farrell has found works that are more practicable. where two or more levers are changed at the same time with different fingers (either in the same or in opposite directions). throughout the range of the instrument. These include multiple lever changes. O’Farrell found this a very desirable attribute of the Irish harp when transcribing Bach’s Italian Concerto for keyboard.
performance of her own contemporary arrangement of Carolan’s ‘Farewell to Music’. and two in the bass. mainly for the design of the lever mechanism. This generally implies a harp with greater stature.
. it could also be argued that the Irish harp in terms of development of lever technique is in its infancy. so you could change levers at speed and have multiple lever changes. The impression was given of an instrument being forced into a musical language for which it was never designed. The writer did. In 1999 she began working as a consultant for Salvi’s non-pedal harp. feel that the considerable amount of visual activity of the hands constantly changing levers distracted somewhat from the music being performed. what appears to be a visually bizarre performance of a piece in today’s terms may in the future be accepted as one which is simply utilizing the standard technique of the instrument. In O’Farrell’s view. apart from the speed you need during the actual piece. it becomes a bit of an issue if they’re not comfortable to use. she emphasises the need for levers that are easy to use: On different harps the level of comfort is very variable. at the 2003 Cáirde Na Cruite course. however. If you’re practising for a few hours and if you’re at these levers all the time. Furthermore. without
This has a further two notes in the treble. compared to what has become the standard 34-string Irish harp. such as the 38-string119 instrument made by the Italian company Salvi which she plays herself. Equally. as the harpist will be using the semitone levers significantly more frequently than in performances of traditional music. containing much jazz-derived chromatic harmony. the type of non-pedal harp used by players wishing to exploit it as a concert instrument is of extreme importance: ‘You need an Irish harp with a big sound’. She explained to the writer how this aspect of Salvi’s design has altered due to her recommendations: What was clever about the Salvi mechanism was they managed to divorce pressure on the string from pressure on the finger.
struggling and pressing against the mechanism… They’ve also revised the ‘paddle’ shape and have little silicone caps on the lever handle. and the writer agrees with her conviction that unless more contemporary composers are encouraged to write for the instrument. so you have very good grip even when your hands are perspiring in a concert. Caps are coloured as well. 9 (West Lothian. However. Anne-Marie: ‘Expanding the Repertoire’. Spring 1996). 30. it must be emphasised that as the only major harp player to hold these aspirations in a generation after the Cáirde Na Cruite founders. and clearly has the musicianship and strength of personality for her views to be influential.
. so you can find your way around very fast. ‘the problem of repertoire in its various elements and its implications for the instrument and its players will remain a serious one’.120
The writer would agree with O’Farrell that the lack of suitable material is a problem for the Irish harpist who wishes to pursue a repertoire of art music. and unless harpists have more guidance in the skills of arranging suitable music and composing original works. Sounding Strings No. This is a fact that she recognises. She has made significant strides in addressing this issue. she is something of a lone voice.
All of these players. and several others. Janet Harbison (see chapter 11) commented that they were small in sound and only suited to simple vocal accompaniments. 1989). However. and Patricia Daly from Armagh. Interestingly. Joan: The Irish Harp (Cork. and also that they were somewhat fragile. They were made of gut.CHAPTER NINE The emergence of the ‘traditional’ Irish harp In the 1960s the harps used were almost invariably made by Daniel Quinn (see figure 19121). In addition. who.123 were dissatisfied with the scope of the Irish harp repertoire. was the sole harp maker in Ireland. The following account of the origins of Aoyama’s small harp was related by Gráinne Yeats. Roslyn: Harps and Harpists.124Already a pedal harp making company. according to Gráinne Yeats. 72. at which time John Morley changed its focus. 124 The writer was unable to glean any information directly from the Aoyama company. (London. and experimented with the playing of traditional dance tunes. Máire Ní Chathasaigh (see chapter 10) remembered that the waiting list for Quinn’s harps was often as long as two years. Clearly there was a demand for a different design of harp. it was a Japanese company. One of the tutors at the Cáirde Na Cruite harp course. 123 Notably Noreen Donaghue from Dublin. any attempt to play this music on Quinn’s harps met with disappointment. that satisfied this demand. 216. with its often classically-influenced arrangements.125
Photograph of Quinn harp from Rimmer. born in 1949. Aoyama. 1969). The general opinion of these players towards Quinn’s harps is negative. and that string tension was too light. 125 Rensch notes that this family business of pedal harp-makers flourished from 1817 to about 1923. during which Aoyama presented her with one of their Irish harps. in the 1950s Aoyama began making small instruments based on the design of the London harp-maker John Morley. For instance. formed the group Dordan with Dearbhaill Standun and Mary Bergin in 1990. concentrating on ‘pedal harp repair.’ (Rensch. However. They were simply not designed for this repertoire. and were constantly breaking and going out of tune. Yeats has had a connection with the company due to her tour in Japan in the 1970s.
. harp resale and the occasional production of a small nonpedal harp of 30 strings. Loughnane. Kathleen Loughnane122 felt that the spacing between the strings was uncomfortably small. at the time.
Figure 19: Harp by Daniel Quinn of Dublin
a material that produces a particularly bright tone. 127 Harbison. Vallely. largely due to the fact that the sound is less likely to be lost when playing with a group of musicians. Janet: ‘Harpists.
. Ed. This harp maker testified to the large number of harp players currently requiring this ‘bright’ tone from their instrument. In 1962. the C and D two octaves below middle
Macmaster. less mellow sound. He now deliberately produces harps to this specification. 920. he uses a particular kind of nylon string called ‘composite’. adding a further two notes at the bottom of the instrument. The strings were spaced further apart. The writer visited the workshop of Colm O’ Meachair in Dublin on 04. In the late 1960s. The design of the semitone levers was also changed. Nylon strings were introduced instead of gut. and achieves the required tone by increasing the string tension. my father bought one for me immediately…I was thrilled with it. (Dublin.127 In the interview with the writer she enthused: When the new prototypes were brought over. instead of twisting sideways. and two at the top. The idea was copied by Aoyama.During the 1960s Aoyama introduced several significant changes to the design. where the students and teachers were invited to appraise the prototypes.07. In addition. physically and in terms of tone quality. It was far and away the best harp out of any of the harps that I’d ever tried. Janet Harbison. the American company Lyon and Healy was the first to introduce levers on their small harps that moved up and down.128 Of great significance also was the addition of the two extra notes in the bass. Harpers or Harpees’. who also played classical piano and traditional flute and whistle. such as in a session. and the nylon material gave a brighter. and was very rewarding in terms of playing the [dance] tunes. 128 From many of the writer’s interviews it emerged that this attribute is generally favoured amongst harpers who play traditional dance music. described a ‘dramatic visit of three Japanese gentlemen’ to the harp room at Sion Hill convent. Aoyama’s harps were introduced to the Irish market.03. 1996). The range of the instrument increased to 34 strings. Mary: ‘Harp V.126 Consequently. 95. lever changes could be made faster and more easily. 2001). Eithne Vallely and Liz Doherty. They differed from other harps in that they were heavier and stronger. The Crossroads Conference: ‘Tradition and Change in Irish Traditional Music’. Fintan. 10(v): “Lever Harps”’. Hammy Hamilton. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and musicians (London.
produced in 1973. accompany or arrange for my friends and indulge in the vast dance music repertoire which all my traditional musician friends outside school were playing nightly. The new harp appeared to have a dramatically liberating effect: The much improved sound of the Japanese harp was a boon to me and my harp room colleagues. In the interview with the writer she also attested to the revolutionary effect of the Japanese instrument. Eithne Vallely and Liz Doherty. the first of these.
. I probably wouldn’t have pursued it. This contributed to the emergence of what became known as the Irish ‘supergroups’. Janet: ‘Harpists. also obtained a model. Vallely. The bouzouki blends well with the pipes. The Well Below the Valley. the two instruments
Harbison. Máire Ní Chathasaigh of Cork. exemplified by Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. Fintan. On their second album. I probably would have directed my artistic energies into some other instrument completely. Hammy Hamilton. ‘The Bothy Band’ and ‘De Dannan’.129 Shortly after Aoyama’s visit to Sion Hill. I was happy to exploit all the new instrumental possibilities. notably ‘Planxty’. which are usually in the keys of G and D. (Dublin.C. Sometimes the technical means to do something has to be there before it sparks an artistic response. Otherwise. the bouzouki and mandolin were introduced for the first time in Irish traditional music. 1996). Harpers or Harpees’. their Irish harp became available at McCullagh Pigott’s music shop in Dublin. 96. The Crossroads Conference: ‘Tradition and Change in Irish Traditional Music’. ‘Planxty’. This enabled the player to play satisfying left-hand accompaniments to traditional tunes.
In the early 1970s Irish traditional music was being influenced by the energy of the American folk music revival. at the time aged approximately thirteen. Ed. She is convinced that: If that instrument hadn’t been there. began the vogue for playing other stringed instruments not hitherto perceived as traditional by mainstream Irish musicians.
132 Macmaster. the influence of the Breton harper Alan Stivell in the 1970s should not be underestimated.playing in unison many times on this recording. dedicated to Sean O’Riada’. Ibid. 133 First released in 1971. Performing with a rock-based band in tours of Europe and America. in a sense giving them ‘permission’ to explore the potential of yet another stringed instrument as a vehicle for Irish traditional music. where it had hitherto mainly been used only to accompany the voice in solo singing in a completely different musical genre.134 However. mechanical and lacking in style. described by Stivell as ‘folk themes. 925.
. and using the harp in a solo and group context. 2001). Alan: Renaissance of the Celtic Harp (Philips: 818 007-2). he was also inspirational to many gut-strung harpers and other musicians. Mary: ‘Harp V. In addition to ‘Planxty’. Though a performer of the wire-strung harp and instigator of an awakening of interest in that instrument in the 1970s. many of whom may have not seen a harp before. he created an awareness of the harp amongst young people. his renditions of the tunes are rhythmically uneven. 10(i): “The Celtic Revival”’.131 The album undoubtedly encouraged harpers in the 1970s. for instance in ‘The Fisherman’s Hornpipe’ (♫ 9). stilted. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and musicians (London.130 Both the mandolin and bouzouki contribute to an exotic flavour in ‘The Well Below the Valley’ (♫ 10). which includes various Irish and Scottish dance tunes performed on the harp. Unfortunately. in 1973 the album was nominated in the USA for a Grammy Award for the ‘Best Ethnic or Traditional Rock Recording’. 134 From Stivell.133 there is a medley entitled ‘Gaeltacht’.132 On his album The Rennaissance of the Celtic Harp. Stivell’s willingness to experiment undoubtedly encouraged other harpers who were attempting to push the boundaries of the instrument.
From ‘Planxty’: The Well below the Valley (Shanachie Records: SH 79010). for example the Irish jig ‘Port Ui Mhuirgheasa’ (♫ 11).
Her years spent developing techniques appropriate to the instrument. by the time she began the harp the stylistic elements of the genre were deeply ingrained. She wished to ‘re-integrate the harp into the oral tradition. growing up bilingually in an area of Ireland strong in traditional music. with worldwide concert tours in collaboration with the guitarist Chris Newman. Her main teaching commitment is at the Cáirde Na Cruite annual harp course. as it were. where she is tutor for the advanced class. an authentically traditional style. Ní Chathasaigh began the Irish harp at the age of 11. In contrast to Alan Stivell. and the recording provided an inspiration to many. Ní Chathasaigh aimed to create. leading to successes in many competitions in the 1970s and early 1980s. her musical activities are generally performance related. At present living in Yorkshire.CHAPTER 10 Style and technique: Máire Ní Chathasaigh Born in Cork in1956. By this time her techniques were fairly well developed and thought out. fiddle and singing.
. this recording was the first of its kind. and her considerable influence on young traditional harp players. The writer is choosing to focus a chapter on the style and technique of this particular harp player because of her high level of virtuosity. Dissatisfied with the available repertoire of the harp.to make it sound like it had always been used in that way’. she began experimenting with the playing of dance tunes on the instrument. especially in terms of her recordings and published arrangements. Born into a family of singers. culminated in her first solo recording in 1985: The New Strung Harp. within the language of the Irish music tradition. at that time already playing the piano. Though other harp players were exploring the potential of the instrument in similar ways throughout the 1970s.
This is much less common and is generally only used in fiddle playing. 137 From Ní Chathasaigh.137 A type of roll known as a ‘triplet roll’138 in bars 6 and 8 has replaced the more complicated cut-and-tip roll and cran of the piping version. a feature highly idiomatic of traditional dance music (♫ 14) (see figure 22). It may occur at the beginning of a shorter note. The writer found it interesting to compare the two versions of the former tune on each album. so as not to detract from the main melody notes. It usually occurs on the bottom note of the chanter (D). to add colour to the note. owing to the fact that from the moment a note is articulated. Piper Liam O’Flynn’s highly ornamented playing with abundant cuts. A ‘roll’ consists of a note being ornamented in the following way: the main note. 7 and 8) and is idiomatic to pipe music. cluttered and unrhythmical melodic line. in which all three notes have equal value. the sound begins to decay. a tip. Therefore. A ‘cut’ is an upper grace note played very lightly and quickly before the main melody note.Two of the tunes on Ní Chathasaigh’s recording The New Strung Harp had appeared on ‘Planxty’’s The Well Below the Valley. testament to that album’s influence. a cut. rolls and crans135 is flowing. All the ornaments are played very lightly. Similar to this is a ‘tip’. and finally the main note again. all in rapid succession (see bar 6 of the pipes transcription above). bars 2. referred to above. on which it is impossible to perform a roll in the usual way. the four-part jig ‘The Humours of Ballyloughlin’. yet rhythmically pronounced (♫ 12) (see transcription. In traditional music the meaning of a triplet is simply three unison notes played in rapid succession. and ‘The Fisherman’s Hornpipe’. though some players have introduced it on the flute and whistle. The ornaments are therefore much sparser in Ní Chathasaigh’s version (♫ 13) (see transcription. 138 This is not to be confused with the triplet of conventional notation. A ‘cran’ is a note ornamented by two or more cuts (see pipes transcription in figure 22. In the repeat of the first section of the tune Ní Chathasaigh introduces variations in the ornamentation and the melody. figure 20). to ascertain how Ní Chathasaigh has chosen to interpret the music on the harp. which uses a lower note as the grace note. the main note again.
Musical ornaments intrinsic to Irish traditional music. Máire: The New Strung Harp (Temple Records: COMD 2019).136 A legato effect is difficult to produce on the gut or nylon strung harp.
. this highly decorated piping style would be inappropriate on the harp and would result in a confused. figure 21). at times almost inaudibly. or towards the end of a longer note. 136 From ‘Planxty’: The Well below the Valley (Shanachie Records: SH 79010). It is occasionally known as a ‘treble’.
played by Máire Ní Chathasaigh
Figure 22: Transcription of Máire Ní Chathasaigh’s performance of the repeat of the first section of ‘The Humours of Ballyloughlin’.Figure 20: Transcription of the first section of ‘The Humours of Ballyloughlin’. with variations indicated
. played by piper Liam O’Flynn
Figure 21: Transcription of the first section of ‘The Humours of Ballyloughlin’.
Ciarán: Pocket Guide to Irish Traditional Music (Belfast. The left hand almost entirely throughout imitates the pipe drone. and the result is a convincing and imaginative performance. and Breathnach. These are much more pronounced in Ní Chathasaigh’s later performances. except in the third part of the jig (♫ 15) where the simple harmony reflects the use of the regulators in the corresponding part of the piping version (♫ 16). and what is often known as the ‘lift’ in Irish traditional dance music. 1986). she put great emphasis on achieving this aspect of musical style in the reel ‘The Pullet’. because the whole is virtually at the same dynamic level. in which the note which would normally be accented at the beginning of the bar is delayed by placing the emphasis on the note below. are not always maintained (♫ 17). Breandán: Folk Music and Dances of Ireland (Cork and Dublin. Ní Chathasaigh plays the four-part jig twice on the recording. The melodic variation in bar 6 is particularly interesting.
. She described
Source: interview with harper and fiddle player Fionnuala Rooney (see chapter 15). 3. Máire. and Newman. However. and acts as a focal point. 141 Ní Chathasaigh. for example in the jig ‘Paddy Whack’ from her most recent recording Dialogues. The arrangement of the tune is uncomplicated. where they define whole phrases. Although dynamics in traditional music are not used in the same way as in western art music. 89-90. In Ní Chathasaigh’s advanced harp class at the Cáirde Na Cruite festival attended by the writer. 10-11. 140 See Carson.141 in collaboration with the guitarist Chris Newman (♫ 18). the rhythm.5.6 and 7. in accordance with the Irish traditional dance music practice in which the melody has prime importance. Chris: Dialogues (Old Bridge Music OBMCD14).The variations occur in bars 1. It is a kind of ornament which is particularly idiomatic to fiddle-playing139 (though it also occurs in O’Flynn’s piping version). This treatment of the tune greatly facilitates the flow of the music and gives it more meaning.140 the use of accents within the bar is quite common. 1971).
Ní Chathasaigh partly attributes her success when developing ways of playing dance music on the harp.143 her classically influenced technique is evident. using accents on certain notes to take the emphasis off the melodic ornamentation. Polygram Video 440 079 319-3. and she believes that this gave her a solid grounding and enabled her playing to have much greater security. Ireland. she related to the writer that very often she would break down in the middle of a performance. rolling effect in the rhythm’. as a young teenager playing dance music in competitions. which should be played very lightly. The harp is placed high on her shoulder. emphasised by the absence of a note in the left hand on the first beat of the second bar.what she wanted to hear from her students as a ‘shifting. it’ll never come out in your fingers.
.142 with some of her suggested accented notes indicated. The students were working from Ní Chathasaigh’s own notated arrangement. 1991).’ At the age of twenty she embarked on two years of pedal harp training with Denise Kelly at the Cork School of Music. to the fact that she had very clear artistic ideas about what she wanted to achieve: You hear a sound in your head and you try to get as close to what you hear in your head…if you’re not clear about it in your head. it is written in common time. but it should be noted that it was actually being played as if in 12/8 time. part of which is given in figure 23. a fact which she now attributes to poor technique: ‘My artistic ideas were far in advance of my technical ability. Máire: The Irish Harper. Volume one (Ilkley. 26. the thumb is high and
Source: NíChathasaigh. thus:
Celtic Harpestry: Live from Lismore Castle. In accordance with common practice for a reel. 1998. sounded particularly effective. The syncopation achieved between the end of the first bar and the beginning of the second. However. In the attached extract of the video Celtic Harpestry.
with her suggested accented notes indicated
.Figure 23: Arr. Ní Chathasaigh: ‘The Pullet’ (extract).
However. Aine Ní Dhuill. and this dryer tone. lacking in resonance. a rounded tone is produced by pulling the fingers into the palm. the fingers point downwards and the elbows are extended. and by relaxing the thumb onto the side of the index finger after the string has been played. She simply plays the cut more quietly than the note being decorated. the tutor for pedal and Irish harps at the Royal Irish Academy of music in Dublin. however. she has modified it somewhat in relation to Irish traditional music ornamentation. 1991). As noted above in the extract on technique from Larchet-Cuthbert’s Irish Harp Book. 3. After all. explained that her strong background of classical technique makes it difficult not to fully articulate the thumb. Ní Chathasaigh has devised a way of playing a cut in Irish traditional music (invariably played with the thumb) with a technique which she describes as ‘half-action’: The cut serves a rhythmic function in Irish music. Máire: The Irish Harper. a cut performed on a fiddle or flute. the writer would agree with Ní Chathasaigh that a ‘halfaction’ produces a note in which the upper harmonics are absent. The hands are bent slightly at the wrist.144 Not all Irish harp players employ this technique. While Ní Chathasaigh’s technique is largely derived from the pedal harp. and the fingers make contact with the palm after pulling the string. It must not ‘jump out’ in a manner which causes it to attract undue attention to itself. A contrast in tone between the cut and the note which is being decorated is necessary in order to create the right effect…the thumb when drawn across does not make contact with the side of the index finger in the usual manner but stops short of it. the resultant rich tone will contrast well with that produced by the thumb. has a more authentically traditional sound. However.articulated fully except when used for ornamentation (see below). If the finger which plays the note which is being decorated is pulled right back the whole way into the palm.
. resulting in the production of a somewhat dead tone. Volume one (Ilkley. for
the damping by the thumb in the middle of the ornamentation resulting in a sound akin to the occasional ‘stuttering’ effect produced by the pipes.3.2. On the harp it is not a question of simply playing the note quieter. Ní Chathasaigh does believe. the thumb is represented as 1. 148 Extract from Ní Chathasaigh. All of them had great difficulty in the correct stylistic execution of a cut. 38. 147 Extract from Ní Chathasaigh.2. Ní Chathasaigh favours instead the use of 2. with the aim of introducing them to a different harp tradition. that players should
See Breathnach. This emphasised to the writer that while a solid grounding in classical technique is recommended by many Irish harp players. subtle. 146 Fingering on the harp is the same as on the piano.example. Consideration should also be given to tone quality and resonance. a distinguishing feature of Donegal fiddling. does not ring out after it has been played.
. and considerable time was spent on achieving the difference in tone quality and dynamic between the cut and the note being decorated. Máire: The Irish Harper. The writer attended a workshop given by Ní Chathasaigh at Chetham’s School of Music. 1991). 2001). Máire: The Irish Harper. 8. in the tune ‘Walsh’s Hornpipe’(figure 24147). The execution of a triplet roll has also come under scrutiny by Ní Chathasaigh. 92.145 has also become very idiomatic to traditional dance music played on the harp. it can never serve the needs of the music entirely. A favourite fingering for many contemporary players is 4. They were advanced students who were unfamiliar with the traditional Irish music idiom. Volume two (Ilkley. as described above. 1971). This ornament. Volume one (Ilkley. forefinger 2 and so on.146 performed as a ‘flick’ of the fingers. almost inaudible qualities of the ornaments in bars 10 and 11 in Ní Chathasaigh’s arrangement of Carolan’s ‘Eleanor Plunkett’(figure 25148). Similar difficulty was found in achieving the elusive. for example in the above extract by Liam O’Flynn (figure 20. however. Manchester to pedal harp students.1. ie. bar 5). Breandán: Folk Music and Dances of Ireland (Cork and Dublin.
Figure 24: Arr. Ní Chathasaigh: ‘Walsh’s Hornpipe’
Ní Chathasaigh: Carolan’s ‘Eleanor Plunkett’
.Figure 25: Arr.
have a good understanding of correct classical technique before attempting to adapt it.
a base for her extensive regular teaching and summer schools. In 1966 the Irish harp became the main focus of her interest. as the musicians in the latter group are now
‘The Irish Harpers’ Association’. holding the first in 1982. 150 From ‘The Chieftains’: The Celtic Harp: A Tribute to Edward Bunting with the Belfast Harp Orchestra (RCA Victor: 09026 61490 2). including the Feis Ceoil and the All-Ireland Fleadh. together with her own compositions. She still directs a harp ensemble (‘The Irish Harp Orchestra’). Their repertoire was varied.150 In 1993 Harbison developed an examination system for Irish harp (described in Appendix IV). though its membership is different from the original Belfast Harp Orchestra. with many doubling on other instruments. singers and dancers. as a result of the bicentennial celebrations of the Belfast Harp Festival of 1792. developed her teaching in Northern Ireland and continued to visit Dublin once a month for sessions at Cláirseóirí na hÉireann. where she established ‘The Irish Harp Centre’. It was a group of young. and consisted of Harbison’s own arrangements of traditional Irish tunes and songs. teaching and promotion of the uilleann pipes by Brendan Breathnach in 1968. as can be heard in the recording of ‘MacAllistrum’s March’ (♫ 19). instrumentalists. In the same year she moved to Belfast. established for the support. and also formed Cláirseóirí na hÉireann149 in 1984 in Dublin. Massed harps used in this way produce a rich. Teaching was also a significant part of her life. mainly Northern Irish. In early 2003 she moved to Limerick.CHAPTER ELEVEN Style and technique: Janet Harbison Harbison was born in Dublin in 1955.
. She established summer schools for the Irish harp. followed later by a teachers’ course. This album received a Grammy Award. 20 of whom were harp players. This was held at the same premises in Dublin as Na Píobairí Uilleann (‘pipers’ club). leading to successes in major competitions throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. dramatic sound. In 1992 the Belfast Harp Orchestra was founded by Harbison. for the support of traditional harp players.
not only in terms of arranging and composing music. While a music undergraduate at Trinity College.
. It was noted above that Janet Harbison began playing dance music on the harp at around the same time as Máire Ní Chathasaigh. she developed a style of playing which owes very little. [Catríona Yeats] spent a tortured four or five months with me: getting my elbows up. getting my thumbs up. and for developing a distinctive and innovative technique of playing the Irish harp that has been widely adopted by many young players. However. turning my hands from this way [as if holding a paper cup] to that way [thumbs up. to classical technique. A founder member of Cáirde Na Cruite. she embarked on a year’s tuition with pedal harpists Catríona Yeats151 and Mercedes Garvey. Dublin.152 She explained: I had no idea. At this stage I thought the classical technique was the one that was going to teach me everything…I thought I’d better learn how to do it right. but also in daring to question the accepted ‘correct’ classical technique when being applied to Irish traditional music.
Gráinne Yeats’ daughter. and many are now established performers and teachers in their own right.in their twenties and early thirties. However. if anything. fingers down]…I’d say it was a real trial for her…at this stage I thought I was the most appalling player on earth. though she did gain ample creative encouragement which she believes stood her in good stead. The tuition she received from Máirín Ní Shé at Sion Hill did not include any technical guidance. the process by which Harbison arrived at this point of confidently challenging the norm was not a painless one. Harbison has been chosen by the writer for particular focus in this chapter due to her considerable importance and influence as a teacher.
The classical technique requires the harp player’s fingers to be pointing downwards.Her confidence was restored somewhat under the tuition of Mercedes Garvey. She explained the reasoning behind her adamant stance to the writer. who expressed an interest in the music Harbison was already playing. to offer traditional music: The year taught me two things: number one. and suggested that she simply take from the classical technique that which would enhance it. as follows. are not appropriate to the playing of traditional music: Everything in traditional music is in fingerwork and in precision. At the end of this year Harbison reached the conclusion that the classical technique had very little. As already noted. and number two. with collapsed last joints. as shown in figure 26. no way with the classical technique could you ever hope. to play traditional music…I made the conscious decision not to go with the new technique that I had learned. Using the muscles in the fingers necessitates a completely different hand position and shape to that required by the classical technique.
. Harbison believes that these features of the technique. which use muscles and tendons in the arm and only minimally in the fingers. that the classical technique does it differently. or expect. after playing the string the finger is pulled back into the palm of the hand. and in finger muscles…To play with collapsed last joints means that there’s no control whatsoever in the musculature in the tip of the finger. Classical technique.the weight is back. you’re not actually articulating the finger muscles…You can’t get the kind of finesse that you need if you’re pulling your fingers into the back of your hand all the time…the fine articulation that you would require to play ornamentation absolutely does not happen. if anything. You’re pulling.
Figure 26: Classical technique hand and finger position
Figure 27: Harbison’s alternative hand and finger position for playing traditional music
can be heard in the second part of the tune. Harbison gives careful attention to very light execution of the ornaments. in an ascending version. three-note descending runs. as exemplified by her rendition of the three-part ‘Harling’s Jig’ (♫ 20) (see figure 28).155 This is particularly evident in the third part of the tune. A similar figure. where many quavers falling on a weak beat are preceded with rapid.154 It also shows that the same techniques are evident in her students in the Belfast Harp Orchestra. which normally plays the tune: fingers are curved inwards and the wrist straight. Polygram Video 440 079 319-3. These qualities prevent the arrangement from becoming cluttered. where the syncopation and melodic variation become over-complicated (♫ 21). as shown in figure 27. The use of a syncopated left-hand accompaniment adds energy and impetus.153 Furthermore.The difference is most pronounced in the right hand. 1998. even rumbustious quality to Harbison’s style at times. Janet: O’Neill’s Harper (BHO: CD002). there is an extrovert. In the writer’s opinion. Ireland. bar 2.
. and to the considered choice of accented melody notes. Harbison’s style of playing is more ornamented than Máire Ní Chathasaigh’s. Celtic Harpestry: Live from Lismore Castle. 155 From Harbison. at times the left hand becomes too prominent and detracts from the melody. because the elbows are not extended. There is also a confusing moment towards the end. These different elements of Harbison’s technique can clearly be seen in the attached extract of the video recording Celtic Harpestry. the harp is placed much lower on the shoulder. In this jig. this ensures that the tune does not remain at one dynamic level throughout. which does not enhance the performance and is often at the expense of clarity and accuracy in
The writer’s hand demonstrates the two hand positions in figures 26 and 27. However.
Figure 28: Transcription of Harbison’s playing of ‘Harling’s Jig’ (extract)
beauty and precision. and do not cloud the melody. which always retains prime importance. Both from Hambly. lend support to. while imaginative and occasionally syncopated. she has not devoted a large amount of time to achieving precision and accuracy in fast tunes. Nevertheless.157
. rather having directed her energies to her many teaching and compositional projects. However. all individuals who have adopted the same distinctive non-classical technique. by her own admission to the writer. A former member of the Belfast Harp Orchestra and now an eminent performer and teacher in her own right. her playing has subtlety. Her lefthand accompaniments. Gráinne: Golden Lights and Green Shadows (Klang Welten Records: CD 20019). Gráinne Hambly is an excellent example. many successful young performers on the Irish harp today are graduates of Janet Harbison’s teaching. These qualities can be heard in her performances of ‘The Rectory Reel’ (♫ 23) and ‘Martin Hardiman’s’ (♫ 24).156 It would be tempting to attribute this to Harbison’s alternative technique. This can be heard in ‘O’Neill’s Cavalcade’ (♫ 22).
That’s why she gave me first prize. she remarked in the sleeve notes of The New Strung Harp. to create a bridge. which is what I grew up in…they were two different worlds. Máire Ní Chathasaigh’s experience at the Pan-Celtic Festival in Killarney in 1971 illustrates one aspect of this. Ní Chathasaigh played her first tentative renditions of dance tunes. It is interesting to compare the reactions at this time of the two musical establishments referred to previously in the study: Cáirde Na Cruite and Comhaltas. Gráinne Yeats. despite breaking down in the tunes due to an insecure technique. Cáirde Na Cruite. She has been teaching traditional dance music on the Cáirde Na Cruite summer school since its inception in 1986. because it was new. the early exponents of traditional dance music on the harp inevitably provoked comment.158 but they were completely separate from the oral tradition. advice and encouragement’. Having followed this advice. however. a founder member of Cáirde Na Cruite.
. there were people in Dublin who played the harp. produced in 1985.CHAPTER TWELVE The response from the established musical organisations In the 1970s. At this time Ní Chathasaigh was urged to gain a grounding in the classical technique. and was awarded first prize. She recounted: Gráinne was incredibly encouraging of what I was trying to do…I was the first person to do this. and they never met. was the adjudicator for the Irish harp competition at the festival. In her interview she commented: When I was growing up. Part of what I wanted to do was to bring them together. that Yeats had provided ‘unfailing kindness. spoke to the writer of overt disapproval by the Cáirde Na Cruite at this time.
Janet Harbison. In the light of Ní Chathasaigh’s
and of so many contemporary young performers and teachers of the Irish harp. and parallel to those of Cáirde Na Cruite to this day. the last thirty years have provided evidence that Harbison’s different but considered technique is an eminently valid alternative for the successful playing of traditional music on the Irish harp. Gráinne Yeats has remarked: I think that anything the Irish harpist wants to play is alright by me. As regards technique. that they tried to extend their repertoire.positive experience. was instinctively suspicious while researching for this study. Janet Harbison’s belief that traditional music cannot be played successfully by anyone using a classical technique. And it’s certainly true of the old harpers. which eventually resulted in Harbison forging a career and embarking on activities which remain both separate from. the writer. The more you extend your repertoire. the conclusion reached by the writer is as follows. it cannot be assumed that members of the organisation were opposed to the playing of traditional dance music on the Irish harp per se.
. The first factor was Harbison’s refusal to conform to the conventions of the classical technique. the better. Due to her importance and considerable influence as a teacher
Indeed. Indeed. Máire Ní Chathasaigh is a resounding example. who has been receiving lessons on the pedal harp for only four years. because that was what their patrons wanted. Two other factors were also involved. all of whom are graduates of Harbison’s methods. In some ways Cáirde Na Cruite’s disapproval of her alternative technique was understandable. They perhaps perceived it as an arrogance that an individual should wish to advocate such unorthodox methods.159 However the success of Harbison’s students who compete in Fleadhanna. However. has little basis. of the suggestion that a different technique may be valid. speaks for itself. They were promoting a technique based on teaching and methodologies employed by harpists for nearly two hundred years. there are many harp players who play this genre of music with a classical technique.
learning by rote either by ear or notation. to use her own notated arrangements in her teaching. and some of the individual items in her books date from as early as 1974. In the interview with the writer she made a comparison with learning a language: It’s all very well to learn pieces of poetry in a foreign language.(compared to Ní Chathasaigh who has only seasonal teaching commitments and. It’s a copy of something else with no understanding. and go and perform them. wished to play the Irish harp as a traditional instrument.
In the preliminary notes to the first volume she states: ‘a number [of these arrangements] have been circulating in manuscript form for quite some time’. indeed. Harbison. even by ear. because they wouldn’t be able to speak back in the language. is no different. as a tutor on the Cáirde Na Cruite course. believing that it was insufficient to learn a tune by rote. She published two volumes of her own arrangements in 1991 and 2001 respectively. Máire Ní Chathasaigh’s practice was and still is. The other factor which proved contentious with Cáirde Na Cruite was Harbison’s insistence on practising the oral tradition in her teaching. and they’re the most convincing pieces of native literature. to whom expanding and publishing a repertoire for an instrument where none had existed was an important objective. She went a step further.160 On the other hand. and to play and teach it in accordance with the methods commonly used to teach other traditional instruments.
. To me. it is very likely that Harbison’s methods are the ones which will persist into the next generations of traditional Irish harp players. the organisation was founded by individuals having a background of western art music. no longer lives in Ireland). they wouldn’t have a clue. They don’t understand the actual modus operandi of the language. although receiving a western art music education and playing the piano to a high standard. but if somebody came up to the performer afterwards. parroting. As noted previously. and the natives will probably understand.
second and third fingers on B. Indeed. and the whole hand is then moved up ready to place the fingers in a group again. In an ascending passage. Indeed.There is truth in the fact that the oral tradition is not defined merely by the lack of musical notation. and the result is shallow and characterless. but before you play the B with your thumb place your third finger on the C’ were quite common. and the harp player must gain a sense of the whole phrase. as will having an internal knowledge of the tune before attempting to play it. It is vital therefore that this action must be carried out as smoothly as possible. There is also a danger that an over-reliance on learning a tune in sections according to the placing of fingers will result in unevenness of phrasing and rhythm. A and G. even assuming the harp 100
. The visual notated representation of the musical phrase may help in this. Janet Harbison makes a valid point in stressing the importance of learning the ‘language’ of the music in the teaching of any traditional instrument. but with a lack of real understanding of the musical language. It is part of harp technique (both classical and that taught by Janet Harbison) that fingers should be placed and prepared on the strings in groups. may play technically accurate renditions of Irish tunes. The same principle applies to a descending passage. This was obviously no less learning by rote than if the notation had been used. Furthermore. where the thumb passes over the fingers. the writer has participated in harp workshops that were fully or partly conducted without the use of printed music. Play the G and the A. including Alan Stivell. As Máire Ní Chathasaigh remarked to the writer: ‘If you can’t hear it in your head. on which fingering and placing brackets were marked. Instructions such as ‘put your thumb. a finger is often passed under the thumb. not individually. It is inevitable that this passing under with the finger or over with the thumb will not always coincide with the beginning of a phrase or group of notes. Several well-known performers. it won’t come out in your hands’. it would have been much clearer and more helpful if one had had access to the printed music.
161 with a rhythm described by as ‘precise’ and ‘four-square’. Obviously it is not sufficient to state that a reel is faster and hornpipe is played as if in 12/8 time. which are both notated with the time signature 4/4. Therefore. through the gaining of an overall traditional music education. 1971). As regards the reaction of Comhaltas to the playing of traditional music on the Irish harp in the 1970s. This was emphasised to the writer at the Cáirde Na Cruite harp course. Ní Chathasaigh explained that the hornpipe has an intrinsic character. Providing one uses notation only as a guide. vary and arrange the music stylistically and instinctively by oneself. and learns to ornament. asked Máire Ní Chathasaigh. when a participant.player is of a good standard both technically and in terms of musicianship. since slow reels and fast hornpipes exist. The writer would suggest that the difference is difficult to explain in simple terms. an American professional pedal harpist. who was teaching the advanced class. it seems that rote learning versus learning the language of the music is the issue. not the use of notation. and that the cadences are often marked with the rhythmic motif: . would have an instinctive understanding of the differences in character and style between a reel and a hornpipe. it is interesting that Máire Ní Chathasaigh and Janet Harbison both testified to considerable support from that organisation. Ní Chathasaigh commented:
See also Breathnach. 59-63. this does not guarantee that he or she will be able to perform traditional music well. Breandán: Folk Music and Dances of Ireland (Dublin and Cork. and a reel can often share the 12/8 rhythm of a hornpipe. it should not have a detrimental effect on one’s playing. The
American harpist remarked after the class that he was still very unclear as to the distinction. but certainly a person who has been immersed in the tradition and who has developed fluency in the musical language. to explain the difference between a reel and a hornpipe.
I couldn’t have got more attention or encouragement from the Irish music establishment at the time. In 1976 the Irish harp was taught on the course for the first time. We would normally have recitals at some stage. and she was doing wonderful things. once she started! Within that week. There was no resistance at all. they are not so much concerned with the type of instrument being played as to the kind of music being played on it. Michael Rooney and Gráinne Hambly. such as Máire Ní Chathasaigh. with the object of promoting Irish traditional music through tours of Ireland. There were things happening on the harp! Comhaltas have a group of young musicians. It opened up the possibilities to them of what a harp could do. because I had known Máire Ní Chathasaigh as a young girl. The acceptance by Comhaltas of the ‘traditional’ Irish harp indicates that though their approach is purist. I remember the first year the harp was included in the Scoil Éigse. The Comhaltas summer school.162 As observed by Ciarán Carson:
MacMathuna related that the piano accordian and the banjo were going through a similar process of acceptance in the 1970s. Séamus MacMathuna related the following memory to the writer: I can remember. The first harp player on a Comhaltas tour was Janet Harbison in 1983. people were very excited about this new thing…People said they never knew the harp could do that or could sound like that. a whole lot of young people changed their attitude to the harpers…A whole lot of people just accepted it straight away. because people hadn’t heard Máire playing. There wasn’t an expectant hush for the harp. the Scoil Éigse. and in the style of the performance. Britain and the USA. But mind you. began in 1973. by Máire Ní Chathasaigh.
. and MacMathuna related to the writer that since then many major harp players have toured with the group.
1986). in this case. Ciarán: Pocket Guide to Irish Traditional Music (Belfast. An instrument is only the means to an end. 11.163
.There is no such thing as a traditional instrument. the production of traditional music.
who just had a different style of playing. by virtue of the fact that they were the harp players of the ’fifties. Over the last several years. That has been a major turnabout. one evening concert was given by 11 members of the Armagh Pipers’ Club and their sister organisation the Armagh Harpers’ Association. former students of Janet Harbison. flute and whistle. This was followed by an informal session in which all these individuals participated. and that has been engineered deliberately. It has been part of the policy and approach that I take…. with particular reference to how these changes have manifested themselves in the summer school attended by the writer.18 years ago the people who were spearheading the initiative…would have had a different focus. One of Aibhlín McCrann’s main objectives in her 11-year history as organiser of the Cáirde Na Cruite harp course has been to promote the instrument’s status in mainstream Irish traditional music. together with the latter’s founder Patricia Daly and the fiddler Gerry O’Connor.CHAPTER THIRTEEN A meeting of minds It has been established in this study that significant changes have taken place in world of the Irish harp since Cáirde Na Cruite’s formation in 1960. now 104
. both in terms of the instrument itself and in its repertoire and manner of performance.
It is noteworthy that Cáirde Na Cruite is no longer as fixed in its views regarding technique as it was at the organisation’s inception. You wouldn’t have had a night where traditional musicians were prepared to come into town and play. ’sixties and early ’seventies. McCrann observed: 18 years ago you wouldn’t have had a night like that here. This chapter will explore the extent to which values and practices of the principal promoters of the Irish harp have merged in the present day. many playing on second or third instruments such as fiddle. and be part of it. For example.
played in evening concerts at the Cáirde Na Cruite course attended by the writer. having been well aware of the problems with the girl’s technique.You don’t want to change something if it’s sounding good. the writer observed one girl whose thumb was too low. the year of the first Cáirde Na Cruite summer school. inheriting Janet Harbison’s technique. and that’s fine…. students of these individuals. Gráinne Hambly. On observing the different classes at the harp course. if it’s working for them…. and the fingers were being placed individually instead of being prepared in advance. is that nowadays many more students have a regular teacher. and in many cases Cáirde’s summer school and that provided by Janet Harbison constituted the only week of tuition in a 105
. He also explained to the writer that he is flexible in his teaching. Cormac DeBarra. and that if a student is obviously struggling with memorising a tune. he would temporarily delay addressing problems with technique. the tutor. the writer did subsequently learn that the girl was moved into a less advanced class for the remainder of the course.Why would you try to inhibit something if it’s working?…I don’t think we should be hung up on classical technique for the sake of classical technique. Laoise Kelly and Fionnuala Rooney. fewer teachers existed. and the fact that obviously undesirable practices were not being corrected. have made themselves very visible through their own performing and teaching activities. Aibhlín McCrann remarked: Different people have evolved their own way of playing the music. In fact three of them. now participate in the course. For example. it’s what we can take from that technique which is going to improve our rendition of Irish music…I wouldn’t be dogmatic about it…at the end of the day what we want to get across is the music. However. In addition. for instance. In 1986. the writer was surprised at the apparent lack of focus on technique at all.in their twenties. Another reason for the priority of tunes over technique.
Websites: www. While it is still considered important (though not necessarily obviously so).
.com. If you want to arrange something that you like the sound of and you want to perpetuate it.com. Furthermore.belfastharps. Tom: The Harp’s a Wonder (Mullingar. www. the balance is in favour of broadening repertoire and knowledge. 1991). you may as well be able to chord it and arrange it. such as Bunting’s. Cáirde Na Cruite are now also much more flexible in their views regarding the use of notation.
The data on the maps was obtained from: Interviews with Janet Harbison. and write it down. and that this is another good reason for musical literacy: ‘What is the point in playing the harp if you can’t fit it within the context of appreciation of what the harper’s tradition was? I don’t believe it’s just dance music’. the focus has now changed at the Cáirde Na Cruite course. because harpers have to arrange their own music. Patricia Daly. www. McCrann observed that much printed music for the harp exists in old manuscripts. Maher. some use it all the time. Aibhlín McCrann expressed a positive view of the use of notated music: I firmly believe that it’s important to cultivate a good ear. Kim Fleming and Fionnuala Rooney. The maps in figure 29 indicate the main centres of harp tuition in 1986 compared to today. Many students bring tape recorders to aid their memory of the tunes.irishharpcentre. the writer would consider these priorities to be relevant. and some not at all. some in part.com. It is left to the discretion of individual tutors at the summer school. but also to read music. playing in an appropriate style and making music together.164 In terms of technique. 107-110.whole year. Aibhlín McCrann. In the current climate of varying but equally valid techniques.armaghharpers. and put something creative together.
Garvagh Glencolmcille Belfast Belfast Armagh Sligo Granard Termonfeckin Mullingar Dublin Keadue Claremorris Mullingar Dublin Monaghan Granard
summer schools regular tuition
Figure 29: Maps indicating the numbers of centres for Irish harp tuition in 1986. compared to today
net/CnaC/CnaCfest. However. As regards arranging harp tunes as opposed to playing fixed arrangements.htm. there’s a deep. learning by language and not merely by rote. Patricia Daly. dance music. The writer felt that a specific arranging course for advanced students would have been beneficial. The real benefit of this method of education can only be realized through regular teaching.harp. and another on appropriate harp accompaniment for singing. for which there was no demand. there was one workshop for all participants in which some guidelines were given.07. very beautiful. singing to harp accompaniment and the wire strung harp. As reflected in the internet advertisement for the harp course.
. In reality. Now a lot of young harpers coming up are doing exactly the same thing as me: they’re avoiding those. but generally on the course music was learnt by rote.
http://www. attested to this outlook: Nearly all my life I avoided playing music out of the harping tradition.03. all tutors are eager to promote music from the harping tradition. with or without notation.In terms of using the oral tradition on the course as advocated by Janet Harbison. especially from the younger generation. Máire Ní Chathasaigh’s guidance on appropriate stylistic playing in terms of ornamentation and accents was excellent. despite a general lack of enthusiasm. deep well of beautiful tunes written for the harp. there was little evidence. consulted on 15.165 the aim is to offer tuition in all the various strands of the Irish harp tradition. for example. the programme of classes and events in such a course will in part inevitably represent the musical tastes of the participants. I only wanted to play dance music. the lack of a wire-strung harp class. And really. the writer acknowledges that the oral tradition is an ongoing process and a language cannot be learnt in five days. However. whose daughter participated in the harp course. including music of the harpers. that when they’re nicely arranged can be very. that is.
Gráinne: Golden Lights and Green Shadows (Klang Welten: CD 20019). a balanced programme of tuition should include it.
. transcriptions of art music repertoire as favoured by Anne-Marie O’Farrell. If this is so. It’s just crying out to be played. Some of the harp music is just incredible music.Similarly. It has to be played. and indeed other musicians.
From the recording Hambly. At the Cáirde Na Cruite course. for example classical arrangements of Irish tunes. Modern Irish harp players. and the lack of classes suggests that Cáirde Na Cruite does not wish to promote it. Tracey Fleming enthused: I think we have to keep the broader picture in mind. it is another indication of the significant change in the values of the organisation since its formation in 1960. and interest is created in the piece by irregular accenting and phrasing contained within a regular framework of two eight-bar sections (♫ 25).166 Hambly has avoided an elaborate. The writer would suggest that an evaluation questionnaire at the end of the week for participants to give their views about this or other aspects of the course. however. for example Gráinne Hambly’s version of ‘Celia Connellan’ by the seventeenth century harper-composer Thomas Connellan. or contemporary pieces such as T. While it is true that these pieces originate in the wire harp tradition. may be something for Cáirde Na Cruite to consider in the future. C. did reveal an interest in this kind of repertoire. no class existed at any level for the genre inspired by western art music. Kelly’s ‘Interlude’ (figure 15). Informal conversations with adult participants. The liner notes state that this piece was notated by Bunting at the Belfast Harp Festival in 1792 and published as a piano arrangement in his 1840 collection. should not be denied exposure to this genre of music. so that the student will at least be made aware of its existence and have the opportunity to broaden his or her repertoire and knowledge of the history of the Irish harp. Romantic arrangement. the writer would agree that this instrument need not have exclusive ownership of the repertoire. Sympathetic arrangements are possible.
but would nevertheless have no objection to harp accompaniment for these songs if it would encourage more people to sing and listen to them. is that the course reflects a significant interest in the playing of traditional dance music by the younger generation. a form of unaccompanied singing in the Irish language. and a possible glimpse into the future for the instrument. and people will sing to the harp’. It was taught from intermediate level upwards.
‘The Parting of Friends’. in the performance of the love song ‘Bean Dubh an Ghleanna’. the Kerry Séan-Nos singer. Séamus MacMathuna from Comhaltas regrets the current unpopularity of Gaelic singing. with sympathetic and understated arpeggio harp accompaniment from Janet Harbison (♫ 26).
. 170 This is a term often used by harp players to signify those whose main interest is in playing traditional dance music.A low demand for singing with harp accompaniment resulted in only five students receiving individual lessons from Gráinne Yeats. He acknowledges that Séan-Nos is an unaccompanied tradition. Literally translated as ‘old style’. Yeats’ interest lies both in songs from the harping tradition such as ‘Sgarúint na gCompánach’167 by Carolan. and that ‘the pendulum will swing back again. 169 From Ní Bheaglaoich. She expressed her disappointment to the writer that the upsurge in interest in the playing of dance music on the harp has resulted in these songs being neglected. Seosaimhín: Taobh na Gréine/Under the Sun (Gael-Linn CEFCD 170). and in songs from the Séan-Nos168 tradition with harp accompaniment. This can be heard to excellent effect in the singing of Seosaimhín Ní Bheaglaoich.
Similarly. and six out of seven advanced students on the course were young ‘tune players’. however. However.170 This is a telling indication of the current direction of the pendulum. she believes the current state of affairs regarding musical tastes to be a fashion.169 The most important fact discovered by the writer.
This is in marked contrast to the fiddle classes. having been used to play dance music in Ireland since at least the eighteenth century. 01. 173 All-Ireland Fleadh. and the remaining six were at the Traditional Irish Music Weekend in Thomastown.07. while the number for fiddle was 56. with an average of only 20 Irish harp students (about 3. 80.08. Co. 2003). Breandán: Folk Music and Dances of Ireland (Cork and Dublin. 172 Three of the sessions were at the Ulster Fleadh in Warrenpoint. in the context of the status of the more established traditional instruments. 174 Source: Programme of the 2003 Fleadh Cheoil Na hÉireann (Dublin.5%). MacMathuna believes this to be indicative of the overall numbers learning the Irish harp compared to other traditional instruments at Comhaltas branches throughout Ireland. which usually attract about 150 participants (about 25%).173 the difference in numbers between the harp and other instruments is not so marked. As regards the competitions at the Fleadh Cheoil Na hÉireann. and also on a regular basis at several Comhaltas branches.03. Kilkenny. At present about 600 pupils participate overall. the total number competing in each of the four age groups for the harp in 2003 was 48.172 Séamus MacMathuna provided the writer with approximate figures relating to the numbers attending the Scoil Éigse. 1971). The fiddle provides a useful comparison. Co.03. Down.
. While a dramatic increase in harp activities in the last 20 years is obvious.CHAPTER FOURTEEN Promotion by Comhaltas The fact that the Irish harp has been taught on the Scoil Éigse since 1976. 26.171 and its current status as the mainstay of Irish traditional music was emphasised to the writer by the fact that it was by far the most commonly played instrument in all of the nine pub sessions attended when researching this study.174 The list of entrants for each competition consists of the first and second place prizewinners from regional Fleadhanna in
Breathnach. For instance. has already been noted. it is important to view this in perspective.
but the number of competitors for harp at the 2003 Ulster Fleadh. in the Fleadhanna. to play from the following list (depending on age group): a jig. and that therefore competition is much fiercer. No competitive classes exist either for the Irish harp’s role as an accompanying instrument. attended by the writer was 22. it can generally be assumed that competitors for the latter are significantly more numerous at provincial and regional Fleadhanna. the instrument’s broader repertoire is not acknowledged. In addition. that is. there were very few entrants per class.175 the significance of this fact should not be exaggerated.
. Furthermore. competitors do not generally receive credit for the quality of original harmonic arrangements (obviously an issue which does not concern most other instruments). There is no recognition by Comhaltas of the broader repertoire of the Irish harper in terms of historical harp tunes. compared to 65 for fiddle. Janet Harbison claims that in her experience. The organisation has granted ‘traditional’ status to the Irish harp. In view of Séamus MacMathuna’s comments regarding the relative numbers of harp pupils to more established traditional instruments.
Janet Harbison related that when she competed in the 1970s. either for the voice or as part of an ensemble. a hornpipe and a slow air. in that it can follow the same syllabus as. and suggests that adjudicators are more concerned with a polished performance. but it has failed to acknowledge the qualities particular to that instrument in regard to repertoire and ability to produce harmonic arrangements. Statistics of relevance are scarce. the fiddle or flute.Ireland and abroad (mainly Britain and the USA). this does not take into account the separate class for fiddle slow air. a reel. The requirements are the same as for other instruments. say. The same problems exist concerning the Comhaltas syllabus of traditional music examinations. as the figures do not take into account the numbers competing at regional and provincial level. While it is important that the harp competitions have reached near full capacity.
As regards the music played by the group of young musicians on Comhaltas tours. Co. The profile of the instrument in these ensembles is somewhat paradoxical. For example. the evidence provided by the cassette tape produced as a result of their North American Tour in 2000 suggests a similar role for the harp. 2002. In terms of appearance. The writer’s impression was that the harp’s function was a purely visual one. the harp clearly receded into the background. The harp player was placed on a raised platform in the middle of the stage. Nowhere on the tape does the harp play the tune when it is part of a group. However. but unfortunately the harp is slightly out of tune with the other
This group performs in concerts of instrumental music. Tipperary. It has a high visual profile. She was the winner of the 15-18 age group in the harp solo class of the All-Ireland Fleadh in 1998. as regards the music played. the instrument therefore seemed to have considerable importance. surrounded by the other musicians. They are quite often imaginative in terms of syncopated rhythm and the choice of harmony. and a student of Janet Harbison. On the front of another leaflet a photograph of a harp has been chosen to represent the group (see figure 31). Its primary function was to produce chordal accompaniment to the tunes being played. and at the time of the Comhaltas tour recording was aged 17. As regards the music on the tape. the harp’s role is decidedly subsidiary.176 and the group of young touring musicians previously mentioned. however. as illustrated in a promotional leaflet (figure 30). but even that could hardly be heard. 177 Gráinne Hambly’s younger sister. The musicians also tour worldwide. Unlike in ‘Brú Ború’ though. with the exception of one solo item. mainly for the tourist market. in that a photograph of Róisín Hambly177 is used for the front of the liner to represent the whole group (see figure 32).Other Comhaltas activities which involve the harp include performances by the traditional music entertainment group ‘Brú Ború’. the writer attended a concert given by ‘Brú Ború’ in August. song and dance in a purpose-built theatre in Cashel.
. some effort is made on this recording to allow chordal accompaniments to be heard.
Figure 30: Front of ‘Brú Ború’’s promotional leaflet
Figure 31: Photograph from ‘Brú Ború’’s promotional leaflet
Figure 32: Photograph from the front of the Comhaltas tour (2000) cassette tape
. in a lively and rhythmic performance (♫ 28). this would in many ways appear to be still the case. when its relevance as a symbol was greater than its importance as a musical instrument. At present Comhaltas would seem to be more interested in the Irish harp in terms of its use as an emblem and in providing visual impact. Hambly incorporates features intrinsic to the genre that would be employed on other traditional instruments.
From Comhaltas Tour Group: We are the Musicmakers (Comhaltas Ceóiltoirí Éireann: CL-56). but only to a point. the repertoire of historical harp tunes is ignored. as is the instrument’s role in vocal accompaniment. Séamus MacMathuna remarked that until the 1970s Comhaltas did not recognise the harp’s status as a traditional instrument. Moreover. triplet rolls and melodic variation. for example cuts. From the writer’s observations. however.179 Moreover. and are never obtrusive. than in its musical possibilities. the accented chords in the left hand are well placed. it is significant that a dance tune is used to represent the harp’s modern-day contribution to Irish music. The playing of dance music is encouraged. and merely paid lip-service to it. This serves to highlight an important problem that relates more to the harp than any other traditional instrument: considerable time and effort is needed to ensure it is not only in tune with itself but also with the rest of the group. as its function is to provide accompaniment when part of an ensemble. For the single solo item on the tape. This perception of the instrument has echoes of the nineteenth century.instruments. for example in the reel ‘The Steeplechase’ (♫ 27)178. where it is used to accompany the fiddle and accordian. In the interview with the writer. In the jig ‘The Gold Ring’. 179 Ibid.
Ciarán: Pocket Guide to Irish Traditional Music (Belfast. there are some problems faced by harp players choosing to follow the ‘traditional’ path. it was hardly a folk instrument anyway. The full passage of Cambrensis’ writings on the Irish harp is quoted on page 35 in the above book. he concludes the section on the harp with the following remark: If the harp is a symbol of Ireland. 1986).CHAPTER FIFTEEN How valid is the Irish harp as a traditional instrument? Ciarán Carson is disparaging of the Irish harp’s appropriation of ‘traditional’ status: The harp is not regarded as a traditional instrument by traditional musicians. The writer would counter this argument on the grounds that every tradition begins somewhere. regardless of the musicality of the listener. However.
. Admittedly. and this chapter will seek explore these and to discover the validity of the Irish harp as a traditional instrument. 37. since in its heyday it depended on an elaborate system of patronage. however. even that of the oldest instruments.180 Furthermore. The writer is unclear as to the reason Carson uses this phrase to describe dance music played on the harp today. he is remarkably dismissive of the many modern harp players who perform dance music. alleging that the result is ‘“confused and disordered” to many ears’. One of Carson’s main objections to the modern gut-strung Irish harp is that its players have ‘invented’ a tradition which bears no relation to the historical wire-strung instrument. as his implication seems to be that it is ‘confused and disordered’ per se. it is an Ireland that finds itself uncomfortably balancing between two stools. This phrase is a quotation of the twelfth-century commentator Giraldus Cambrensis181 who applied it to the way in which the uneducated heard the music played by the harpers.
This is perfectly acceptable practice. you know!…Other instruments just flow into it. in the writer’s opinion it is difficult to find a tune in which the problem cannot be solved.
. Certainly. the intervals in some tunes would cause the hand to ‘jump’. is the fact that the former does not lend itself easily to spontaneous ornamentation and variation. Francis O’Neill: O’ Neill’s Music of Ireland (Pacific. 140 (facsimile of original 1903 edition). or by simply altering the group of notes. not merely to consider the ornament or variation on its own. but also the fingering of the notes leading into or out of the decoration. 1994). This is because of the particular technique in harp playing of preparing fingers in advance on the strings. 183 Arr. They are concerned with the physical nature of the instrument itself and the implications of its playing technique. However. as Daly describes: You really need to work out a bag of ornamentation or variations. Fleming. This requires a little more ‘thinking ahead’ than with most other instruments. book three (Dublin.Two ways in which the Irish harp differs from most other traditional instruments were highlighted by Patricia Daly. thereby interrupting the flow of the music. 21. Kim: ‘Garret Barry’s Jig’. as noted by Patricia Daly. which makes it necessary. so you can pull an ornament or variation out that has a fingering system sorted. but
From ed. Daly argues that not every tune is suitable for the harp. The other difference between the Irish harp and most other traditional instruments. set that into your tune and rearrange the fingering leading into and out of it. Mel Bay Publications. particularly those containing wide intervals. date unknown). for instance by a flute or whistle player performing a tune that contains notes below the range of their instrument. ‘Garret Barry’s Jig’ (figure 34183) is an example of a tune which lies more comfortably under the fingers. Firstly. and one that is followed by other traditional musicians. for example in the jig ‘Father Dollard’s Favorite (figure 33182). for instance by playing them in a different octave. It’s like ‘cut and paste’. Capt. Sounding Harps. either by considering different fingering and placing combinations.
Figure 33: ‘Father Dollard’s Favorite’
Figure 34: Arr. Kim Fleming: ‘Garret Barry’s Jig’
the feminine image was already in place over 100 years ago as a result of the harp’s role in the nineteenth-century drawing room. and hinders its development and acceptance by the general body of traditional musicians. in exploiting its visual impact at the expense of the music actually played on it. and the subsequent efforts of the early Cáirde Na Cruite to raise the intellectual and cultural importance of the Irish harp.
The other differences between the Irish harp and other instruments are largely connected with the way in which it is perceived. contributes to the problem. The instrument has always had a rarefied image. One obvious aspect that immediately sets the Irish harp apart from other traditional instruments is the simple fact that the majority of its players are female. with relatively few female players coming to the fore for most of the twentieth century. Though Comhaltas has promoted the instrument somewhat. To a degree the traditional Irish harp player has had to struggle against the perception of the instrument as being different or in some way special. As has already been noted. Even today the writer would suggest that a greater recognition is
. more recently and perhaps more relevantly. Irish traditional music generally has historically been male-dominated. by both musicians (whether harp players or not). due firstly to its aristocratic place in society historically. and it was certainly consolidated throughout the twentieth century by the instrument’s promotion by convent schools. because of its portrayal by the ‘celebrity’ convent harpists such as Mary O’Hara who achieved veritable iconic status. but also. Equally. and because of this it has often been sidelined. it could also be argued that their treatment of the harp as described above. and non-musicians.with the harp you have to prepare in advance and then have them stored in your mind.
the harp players whose name MacMathuna gave were male: Michael Rooney and Cormac De Barra. in the interview with the writer he admitted that despite encouragement from his family.
. particularly by the older generation. due to fears of taunting by peers. A former Feis Ceoil winner. 185 De Barra was born in 1972. Male harpers may carve their niche in the Irish music establishment with greater ease.given to male traditional musicians. with the assistance of previously tape-recorded lessons. This was the case with Cormac De Barra. Living in Newcastle. he. for today’s traditional Irish harper there are many years of accumulated attitudes. co. and for about the last ten years has played dance music due to the influence of Janet Harbison and her students. It was very interesting that despite the fact that the majority of the most important and influential harp players today are female. and was the adjudicator for the Irish harp competitions at the Ulster Fleadh attended by the writer. staying in youth hostels. This has occurred every school holiday and long weekend for the past year. These qualities were evident in 15-year-old Fearghal McCarton. while at school he kept the fact that he played the harp a secret.184 Clearly. The high standard of his playing after only five years of learning the
For example. Co. Down.185 However. unless other harp players exist in the family. beliefs and practices to contend with. The fact that the instrument is perceived to be ‘feminine’ undoubtedly raises issues of acceptance and recognition by the general body of traditional musicians. Mayo. when the writer initially contacted Séamus MacMathuna by telephone in order to arrange an interview. The writer would suggest that determination and strength of personality are especially important attributes for the male harp player today. and Máire Ní Chathasaigh. in Claremorris. including harp players. he travels to harp lessons from Gráinne Hambly. a distance of about 175 miles. but boys are less likely to be inclined or encouraged to begin learning the instrument from the outset. interviewed at the Cáirde Na Cruite course. not least in terms of gender. His dedication to playing the harp is remarkable. He was taught by his grandmother Róisín NíShe. into a family of traditional and classical musicians. he mentioned the names of two harpplayers who he suggested should also be interviewed. the time between spent regularly practising. who is now a respected and successful performer and teacher.
harp. as shown by the following remark: It doesn’t bother me at all. simply because of its expense. with mostly irregular or non-existent tuition. he CAN play! I never knew he was that good’. but then when they hear me playing the harp they’re like ‘Oh. rare. This may contribute to an alienation from other traditional players. Ornaments are mostly well-executed. Both
However. this is less the case today.
As well as matters of gender. Some light was shed on the issue of acceptance of the Irish harper by the general body of traditional musicians. as Aibhlín McCrann observed in the interview with the writer. Some of them laugh at me a bit. now an established and successful traditional musician in his own right. is evidence of his strong self-motivation. she was taught initially by her older brother Michael Rooney. and Irish harp playing does still remain a largely middle-class phenomenon. almost defiant attitude towards ridicule from peers. since in urban areas especially. which has flair and sparkle. to purchase harps for the use of those who cannot afford to buy their own. for instance small farming communities. representative of the latest generation of harp players in this genre. This kind of excellent initiative is. for instance at Cláirseóirí na hÉireann sessions. So then they just give over and don’t bother me again. and attention to detail in terms of variation is also observed. in an interview with Monaghan harp player Fionnuala Rooney.
. the Irish harp also raises issues of social class. McCarton’s single-mindedness is also evident in his dismissive. gosh. it has become fashionable for the middle classes to seek to discover their ‘roots’ and search for a cultural identity.186 Janet Harbison has made efforts to improve the accessibility of the Irish harp by raising money. Born in 1980. This is demonstrated in the writer’s recording of a performance of his own arrangement of the reel The Mason’s Apron (♫ 29). unfortunately. The instrument tends to be associated with the higher socio-economic groups. as historically Irish traditional music has been associated with rural areas.
to give a phrase a feeling. ‘Here’s your next instrument’. It just seemed like a natural step. Her younger brother Aonghus subsequently came to the instrument in the same way. Aibhlín McCrann is quite categoric in her opinion of the benefits of playing other instruments: Because it’s so difficult to learn the techniques on the harp I don’t think it’s possible for you to be successful as a harper without playing another traditional instrument. and achieved first place in the recent (2003) All-Ireland Fleadh Irish harp competition. of all the instruments. to play tunes and naturally ornament things because they’re in the whistle tunes 122
. and piano. We played in sessions. he was also playing several other instruments himself. d’you know? At that stage I was learning the whistle. She explained how she began learning the Irish harp at the age of seven: It was just another instrument. You have an opportunity maybe with more facility. because Michael was doing it as well. So it was grand. you know? Similarly. because I feel the harp can get so ‘notey’…and I think it’s dynamics as well. and it was just like. She explained how her harp playing and general musicianship are enhanced by playing and listening to a variety of instruments: [While at Limerick]. so I’m hearing so much of the piping ornamentation. viewing it as merely another vehicle for playing traditional music.are former students of Janet Harbison. Fionnuala Rooney is now a promising young performer and teacher. came into college and taught each other tunes. I just got on with it. and the concertina ornamentation… Fiddle music is definitely the biggest influence in my playing. I try and phrase tunes as a fiddle player would phrase them. Just subtle dynamics. a piper and a concertina player. fiddle. She remarked that during the time she was being taught by her brother. having received a masters degree in traditional music performance at the University of Limerick. every day we played tunes. Literally. two or three of us would play together all the time.
As Fionnuala Rooney observes: ‘I always try and emphasise this: our family are not harp-players.or they’re in the fiddle tunes. such as Fionnuala Rooney and her brothers. Alison: ‘Interview: Aibhlín McCrann’. he shares Daly’s opinion that the harp cannot be heard above the noise of a busy pub. another means by which an instrument can establish its ‘traditional’ viability is its potential for being a part of this scenario. He did. On a whistle it’s quite easy. or one that sits ‘between two stools’. As the session is so central to the life of traditional musicians. are likely to participate in sessions more often. in intimate venues: Harp music I think is geared towards a listening market. 40. and also the fact that transporting it in a car means that he cannot drink alcohol. Aonghus Rooney was one of three harp players.
. and you really have to work quite hard to get the same effect upon the harp. Sounding Strings.14 (West Lothian. It was interesting to observe
Bell. Technically it’s quite difficult to play a roll or cut. If you’re in a session [the sound] is sort of lost a wee bit. Patricia Daly perceives the harp as a solo instrument or suited to small ensembles.187 Indeed. Again. and to play the harp at some or all of them. Cormac De Barra feels more comfortable playing in a session at home with his family rather than in a pub. It trickles through. make the observation that harp players who play a variety of instruments. the writer would suggest that this all-inclusive approach by harp-players is crucial in helping to dispel the perception of the Irish harp as an elite instrument. Spring 1998). this lends support to the argument of multi-instrumentalism dissipating the harp’s elitist image. however. The audience comes to listen. Furthermore. In a pub session in Warrenpoint during the Ulster Fleadh. due to the size of the instrument and space needed for it. We play Irish music’. No. There was mixed opinion on this issue by the harp players interviewed.
their roles within the group, which was quite large (three harps, two fiddles, flute, banjo, pipes, concertina, guitar and bodhran). Two of the harp players generally played a chordal accompaniment to the tunes. However, Aonghus Rooney, the more proficient of the three, almost invariably played the tune, not the accompaniment. Contrary to the writer’s expectations, his playing was quite audible, particularly in the middle range of the instrument, and caused the writer to question the argument that the harp is an unsuitable session instrument due to the quality of its sound. Fionnuala Rooney, who was playing the fiddle at this session, felt considerable frustration due to the balance of instruments being less than ideal, with so many in the group playing accompaniments: I can’t stand a couple of harps at the one time [in a session], or three harps, all doing different things. It becomes more about the fact that there’s a harp there than the tune, that’s meant to be heard. There were a couple of stages where maybe myself and one of the other melody players were playing the tune, and there might have been three people backing, so that doesn’t make any sense…So that’s my attitude: it’s all about the tune. It has to be about the tune. As a result of the dissatisfaction felt, four of the musicians had subsequently moved to a different pub later in the evening: Fionnuala (fiddle), Aonghus (harp), the banjo player and the piper. Fionnuala considers a smaller group in a session to be more desirable, not only because it is more ideal for the harp player, but also because it provides an opportunity for greater musical satisfaction for all concerned: My ideal session is no more than five musicians. I love to see the harp, a fiddle, concertina, pipes, and maybe a button accordian. Maybe a flute. And really slow. Just listening; listening to every note, playing every note. Not rushing on: ‘What’s the next tune? What are we going to play next?’; playing each tune four or five times, and slow.
These conditions of Fionnuala Rooney’s ideal session were certainly not encountered by the writer when visiting six different pubs at the Thomastown Traditional Music Festival in Co. Kilkenny, 1st August, 2003. Between seven and twelve musicians were playing in each group, and remarkably, the writer heard no type of tune except reels, which were played very fast. The fact that no harps were seen may lead one simply to assume that no harp players were present at any of the sessions. However, it is of relevance that Aonghus Rooney was in fact a member of one of the groups, but playing the tin whistle. It may be supposed that he chose not to play the harp due to the fact that he considered it inappropriate for this kind of session. In conclusion, there has been a certain amount of progress, largely because of the efforts of individual harp players, in removing the instrument’s elitist image, and carving a niche in the mainstream traditional musician’s world. It should also be observed that this role for the Irish harp, compared to most other traditional instruments, is in its infancy. More time is required for prejudices to be removed, and for the harp to be embraced completely. More effort is needed especially by other traditional musicians, as it were, to ‘meet halfway’, and to recognise the instrument’s many-stranded identity: music of the historical harp tradition, singing with the harp, slow airs, as well as dance music. There is no reason why any of these types of music should not be part of a session. The writer is convinced that by exploring many facets of Irish traditional music, not merely concentrating on the genre of dance music (the reel in particular), and by keeping the group of musicians small enough to encourage more thoughtful and sensitive playing, the traditional musician’s experience will be greatly enhanced. The Irish harp, if it is so allowed, will have an important role in this enrichment.
The Irish harp was certainly transformed from the beginning of the nineteenth century, in terms of its appearance, sound, manner of playing and social and musical roles. Based on pedal harp design, and influenced by the image and manner of playing of that instrument, its role as a drawing room instrument for genteel ladies became firmly established during this century. Due to the Irish harp’s promotion by convent schools, it retained this image throughout the first half of the twentieth, to become somewhat diluted in the 1950s when it became associated with the tourist cabaret. It has been shown that other significant changes occurred in the 1970s, linked to a traditional music revival, in which musicians were inspired to explore the possibilities of instruments hitherto regarded as ‘untraditional’. Since this time the image of the Irish harp as a traditional instrument, particularly for the playing of dance tunes, has become increasingly relevant. However, while the Irish harp has proved its viability as a traditional instrument, it has many years of stereotyping to overcome. It is still in its infancy, and the acceptance will occur only with the cooperation of other musicians, and also with greater tolerance of differences between harp players and organisations, working together towards the common goal of achieving respect and recognition for the instrument’s many-stranded identity.
(Cork. O’Neill’s harp is representative of this type of instrument (figure 37193). low-headed’ harp. 191 Ibid. eighteenth-century wire-strung harps were not elaborately decorated. 192 Ibid.188 The first is the medieval ‘small. 32. It had 30 brass strings and stands about 28 inches high (Figure 35190). high-headed’ instrument. 1977). 35. itinerant harpers in the eighteenth century such as O’Carolan would have used a ‘large. By now the shape had changed considerably. 46. Ibid. low-headed Irish harp’. which dates from the early seventeenth century.191 The Otway harp is an example (figure 36192). with strings numbering from 40 to 43. Joan: The Irish Harp.
Rimmer. with the neck dramatically sweeping upwards to meet the top of the pillar. 49.APPENDIX I: The wire strung harp Categories Rimmer divides the historical wire-strung harp into three categories. Unlike medieval harps. Finally. 50. Rimmer refers to the second category as the ‘large.
. 193 Ibid.189 An example is the fourteenth-century instrument known as the Trinity College harp. 59. 190 Ibid. 53-4.
Figure 35: Trinity College Harp. fourteenth century (small. lowheaded)
.Figure 36: Otway Harp. seventeenth century (large.
.Figure 37: O’Neill Harp (large.
198 From a handbill circulated by the Society in Belfast. patronised by the aristocracy. Gráinne: The Harp of Ireland. May1987). The strident sound of the wire strung harp (especially played with the fingernails). In addition. 173. 1990). the event proved to be one of the most significant in the history of Irish music. due to the long resonance of the wire strings and consequent damping difficulties.199 only one using fingernails. with the disintegration of Gaelic society and the onset of anglicisation. 184.The wire strung harp: decline and preservation From the seventeenth century the wire strung harp began a slow process of decline.198 employed the young organist Edward Bunting to transcribe the music being performed by the harpers. the degeneration of the tradition was connected to musical tastes of the time. Keith and Kinnaird. Although only eleven harpers attended. his profession being transformed to that of a travelling musician. There were several reasons for this.196 as any attempt to perform the new. Vol XV No. The most important was political.197 Towards the end of the eighteenth century an effort was made to revive the dying tradition. (Belfast. mostly blind and with an average age of 58. Michael and Shaljean. 1992). Early Music. (Midlothian. and subsequent visits to participants and rural
Sanger. in common with other historical instruments. Experiments to chromaticise the instrument were unsuccessful. 1992). 14. led by Dr. 199 Yeats. quoted in Killen. was also falling from favour. being ‘solicitous to preserve from oblivion the few fragments [of music] which have been permitted to remain as monuments of the refined taste and genius of their ancestors’. The Society. John: A History of the Linen Hall Library. with the rise of chromaticism and gradual abandonment of the modes. organised a Harp festival in the city.195 Naturally. Bonnie: ‘The Dalway or Fitzgerald Harp (1621)’. 153. Alison: Tree of Strings.194 Thus the harper gradually lost his privileged position. 196 Ibid.
. 1791. (London. Bunting’s work at the 1792 Harp Festival. 187. the diatonically tuned wire strung harp was not designed for music of this style. 197 Ibid. fashionable music resulted in clashing tonalities. the Belfast Society for Promoting Knowledge. (Belfast. 2. James MacDonnell. Billinge. In 1792.
A Tribute to Edward Bunting. and thus Bunting used the chromatic harmonic idiom of the time in his arrangements. Bunting. 1840). not the basses. and Maher. and since a little
Milligan Fox. 1796). in 1969. Tom: The Harp’s a Wonder. He then arranged the pieces for the piano. 1954).singers. (Belfast. and ‘Carolan’s Concerto’.
. preserving and saving these wonderful tunes from total extinction. Edward: Ancient Irish Music. Richard: The Story of the Irish Harp. 203 For example. with the Belfast Harp Orchestra (RCA Victor 09026 614902). Bunting has been severely criticised for his treatment of the harpers’ music in several scholarly works. ‘Eibhlín a Rún’. 204 Ní Chathasaigh. (Mullingar.201 with arrangements for the piano. Hayward. His publications are given considerable weight here due to the wealth of material his work has made available to many performers of the Irish harp today. however fragmentary it all was. an instrument attaining great popularity in the drawing rooms of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The Chieftains: The Celtic Harp. 1809). The ears of the gentry and rising urban classes had absorbed the influences of European art music. (London.204 Derek Bell has paid Bunting the following generous tribute: I am most grateful to Bunting for collecting. 212. ‘Tabhair dom do lámh’. for example Máire Ní Chathasaigh. 19. 1911). Dublin. Ancient Music of Ireland. Derek Bell and Janet Harbison. (London. ‘Brian Ború’s March’. ‘Roisín Dubh’. Máire and Chris Newman: The Carolan Albums (Old Bridge Music: OBMCD06). 5. such as ‘An Cúilín’. (Dublin.203 In his defence it could be argued that since the harp was in steep decline. Gráinne: The Harp of Ireland.200 resulted in three published collections of pieces. (Dublin. 202 Yeats. and for at least occasionally trying to write down what the harpers actually played.202 would probably have disappeared into oblivion. However. They were reissued in one volume by Walton’s. Charlotte: Annals of the Irish Harpers. with increasing elaboration and chromatic harmony in each subsequent collection. The Ancient Music of Ireland. ‘Fanny Power’. Bunting only transcribed the actual melody lines played by the harpers. 1992). the only way to ensure the commercial viability of the publications was to arrange the music for the piano. 1991). The many pieces and songs noted by Bunting which are so familiar to traditional Irish musicians today (not only to harpists). had it not been for his efforts. (London.
(London. From a Belfast Harp Society handbill.205
The early nineteenth-century harp societies In the early nineteenth century. (Flood. 1904). 1905). 100-107.intelligence. Arthur O’Neill and Patrick Quin.209 Robert Armstrong Bruce alleged that it was only the wire strung instrument. for example in the minute books of the Belfast Harp Society. 207 Flood. 208 Rimmer: Joan. 1905). 1819.210 and Nancy Hurrell of the Historical Harp Society
Quoted in Magee.
. John: The Heritage of the Harp. (Edinburgh. 1990). 67. (Belfast. (Belfast. all of which eventually failed due to difficulty obtaining subscriptions. 1980). illustrated in Killen. 209 For example. three Harp Societies were founded. W. 147-152. 187. and a justification for this belief is provided below. Grattan: The Story of the Harp. and the Dublin Society respectively. Their aim was to ‘revive the harp and the ancient music of Ireland’. Dublin (1809-1812) and Drogheda (1842-48). were the tutors for the first phase of the Belfast Society.206 with the additional charitable object of preparing mostly poor and blind children for careers as harpers. In the little documentation which exists. there is scant detail on the subject. McClenaghan. 1992). Grattan: The Story of the Harp. H. and McCabe. Of Belfast. Their students undertook this role in the later Belfast and Drogheda societies. I readily forgive him most of these. Robert Bruce: The Irish and Highland Harps. Flood found that ‘harps were supplied by White. (London.208 Joan Rimmer suggested that John Egan supplied both kinds. 210 Armstrong. The writer believes that wire-strung harps were used in these societies. Two participants from the Belfast Harp Festival. Edward Bunting was a founding member of and subscriber to the Belfast Societies. H. 24.207 Scholarship is confused and ambiguous as to whether or not the harps used in these Societies were wire or gut strung. W. at a cost of ten guineas each’. 148). The Societies were based in Belfast (1808-13 and 1819-39). knowledge and discretion can enable any sensible musician to get rid of Bunting’s musical errors of judgement. The Irish Harp. (London. John: A History of the Linen Hall Library.
The older. In addition. and therefore require greater ‘leverage’. they were much more lightly constructed. The fingers were curved and close together to facilitate damping of individual strings. No. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (London.119. it must be mentioned that although Egan’s wire-strung harps superficially resembled historical models in their basic shape. and indeed to any harper originating from the Societies. Mary: ‘Harp V. wire-strung models were designed to rest on the left shoulder. and it would logically be expected that techniques appropriate to the wire-strung.
. Nancy: ‘A Harp from 19th Century Ireland: The Royal Portable Harp by John Egan’. 212 Macmaster. O’Neill and Quin. 924. 10(i): “The Celtic Revival”’.asserts that it was Egan’s gut strung instrument that was used by the second Belfast Harp Society. not the gut-strung instrument would have been transmitted to them. not the right. the writer believes that it is unlikely that Egan’s gutstrung ‘Portable Harp’ was used at all in any of the Harp Societies.211 However. Admittedly they were not using fingernails. Even if gut strung harps had been available before this time. 2001).212 it was naturally not available to the first phase of the Belfast Society and the Dublin Society in any case. and the shape of the hands was also very different. and also to avoid the strings jarring with one another. Egan’s gut strung ‘Portable’ harp required the ‘thumbs up. (Walton Creek. 52. played and taught the wire strung instrument. Finally. as has already been stated. as gut strings have greater tension and less resonance than wire. but the technique of playing a gut-strung harp would still have radically deviated from that with which they were familiar. they would not have been used as the tutors. (perhaps trial models made by Egan). fingers down’ hand position of the pedal harp. O’Neill and Quin taught their successors who took over their role in the later Societies. As it was first manufactured in 1819. Spring 2003). Folk Harp Journal. with soundboxes made in
Joan: The Irish Harp.213
.two pieces like the pedal harp. (Cork. 1977). They are described by Rimmer as ‘nightmare parodies of the old Irish harp’.
Grattan: The Story of the Harp. Joan: The Irish Harp (Dublin. April 1904. The pillar’s ornate carving is copied from the medieval low-headed harp. mentions two harp factories in Belfast at this time. a charming piece of antiquarian art nouveau’. (London. 70. who was largely responsible for promoting the instrument in Ireland. The shape of the neck resembles Egan’s portable harp. where she died in 1859.com/owensons. H. Rimmer describes the instrument as ‘in all. (Midlothian. No. vol. and may also have been due to the fact that Lady Morgan. 1.215 Flood. Keith and Kinnaird.mcmail. 216 Copy of the advertisement supplied to the writer by Simon Chadwick. Alison: Tree of Strings. This harp is somewhat of a hybrid.APPENDIX II Small harp makers at the turn of the twentieth century There do not appear to be any records of gut-strung Irish harps being manufactured or played for about fifty years after Egan’s ‘Portable’.clarsach. Complete with elaborate decoration on the soundboard. and he describes the instruments as ‘really very fine. 1. The famine may have partly contributed to this. moved to London later in her life.218 Flood gives a description of a typical ‘modern Irish harp’ at the time of his writing in 1905:
Source of biographical information on Lady Morgan: www.
. but the upward-sweeping shape of the head is similar to the large highheaded wire strung harp of the eighteenth century. the website for the wire branch of the Clarsach Society. W. editor of www. 209. 1992). 217 Photograph from Flood. McFall made the ‘Tara Harp’ in 1902 for Cardinal Logue (see figure 39217). 1977). writing in 1905. while the rounded back is shaped like that on a pedal harp.214 Sanger and Kinnaird state that small gut-strung harps were made by Morley of London for the Irish market since 1890.216 As stated in the advertisement. especially those made by Mr. The advertisement shown in figure 38 appeared in the Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society. 218 Rimmer.db. James McFall’.net. 1905).htm 215 Sanger.
.Figure 38: Advertisement by MacFall.
Figure 39: MacFall ‘Tara Harp’. dated 1902
Unlike the hookharp. 1992). Keith and Kinnaird. as can the use of ‘pegs’ placed near the top of each string on the left hand side of the neck. however. the Irish harp had a hook for every string.219 It can therefore be assumed that the practice of colouring the C and F strings on small harps dates from at least this time. 1905). Alison: Tree of Strings (Midlothian. Grattan: The Story of the Harp (London. were placed between strings on the neck. Mention should also be made of gut-strung small harps being made in Scotland around this time. H. and the strings are of catgut. rounded backs based on pedal harp design. similar to the Feis Ceoil. Sanger. 153-4. and the design was very influential on subsequent makers
Flood. These instruments were similar to the low-headed medieval harps in shape. was established in Scotland. marketed his ‘Irish Harp’ from 1912. and semitone blades at the top of each string. some harpists prefer that of E flat [as on Egan’s ‘Portable’ harp]. Lord Archibald Campbell wished to encourage the playing of the small harp (known in Scotland as the Clarsach) at the Mod. and only turned in one direction. Though mostly tuned in the key of C. but had gut strings. and the performers can prove the tuning by other consonant intervals. The latter design was invented in Austria in the late seventeenth century. usually only about three per octave and usually only in the middle octaves. it is only necessary to raise the pegs of the F string.The compass of the Irish harp is about four octaves. Each string can be raised a semitone by turning a peg.220 Melville Clark. where U-shaped hooks. a New York harp maker. and commissioned six to be made by Buchanan. In 1892 the National Mod. which alter the pitch of the note by a semitone when turned. from C to G in alt. in the key of G major. a quarter turn being sufficient for the purpose. 208-9.
. a piano dealer in Glasgow. and thus. which could be turned either way. W. given the mutual influence between the two countries in terms of harp-playing throughout the twentieth century. and the F’s blue.the C’s being coloured red. It is tuned by fifths and octaves.
Photograph from Rensch. It was usually tuned in E flat. had 31 strings from first octave G to sixth octave E in the bass. and had semitone turning-blades for each string. Very similar in shape to Egan’s ‘Portable’. mostly gut except the lower octave which were of wound wire. Roslyn: Harps and Harpists (London. stood about 52 inches high (including the stand). 1989).
. Clark’s Irish harp was well-made. 146. shaped rather like small butter-knives.throughout the twentieth century (see figure 40221). In many of these features Clark could be said to have set the standard for about the next fifty years. Ibid.
Figure 40: Clark’s ‘Irish Harp’. early twentieth century
and the requirement was to play two test pieces.225 presented by Gráinne Yeats. The only exception to this was T. evidence that Sheila Larchet-Cuthbert’s The Irish Harp Book is still a popular resource for this genre.226 The winner.227 The Irish contribution from six out of seven of the remaining competitors consisted of arrangements of Carolan pieces. one contemporary. in which the two competitors
107th Feis Ceoil Programme (Dublin. From Ní Chathasaigh. 2003). the Corn Úi Chearbhalláin.223 18 harpists took part across the three junior age groups. 2003). 168. who achieved second place. For example. There were two competitions for voice and Irish harp in the 2003 Feis Ceoil: the Mairín Ní Shé228 Prize. an arrangement of the Mexican composer Lara’s (1897-1970) ‘Granada’. Monaghan. A notable exception was Helen Lyons from Dublin.). Volume Two (Ilkley. The senior Irish harp competition. required the eight participants to perform ‘a recital of not more than fifteen minutes duration. Máire: The Irish Harper. These were predominantly arrangements of historical harp tunes and Carolan compositions. and performed her own arrangement of two traditional reels. the latter’s arrangement of Carolan’s ‘Lord Inchiquin’ was a test piece for the 12 to 15 age group (see figure 41224). 225 ‘The O’Carolan Prize’. 168. This was the only occasion on which any of the participants in the Feis Ceoil Irish harp competitions played traditional dance music. Clare McCague from Co. 165-6. 12. a test piece for the 15 to 18 age group. 2001).
. 227 ‘Women of Ireland’. 130. Kelly’s ‘Interlude’ (see figure 15). 226 107th Feis Ceoil Programme (Dublin. and one Irish’.APENDIX III The Irish harp’s contribution to the 2003 Feis Ceoil According to the festival programme. and an arrangement of the traditional Irish air ‘Mná na hÉireann’. 228 Already noted as the Irish harp tutor at Sion Hill convent school who taught Mary O’Hara and Janet Harbison. performed ‘Variations sur un Theme de Mozart’ (anon. Works to include one in classical style. by Gráinne Yeats and Máire Ní Chathasaigh.C.
. Ní Chathasaigh: Carolan’s ‘Lord Inchiquin’.Figure 41: Arr.
Calthorpe (1914-1998) was a tutor for Irish harp at both Loreto Abbey and Sion Hill convents. 107th Feis Ceoil Programme (Dublin. and was noted for her published arrangements for harp and voice in the 1960s and 1970s. Christine O’Mahoney. 130. 232 From Calthorpe.were required to sing ‘four songs in Irish to own harp accompaniment: two ‘great’ songs and two light songs’. were obtained from various sources such the nineteenthcentury collections of Moore. The fact that there were only five competitors in total for voice and harp is an indication of this genre’s current lack of popularity compared to the solo harp competitions. Sheila: ‘The Irish Harp Book’ (Cork and Dublin). and three of her arrangements were awarded an Oireachtas Prize in 1966. Nancy: ‘The Calthorpe Collection: Songs and Airs Arranged for the Irish Harp’ (Dublin.229 The three competitors in the Calthorpe Memorial Prize. 2003. performed ‘Túirne Mháire’. (d) A setting of a Carolan tune arranged by the competitor.231 (figure 42232) a traditional spinning song. one of Calthorpe’s arrangements which had received the Oireachtas award. simple and unobtrusive.
. (b) A harp solo arranged by Nancy Calthorpe. and the Nancy Calthorpe Memorial Prize. Petrie. 64-5.
Larchet-Cuthbert. 231 ‘Mary’s Spinning Wheel’. The songs. which are in both the English and Irish languages. were required to perform the following: (a) A song in English or Irish arranged by Nancy Calthorpe. The harp accompaniment is light in texture. (c) A song in Irish or English arranged by the competitor. 238. which had a total of 26 entrants. 1974). becoming more rhythmic and lively in the chorus section. 2003).230 One of the competitors. Joyce and Bunting.
Figure 42: Arr. Calthorpe: ‘Túirne Mháire’ (page 1)
Figure 42: Arr. Calthorpe: ‘Túirne Mháire’ (page 2)
The Romantic Repertoire. a piece from the historical harp tradition. 147
. Classical Period Repertoire. many of which are taken from the classical pedal harp repertoire of. Aine Ní Dhuill remarked that this is to make the syllabus more accessible to those with a traditional music background. a piece from the western art music tradition. from one to eight. As well as history and general knowledge requirements. The majority of the pieces are taken from Cáirde Na Cruite’s publications: ‘The Irish Harp Book’ and the four books in the ‘Sounding Harps’ series. Elementary. Two pieces are required: from list ‘A’. Background Music Repertoire. Intermediate and Competent (these levels are approximately equivalent in difficulty to Preliminary Grade to Grade Seven in other examination boards). As an alternative to the art music piece in list ‘B’ the candidate may perform ‘an Irish traditional tune of suitable standard’. for example Naderman or Grossi. The Harp Foundation (Ireland) Ltd: Certificate of Achievement This syllabus was devised by Janet Harbison in 1993. published between 1990 and 1998. After ‘Competent’ level. Furthermore. the candidate is required to choose a specialist area from the following list (equivalent to Grade Eight): Historical Repertoire. performance repertoire at these levels include dance tunes. Lamentations and Slow Airs. the sight-reading requirement obviously requires musical literacy. and caters for many strands of the Irish harp tradition. Carolan pieces. and from list ‘B’. it is noteworthy that a study is also required (from list ‘C’) in each grade.APPENDIX IV Two examination systems Royal Irish Academy of Music Each grade. set dances and slow airs. There are four levels: Novice. is designed to be of equivalent difficulty to the corresponding grades in examinations from such centres as the Associated Board or Trinity College. However.
. On the successful completion of six specialist areas. Religious Music. Healing (Passive Therapeutic) Harp Music.Dance Music Repertoire. Composition. the harp player achieves ‘Master Harper’ status. equivalent to a Performer’s Diploma. Accompaniment. Song and Harp Accompaniment. Arrangement.
OUP. Praeger. (London. 149
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htm Siemens Ltd: The 107th Feis Ceoil.com/owensons.Internet Websites Consulted Cáirde Na Cruite: Annual Festival for Irish Harp. William: Traditional and Historical Scottish Harps. http://www.ie/feis/ Taylor.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/inde x.ie/composers/composer.htm Vatican Council: Documents of the II Vatican Council. Janet: Irish Harp Centre. http://www.com/ Harbison.mcmail. http://www.vatican.cmc.html Contemporary Music Centre of Ireland: Anne-Marie O’Farrell.htm
. www.simon-s. www. Janet: Biographical.irishharpcentre.net/harp/LeverHarp8.belfastharps.net/cnac/cnacfest. www.armaghharpers. Simon: Some highlights in small harp history since 1800. Patricia: Armagh Harper’s Association.db.clarsach.harp.com/ Owenson.siemens.htm Harbison.htm Chadwick.com/janetharbison/biographical. http://www. George: Sydney Owenson (Lady Morgan).cfm?composerID=93 Daly. http://www. http://www. www.net/Bill_Taylor/traditional.