Historical Harp Society of Ireland

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Director's Report

Summer School of Early Irish Harp

Director's Report

The Historical Harp Society of Ireland held its seventh annual Scoil na gCláirseach–Summer School of Early Irish Harp this year from Saturday 15th to Friday 21st August at the School of Music in Kilkenny, Ireland. At this year's official opening, Simon Chadwick [UK], and staff tutor, Ann Heymann [USA], gave a joint introduction to this year's Scoil na gCláirseach theme: celebrating the 200th anniversary of Edward Bunting's landmark 1809 collection of early Irish harp music: The Ancient Music of Ireland.

The Scoil director and staff tutor, Siobhán Armstrong [IRL], was joined by some of the cream of the world's early Irish harping tutors, performers and lecturers including, once more, the doyenne of the modern international revival of the early Irish harp, Ann Heymann [USA]; Ann's presence each year is invaluable to the work of the Scoil na gCláirseach. We were also delighted to welcome again Andrew Lawrence-King [Guernsey], the world's most famous historical harpist, who treated us to mesmerizing performances on 17th century continental harps in his Scoil concert and who played an HHSI Student Downhill harp in the HHSI Summer Concert Series.

Our academic staff included Simon Chadwick, organologist and founder of earlygaelicharp.info. Simon was joined by our two scholars-in-residence this year: Scotland's foremost academic in the field, Dr. Keith Sanger, and Ireland's primary published authority in the area, Seán Donnelly. Prof. Breandán Ó Madagáin, joined us this year for the first time as a visiting lecturer and captivated his audience with his presentation on 'The supernatural functions of music, vocal and instrumental, in the native Irish tradition.'

Notwithstanding the serious global recession in 2009, the Scoil student number, though reduced on other years, was still ample: twenty-one very engaged players and additional auditors each day. The harpists ranged from children to adults, both Irish and foreign, amateur to professional harpists. The auditors were likewise drawn from Ireland, both north and south of the border and from abroad: harpists and other musicians, historians, Irish language experts and those working in media. This brought the daily numbers to around 25 from nine countries on three continents: from the USA to the British Isles to continental Europe to Japan.

Each morning, the students divided into three groups, which were taught in turn by the three tutors. Each afternoon was taken up with practical seminars, talks and lectures on relevant subjects. Our 2009 timetable is still visible at http://www.irishharpschool.com/2009/timetable.htm

In 2009, for the first time, we had master class slots each day in which students were invited to participate, while their fellow students audited. These were enthusiastically received by everyone and will continue to be a feature of our future timetables.

Scoil students studied the techniques and repertory played on the instrument from medieval times to the 18th century. Our unique two-tiered system of lectures for less and more advanced students continued this year along with seminars and lectures on such wide ranging subjects as

* A practical guide to Irish music modes
* Exercises to develop technique
* 'Vrai mouvement': 17th century dances
* Instrument design, morphology and replicas
* Learning to sing a song in Irish from the harpers' repertory
* Discovering repertory and moving on

among other favourites such as Edward Bunting's Graces: the ornamentation used by the Irish harpers, and an introduction to early Irish harp history.

As ever, it was a very intensive week of practical performance and study but the energetic student body managed both to work hard by day and carry on practising, making music, socialising and playing sessions late into the evening! As is usual each year, we went on a field trip to Dublin on our final summer school day to study surviving instruments held in museum, university and private collections. Our thanks to The Old Library, Trinity College, Dublin; The National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks and The Guinness Storehouse Museum for their kind help with our field trip.

Thanks to the HHSI's Student Harp Bank and the generosity of friends, we were able to provide the twelve student copies of historic harps which we needed for Scoil students who did not have their own harp. Students played copies of the Trinity College, Queen Mary, Lamont, Otway and Downhill harps from the HHSI Student Harp range. These instruments are currently available through our on-line shop, which can be visited at http://www.irishharp.org/shop/

The generous support of the An Chomhairle Ealaíon (The Arts Council), in a difficult financial year, made it possible for the HHSI to present a Summer Concert Series in Kilkenny and Galway, in association with Scoil na gCláirseach.

There were in-house tutor concerts on three of the afternoons given by Heymann, Armstrong and Lawrence-King, and, on the evening of Wednesday, 19th August, the HHSI presented the first in its public 2009 Summer Concert Series in the Parade Tower in Kilkenny Castle: The Ancient Music of Ireland—A Celebration of the 200th Anniversary of Edward Bunting's landmark 1809 collection of early Irish harp music. This exceptionally well-attended concert presented music in the 1809 volume sung by Grammy-award nominee, tenor John Elwes, accompanied by Ireland's foremost early keyboard player, Malcolm Proud, who played an early 19th century square piano built by Clementi, who was also Bunting's publisher. Then Heymann, Lawrence-King and Armstrong presented more of the collection's repertory in versions closer to the original harp music.

The Galway concert, on the following Sunday, at Nun's Island Theatre, ' ... the Sound so Melting ... Harp Music of the Old Gaelic World and Beyond' presented Ann Heymann and Siobhán Armstrong in concert, with guest historical uilleann piper, Dr. Jimmy O'Brien-Moran.

Scoil na gCláirseach—Summer School of Early Irish Harp continues to flourish each year and to bring together people from all round the world who share a passion for early Irish music and culture and who wish to deepen their knowledge of, and ability to perform on, early Irish harp. For many of those who attend, it is the sole possibility each year to spend time with other students and experts in the field. The Historical Harp Society of Ireland is grateful to the teaching staff who support such a unique international event and is also particularly appreciative of the dedicated Scoil students, without whom none of this would take place.

Our thanks also go to An Chomhairle Ealaíon (The Arts Council), Philip Edmonson and Kilkenny School of Music, Maura Uí Chróinín, Sylvia Crawford and Galway Early Music, Brenda Malloy and John Elwes.

Siobhán Armstrong
Scoil na gCláirseach—Summer School of Early Irish Harp