Historical Harp Society of Ireland

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Director's Report - Scoil na gCláirseach 2015

People are saying it was our best year yet! Scoil na gClairseach—Summer School of Early Irish Harp 2015 was officially opened on 19th August by our patron, Jane Carter. We had teenage and adult students from as far away as the USA, Russia and Japan, together with UK and continental students, local and other Irish participants. They ranged from those who had never touched a musical instrument before to professional players.

The Scoil saw a shake-up to its format this year, which seemed to work very well: Each day until lunchtime, Sylvia Crawford (North of Ireland) tutored the Basic Tunes and Techniques class. Assistant Scoil director, Simon Chadwick (Scotland), added to his in-house lecturer role this year by being the main class tutor for the Manuscript Sources and Theoretical Concepts class, while I concentrated on teaching the Advanced Tunes and Reconstructions class. Ann Heymann (USA) worked with both the Tunes and Manuscripts classes, gave individual time to students whom we felt could benefit from that, and also became our main Masterclass tutor, giving both public and private masterclasses.

In the afternoons and evenings we had presentations given by an array of prestigious, visiting scholars, who joined the in-house staff in presenting papers, more informal talks and workshops. Virginia Blankenhorn, from Edinburgh University, joined us for the first time, giving us a particularly interesting talk on singing poetry well (and badly!) in Irish. Carrying on the vocal theme, we felt fortunate to have Connemara sean-nós singer Róisín Elsafty teach the students a harper’s song in Irish this year, at our Song workshop, from her growing collection of this repertoire.

Piper Ronan Browne gave one of the most interesting Scoil presentations we’ve had in recent years: guiding us through 17 archive recordings of traditional Irish musicians from the 1890s onwards. Some of these performers were born in the 1830s so they were not very many generations removed from the world of the late 18th-century Irish harpers. Some eureka moments to be had in comparing these performances with the evidence of early Irish harp performance practice captured in Edward Bunting’s MS transcriptions from the harpers of a few decades before.

We were really delighted to welcome American harpist and scholar, Nancy Hurrell, to the Scoil for the first time this year. Nancy gave a lively and erudite presentation on the harps built for the students of the early 19th-century early Irish harp revival societies. We all look forward to her book on the work of the talented harp builder John Egan, who worked and invented tirelessly in the early decades of the 19th century.

Karen Loomis gave us her latest, fascinating insights into the organological world of the Lamont and Queen Mary harps, which she has been studying now for some years. I warmly congratulate her on her recent award of a PhD in the area of early Irish harp studies, the very first Scoil attendee to progress this far. We interrupted her talk to celebrate the great event with bubbly!

We were delighted that, in addition to student players, we had local, national and international auditors, including for one day, early Irish harper and harp builder, Paul Dooley, who is nearing completion of a PhD at the University of Limerick.

We were treated to five outstanding lunches by our cook, Pat Glavin, who is our secret inverse pied piper, enticing students towards us rather than away from us! Mexican day, Indonesian day, French day complete with cheeseboard etc…I accept that some students may be coming back, year after year, simply for the stunning home-cooking!

We had our annual, fascinating trip to Dublin on the last day, to pore over, examine in detail and photograph many of the surviving harps held in museum collections.

Our complete timetable of events can be seen here:

Ann Heymann  and I gave in-house solo concerts during the Scoil. In addition, thanks to the largesse of the Arts Council’s Deis Traditional Arts funding scheme, the HHSI was able to present a public concert in Kilkenny, during the summer school, as part of our greater HHSI Summer Concert Series 2015, which took us to Galway, Dublin, and for the very first time, Belfast, in the days after Scoil na gCláirseach.

The Connemara sean-nós singer, Róisín Elsafty, joined myself and Ann on this tour around Ireland, performing 17th- and 18th-century harpers’ songs. Ronan Browne was also a concert performer this year, playing music from the Bunting MSS on his unique 1760 Kenna pipes.

To get a flavour of the 2015 summer school, you can shortly have a look at our photo album here, once we upload a selection of photos:   http://www.irishharpschool.com/2015/photos

You can also visit us at http://www.irishharp.org, where you can see the lovely promo short that cinematographer Carlo d'Alessandro and the Scottish company, Siubhal, put together about our summer school.

I would like to thank the following people for their help and support with Scoil na gCláirseach—Summer School of Early Irish Harp 2015:

An Comhairle Ealaíon/The Arts Council who have financially supported us through their Festivals and Deis schemes; Music Network and The Dept. of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, who have funded the purchase of harps for our student performers; our patron Jane Carter, and the Supporters and Members, who kindly support our work. Our complete Supporters list can be seen here: http://www.irishharp.org/supporters.htm

Our thanks to Jennifer Gough and The National Museum of Ireland; The Guinness Storehouse; The Old Library, Trinity College Dublin; Philip Edmondson and Kilkenny School of Music; John O’Neill and St. Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny; Catherine O’Connor, OPW and the parish of St. Audoen’s Church, Dublin; Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast; Galway Arts Centre; Maura Uí Chróinín and Galway Early Music; Jury’s Inn, Christchurch, Dublin; Kilkenny County Council, Fáilte Ireland and IPB INsurance; John Elwes; Oisín Hahessy.

I would also like to give my most heartfelt thanks to the incredibly hard-working HHSI team behind Scoil na gCláirseach and the HHSI Summer Concert Series: HHSI Hon. Sec. and Scoil Assistant Director, Simon Chadwick; Sylvia Crawford, Treasurer and Administration;  and Natalie Surina, PR and Administration.

Finally, I would like to thank each student and auditor who joined us in Kilkenny, making the whole week possible.

Best wishes,

Siobhán Armstrong

Director, Scoil na gCláirseach—Summer School of Early Irish Harp

Chair, Historical Harp Society of Ireland


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