Historical Harp Society of Ireland

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Kilkenny, Ireland.
16–22 August 


Some of us... [Photo: Leticia Prados]

And what a great festival we enjoyed thanks to the staff tutors, visiting lecturers and performers, administrative staff, concert goers, sponsors, funders and most importantly to the participants who came from Ireland, Europe and as far away as Japan and Australia to take part. Míle buíochas!

Festival Co-Director, Simon Chadwick, and I led the two strands of intensive hands-on sessions before lunch each day.  Sylvia Crawford (Armagh) took the Beginners under her wing for the week. Ann Heymann (USA) gave our Masterclasses each afternoon and James Ruff (USA) made his teaching debut at Scoil na gClairseach this year. We are delighted to welcome him to the team. 

This year, we sought out a new venue once more, one which could accommodate late-night opening so that participants can practise, socialise and play music in-house together. We were warmly welcomed to Coláiste Pobail Osraí, the Irish-language secondary school in the centre of town, opposite Kilkenny School of Music. So happy were we there that we have already booked it for the 2018 festival! Many thanks to Príomhoide, Cathnia Ó Muircheartaigh, Leas-Príomhoide, Madailin Mhic Lochlainn and school caretaker, Paul McDonald. We had spacious classrooms, well-equipped with projectors and white boards for classes and illustrated workshops. We had a central presentation / concert room, a dedicated eating space and a kitchen that made Pat Glavin, our amazing cook, very happy. And there was free on-campus parking. As Paul McDonald was often heard to say: “Happy Days!” 

This year saw a change of name: from ‘summer school’ to ‘festival’. This is an indication of our intention to be more accessible – and to engage more actively – with the public each day than in the past. With this in mind, instead of one public concert in Kilkenny, we had four in-house Summer Evening concerts at 5.30 p.m. serving pre-dinner drinks and nibbles to the guests before the performances. Next year’s festival will also see an expansion of public involvement into the earlier part of each day, with a stronger invitation than ever before to outside auditors to attend festival lectures, talks, workshops and walk-in hands-on events.

[Photo: Leticia Prados] 
We played big, eighteenth-century Irish harps...

...and smaller, medieval Irish harps...

On the last day –Tues. 22 August – we had our annual field trip to Dublin to see surviving early Irish harps in museum and private collections. This is always a thrill for staff and students alike – a chance to see the instruments which are not on public display but which we can access, examine and photograph on our private tour once a year. My thanks to the staff in the Guinness Storehouse, the Old Library, Trinity College and to those at the National Museum for their generosity and helpfulness to us each year.

Each concert featured a harpist: Simon Chadwick (Scotland), Ann Heymann (USA) and me, Siobhan Armstrong (Kilkenny). A further concert was the Irish debut of historical harper, James Ruff (USA). It’s marvellous to see the national and international early Irish harp revival advance sufficiently that we are starting now to see the Irish debuts of public performers who are new to us. 

Simon Chadwick gave us a re-imagining of medieval ceremonial music for the Lords of the Isles; Ann Heymann played virtuosic 18th-century variation sets; I collaborated with Éamonn Ó Bróithe on the songs & instrumental music of the Connellon brothers from Sligo, and also the repertory of the harper, Dominic Mungan, which ranged from hymn tunes to Handel arias to his own song: 'An raibh tú ag an gCarraig?’; and James Ruff played some of the most ancient and most modern repertory in the Bunting Irish harp manuscripts from the end of the 18th-century. 

Three of the harpists had a guest at their concerts: Sean-nós singers, Éamonn Ó Bróithe (Galway) & Eibhlís Ní Ríordáin (Wicklow), sang harpers’ songs & songs of the Déise (Co. Waterford) respectively, and historical piper Ronan Browne (Connemara), played his rare 1760s Irish pipes, the only working set in Ireland of which I know. I am delighted to say that we had up to full-house attendance at these events. 

Some of the staff (and many of the participants too) play more than harps…

[Photo: Eva Sanchez Carreres]
My own talks, lectures and workshops centred around the modal nature of the harp repertory, a timeline of elusive bass-hand performance practice (my PhD research topic), and what being an HIP (historically informed performance) harpist entails.

In addition to my contributions, our song class, workshops, talks and lectures this year were deftly led by Eamonn Ó Bróithe, Ronan Browne, Ann Heymann, Sylvia Crawford and Simon Chadwick.

The Library at the Queen's University Belfast kindly allows us to show – and work on with the Scoil participants – pages from the all-important late-eighteenth century Bunting harp manuscript collection, for which they hold the copyright.

Éamonn Ó Bróithe taught the fluent Irish speakers an 18th-century harpers’ song in the song class while I taught the non-Irish speakers an unfamiliar archive version of the famous Déise song ‘Cill Chais’. 

Sylvia Crawford is completing an MA on the harper, Patrick Quinn, and gave an insightful talk on her research so far, which has uncovered previously unknown information about the 18th-century Armagh harper. 

Ronan Browne woke the audience’s ears up to early 20th-century archive recordings, teaching active-listening skills and showing technological software that can help the listener to learn from old performances. 

I presented a workshop on the earliest Irish song to appear in print and shared with the students an even older version – complete with lyrics set under the notes – which I recently recognised in a turn-of-the-18th-century manuscript of European art music compiled by Johann Sigismond Cousser (Kusser), Master of the King’s Music in Ireland. 

Ann Heymann gave a talk and workshop on Irish and Welsh historical harp techniques.

Simon Chadwick compared the sound, ergonomics and musical possibilities of medieval v. later early Irish harps. In other presentations he spoke about attempted early Irish harp revivals of the 19th- and early 20th centuries, and revisited key source manuscripts of core repertory based on work he has done over the last year for his newly published book.

[Photo: Mícheál Ó Catháin]

Simon Chadwick brought his wonderful Early Gaelic Harp Emporium to tempt us with books, recordings and more...

Pat Glavin, our in-house cook, worked his vegetarian magic once more, treating us to everything from ‘Indonesian Day’ to ‘Indian Day’ to ‘Sunday Roast Day’ using locally-sourced ingredients, freshly cooked for us each day. Pat also produced utterly delicious cakes and desserts for our afternoon tea breaks. This year’s new addition was that he also produced the drinks and hors d'oeuvres for our Summer Evening Concert series. The foodie aspect of this summer festival is really not to be under-estimated! 

Simon Chadwick is my Assistant-Director; Sylvia Crawford is our Financial Administrator and Maura Walsh did our PR for the Summer Evening Concert series. In addition, this year, Ashling Slater was our very hard-working administrative assistant, a new position that we are anxious to expand to other areas of our year-round work. Ashling's presence made the running of the festival considerably less taxing than in previous years. 

Our detailed timetable can be perused here: http://www.irishharpschool.com/timetable.htm Also check out our youtube channel for some of this years’ (and other years’) Scoil workshops and presentations, which will shortly be available to view online here: https://www.youtube.com/user/historicalharp   
We are grateful to harper and film-maker, Mícheál Ó Catháin, who has worked so hard, over the course of the festival, to document our events. Maith thú, a Mhícheál! 

Enormous thanks to the individuals and organisations who enable Scoil na gClairseach–Early Irish Harp Festival to exist and grow:

An Chomhairle Ealaíon (The Arts Council of Ireland); our patron, Jane Carter; Kilkenny County Council; Music Network and the Dept of Arts, Heritage and the 
Gaeltacht; HHSI Gold, Red Brass and Yellow Brass Supporters; HHSI Associate & Scoil na gCláirseach Members; Paul McDonald and Coláiste Pobail Osraí; Maura Walsh & Galway Early Music; The National Museum of Ireland; The Old Library, Trinity College, Dublin; The Guinness Storehouse, Dublin; John Elwes, John O’Neill and Frank Colcord. A complete list of our Supporters can be seen here: http://www.irishharp.org/supporters.htm

My particular thanks to the administrative team: Simon Chadwick, Sylvia Crawford, Ashling Slater and Maura Walsh, who worked tirelessly with me before, during and after the festival this year. 

Our 2018 festival will take place at Coláiste Pobail Osraí, Kilkenny, Ireland 15-21 August 2018. 
Bígí linn – come and join us if you can! 

Best wishes,

Siobhán Armstrong
Director, Scoil na gCláirseach—Festival of Early Irish Harp


The HHSI is kindly funded by 
An Chomhairle Ealaíon, 
Music Network and the Dept. of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, 
Kilkenny County Council 

and also by our Members, Supporters and Patron.