SCOIL NA gCLÁIRSEACH
Summer School of Early Irish Harp
The Historical Harp Society of Ireland held its sixth annual Scoil na gCláirseach–Summer School of Early Irish Harp this year from Wednesday 20th to Tuesday 26th August at the School of Music in Kilkenny, Ireland. At this year’s official opening we had the pleasure of being addressed by Dr. Proinsias Ó Drisceoil, the scholar and author, who opened Scoil na gCláirseach for us.
The Scoil director and 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]. We were also delighted to welcome to Ireland Andrew Lawrence-King [Guernsey], the world’s most famous historical harpist, who joined the teaching faculty for the first time in 2008 and who treated us to mesmerizing performances on 17th century continental harps in his Scoil concert and in the HHSI Summer Concert Series.
Our academic staff included Scoil na gCláirseach Assistant Director, Simon Chadwick [UK], founder of earlygaelicharp.info, who also had the Irish launch of his new CD at Scoil na gClairseach 08. 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.
Our 2008 debut lecturers were Jim Hunter, a local historian from Coleraine who gave us the folk history view of Ruaidhrí Dall Ó Catháin; Mary O’Donnell, a doctoral student at the University of Limerick working on 19th century Irish harp history, and Dr. Jimmy O’Brien-Moran, Ireland’s leading historical piper, who gave us an overview of late 18th and 19th century Irish music collectors.
The Scoil had twenty-six student players and additional auditors each day. The players ranged from teenagers to adults, both Irish and foreign, amateur to professional harpists. The auditors were likewise drawn from Ireland, both north and south and from abroad: professional neo-Irish harpists and other musicians, historians, Irish language experts and those working in media. This brought the daily numbers to around thirty–from thirteen 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. There were in-house tutor concerts on three of the afternoons and, on the evening of Saturday 23rd August, the HHSI presented the first in its public Summer Concert Series in Kilkenny’s medieval Rothe House.
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
* Interpretation of Ruaidhrí Dall Ó Catháin’s music
* 19th century Irish harp societies
* Strong and weak notes: a hands-on workshop in baroque articulation
* Harpers in the domestic accounts of an Irish big house 1730-1770
* Learning to sing a song in Irish from the 18th century Bunting MSS
* Improvising over a Renaissance Ground Bass: an introduction
among many other favourites such as Edward Bunting’s Graces: the ornamentation used by the Irish harpers; an introduction to early Irish harp history and a presentation of other European Renaissance and Baroque harps contemporaneous with the early Irish harp.
It was a very intensive week 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.
Thanks to the HHSI’s Student Harp Bank and the generosity of friends, we were able to provide the ten student copies of historic harps which we needed for Scoil students who did not have their own harp. Students played copies of the HHSI Student Trinity College, the HHSI Student Queen Mary, the HHSI Student Lamont, the HHSI Student Otway and the HHSI Student Downhill harps.
Saturday 23rd August 2008 saw our second and–given that the revival of early Irish harp in Ireland is in its infancy–surprisingly successful All Day Exhibition of Historical Harp Makers, with no less than four early Irish harp builders represented: Paul Dooley, Paul Doyle, David Kortier [USA] and Davy Patton. This was a first for Ireland, to have a pool of enticing instruments under one roof, allowing the HHSI to support early Irish harp builders by providing them with a unique opportunity to meet with potential customers and allowing Scoil students to have a unique opportunity to compare available instruments. We are particularly pleased that three of the builders were Irish.
Apart from the HHSI Student range, some harps which were not sold at Scoil na gCláirseach are currently available through our on-line shop: notably a Kortier Lamont and a Doyle Trinity College.
HHSI SUMMER CONCERT SERIES
The generous support of the An Chomhairle Ealaíon (The Arts Council) and Kilkenny County Council made it possible for the HHSI to present a Summer Concert Series ‘Strings of Gold’ around Ireland in association with Scoil na gCláirseach.
Our concert on Saturday 23rd August at Kilkenny’s medieval Rothe House presented performances by the three Scoil tutors with guest sean-nós singer, Róisin Elsafty.
The performers in Galway at our concert on Saturday Thursday 28th August in Nun’s Island Studio were Ann Heymann and Siobhán Armstrong together with Róisín Elsafty and historical Irish piper, Jimmy O’Brien-Moran.
The HHSI presented a unique concert at St. Ann’s Church in Dublin on Saturday 30th August: ‘The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls’ was a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the first publication of Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies. Moore adapted much of the repertoire collected by Edward Bunting from the last of the 18th century Irish harpers to which he added new English words and for which he commissioned piano accompaniments.
The first half of our concert presented the music hopefully in as close to its original form as possible, with harpists Ann Heymann and Siobhán Armstrong joined by Róisín Elsafty. The second half presented a selection of Moore’s Melodies in as close to its original form as possible, performed by 2008 Grammy award nominated tenor, John Elwes, accompanied by Ireland’s foremost historical keyboard player, Malcolm Proud, on an 1825 Clementi square piano, which sponsors had bought especially for this concert.
Thanks to the work done by our PR officer, Natalie Surina, and with much generous help on the ground in Galway by Galway Early Music and in Dublin by Brenda Malloy and Martha Rose Howard, all three of our concerts were very well attended indeed.
These public performances are a wonderful way of publicising the existence of the early Irish harp in a country where it is–although the national emblem–not a familiar sight or sound. It is also a rare opportunity for us, here in Ireland, to hear some of the best of the international talent in the field of historical harps.
At Scoil na gCláirseach, we take our food seriously! We ate superbly well each lunchtime with locally sourced and home-grown, mainly vegetarian, organic food cooked for us by Pat Glavin of The Food Company, Carrick-on-Suir, helped by Owen O’Shaughnessy.
I would like to thank my assistant director, Simon Chadwick, the HHSI PR officer, Natalie Surina together with the tutors, lecturers and performers whose advance preparation and non-stop hard work and enthusiasm at Scoil na gCláirseach enabled us to present the best possible programme we could devise for our students. Thank you also to each of our students, whose support makes Scoil na gCláirseach possible.
I would also like to thank the following for all their kind help and generous support:
An Chomhairle Ealaíon (The Arts Council); Mary Butler, Arts Officer, Kilkenny County Council; Philip Edmondson, Director, Kilkenny School of Music; Jennifer Gough, Curator, Art and Industrial Division, National Museum of Ireland; Dr. Bernard Meehan, Keeper of Manuscripts, and the library staff of Trinity College Dublin; the Guinness Storehouse Museum, Prof. Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, NUI Galway; Maura Uí Chróinín, Sylvia Crawford and Galway Early Music; Ann and Charlie Heymann; Brenda Malloy, Dr. Marian Rabbitte and Martha Rose Howard.
To see a photo album of Scoil na gCláirseach 08 please visit http://www.irishharpschool.com/2008/photos/
Scoil na gCláirseach–Summer School of Early Irish Harp 2009 will take place 15th to 21th August in Kilkenny.
Is mise le meas,
Director–Scoil na gClairseach
Chair–Historical Harp Society of Ireland
+353 (0)51 646286