What experience can I have at this festival that I’m less likely to have elsewhere?
We help the curious student to access surviving manuscript – and early printed – sources of the harpers’ music, including historical descriptions of their playing, to discover as much as possible about the old harpers’ performance traditions and to learn how to replicate them. These are quite different to more modern approaches used on the nylon-strung Irish lever harp (aka Celtic harp and clarsach). We then help you to steer that knowledge so that you can reconstruct the traditional, old repertoire on measured copies of the wire-strung early Irish harps the old harpers played, using historical playing techniques they themselves used.
You will also have a unique opportunity to play wonderful, measured copies of six different kinds of historical Irish harps, from medieval harps to eighteenth-century instruments.
You will be immersed in a week, not only of intensive players’ sessions and concerts, but also cutting-edge talks, lectures and workshops given by world leaders in the field, which will help you to put historical, cultural and aesthetic context around the music. We hope to get you a little closer to the world of the old Irish harpers once more, whilst acknowledging humbly that we can’t ever be sure that we’re getting it completely right.
I’ve never played a harp before. Is that a problem?
Scoil na gCláirseach caters for all levels, from beginners to professional players. We extend a particularly warm welcome to absolute beginners. Harpists, of all levels, who don’t yet play early Irish harp but who are interested in historical playing techniques and repertoire are also very welcome.
Participants divide themselves into small groups for the class tuition each day, depending on what topic they would like to study. Beginners are grouped together in their own dedicated stream.
Can I rent a harp at the festival?
Yes; the Society has a limited number of excellent rental harps available on a first-come, first-served basis. These instruments are measured copies of surviving historic instruments housed at the National Museum of Ireland and other collections.
The earlier you let us know that you would like to rent a harp, the higher the chance that we will have one to give you.
I don’t read music. Is that a problem?
No; for most of the levels, the classes are taught aurally with sheet music available at the end for those who are literate. However, participants in advanced sessions should ideally have a working knowledge of how to read music.
Will I learn lots of new tunes including jigs, reels and other dance tunes commonly played in trad. Irish music sessions?
The old harpers’ music pre-dates most traditional Irish dance music by hundreds of years, so dance music isn’t our emphasis. Instead, we will equip you with the skills you need to find, reconstruct and play the historical repertoire of the early Irish harp [song airs, laments, marches, music composed for patrons, older dances e.g. minuets & jigs etc., 16th- to 18th-century ‘foreign’ repertoire] and to give you a sense of the history and cultural values of the worlds in which the old harpers operated.
If your main wish is to learn lots and lots of new tunes each day, then we might not be the festival for you, since we take time to help our students to understand the music from the inside out. If, however, you are interested in where tunes and songs come from, in seeing the form in which they have been preserved, and how to go about turning them back into living, breathing music, then this festival is likely to interest you. In short, we’re best suited to the curious of mind as well as the curious of finger!
I play a gut- or nylon-strung lever harp/folk harp/celtic harp? Is it OK to bring that to play?
We won’t turn you away; don’t worry! But since our tutors teach historical harp techniques on replica early Irish harps, you will certainly benefit much more from the players’ sessions if you too play an early Irish harp in class, so bear in mind that rental harps are available to you.
I play my current harp with pedal-harp technique and have never used historical playing techniques. Is that a problem?
We assume that you are coming to the Scoil to learn about how this instrument was played historically so we will teach you, from scratch, what sorts of early playing techniques are most helpful and appropriate in getting the best out of an early Irish harp. Lack of prior familiarity with historical technique will not be a hindrance.
I don’t play using finger nails. Is that a problem?
No; for most of their history early Irish harps seem to have been played with fingernails but from the seventeenth century there is evidence of the instrument being played with finger tips, so finger-tip players are totally welcome.
I play a lap harp with 22 strings. Is that too small an instrument to take to the Scoil?
We will be delighted to see you no matter how small your harp! We do encourage historically-minded students to play measured copies of surviving instruments as the best way of approaching the repertoire – the smallest of these has 29 strings – but you will be able to take part playing an instrument which is smaller than that.
Will I receive a certificate?
Yes; all participants receive a certificate at the end of the festival.
Scoil na gCláirseach–Festival of Early Irish Harp is made possible with funding from An Chomhairle Ealaíon (The Arts Council) and Kilkenny County Council. Our wonderful bank of HHSI Student harps has been funded by The Music Capital Scheme, supported by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and managed by Music Network.