Summer School of Early Irish Harp
The Historical Harp Society of Ireland presented its fifth annual Scoil na gCláirseach–Summer School of Early Irish Harp this year from Wednesday 22th to Tuesday 28th August at the School of Music in Kilkenny, Ireland. Scoil students studied the techniques and repertory played on the instrument from medieval times to the 18th century. This year our focus was one of the most interesting of the early Irish harpers: Denis O’Hampsey, in this, the 200th anniversary of his death.
The Scoil director, Siobhán Armstrong [Irl], was joined by tutors, performers and lecturers including the doyenne of the modern international revival of the early Irish harp, Ann Heymann [USA] and Spain’s most prominent performer on historical harps, Javier Sáinz [Spain / IRL]. In addition, our academic staff consisted of the Scoil Assistant Director, Simon Chadwick [UK], founder of earlygaelicharp.info, and our scholar-in-residence this year was Scotland’s foremost academic in the field, Keith Sanger. We were particularly pleased to welcome a Scottish member of staff for the first time, coming, as he does, from the other Gaelic homeland of the instrument.
The Scoil had twenty-five enthusiastic students–and additional auditors each day–from ten countries on three continents, from the USA to 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 Saturday 25th August, the HHSI presented a public concert in Kilkenny’s medieval Rothe House. It was a packed and intensive programme each day but still the energetic student body managed both to work hard by day and carry on practising, making music and socialising late into the evening! There was a Scoil field trip to Dublin on our final day to see and study surviving instruments held in museum, university and private collections.Our unique two-tiered system of lectures for less and more advanced students continued this year along with seminars on with such wide ranging subjects as
* the life and music of Denis O’Hampsey
* the Scottish MacLean Clephane Sisters and their MS
* harp music in Scottish Lute MSS
* the morphology of early Irish harps
* learning to sing a 17th century harper-composer’s song in Irish
* theme and variation: Gaelic and baroque
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 three European Renaissance and Baroque harps contemporaneous with the Irish harp.
Thanks to the society’s Student Harp Bank and the generosity of friends, we managed to make 13 student copies of historic harps available for Scoil students to play. It was a real delight to see, for example, five HHSI Student Downhill harps being played in an anniversary year of the original harp’s owner. Students also played HHSI Student Trinities, Lamonts, Otways and a Queen Mary.In addition, this year was the first year that facsimile instruments were built by two early harp builders with the inaugural Scoil Instrument Makers’ Exhibition in mind. Davy Patton, a new Irish builder, brought an exquisite Trinity College harp replica, carved and painted in the manner of the original. We were particularly pleased tosee this development in the Irish revival: a new builder building high-end early Irish harps. US luthier David Kortier sent, most fittingly, a Downhill facsimile, which was unfortunately held up at customs until too late for it to be at the Scoil. Both can be seen at http://www.irishharp.org/shop/
The generous support of the An Chomhairle Ealaíon (The Arts Council) and Kilkenny County Council made it possible for the HHSI to present three concerts in association with Scoil na gCláirseach: one in Kilkenny and one each in Galway and Dublin presenting the three Scoil tutors in concert with guests sean-nós singer, Róisin Elsafty and historical uilleann piper, Jimmy O’Brien-Moran. This is a wonderful way of publicising the existence of the early Irish harp in a country where it is, alas, though the national emblem, not a very 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 on the instrument.
Once more, at Scoil na gClairseach, we ate like kings! Pat Glavin of The Food Company, Carrick-on-Suir, helped by Owen O’Shaughnessy, provided a vegetarian feast each lunchtime and not content with that provided us with mid-afternoon home-baked treats for our tea breaks. I’m not entirely sure if the students travel half way around the world for the tuition: perhaps they are simply coming for the food?!
I would like to thank my assistant director, Simon Chadwick, and 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 for the students. Thank you also to all of our students, whose support makes Scoil na gClairseach 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; Prof. Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, NUI Galway; Maura Uí Chróinín and Galway Early Music; Ann and Charlie Heymann; Natalie Surina; Brenda Malloy and Dr. Marian Rabbitte.To see a photo album of Scoil na gCláirseach 07 please visit http://www.irishharpschool.com/2007/photos/
Scoil na gCláirseach–Summer School of Early Irish Harp 2008 will take place 20th to 26th August in Kilkenny.
Is mise le meas,
Director–Scoil na gClairseach