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GUEST,ollaimh 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists) (123* d) RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists) 28 Mar 16


there is a distinction between gaelic harping and irish harping. graine yeats was instrumental in the revival of the gaelic harp. that is the brass wire strung harp. there were a hand full of players through the 19th and early 20th century but their traditional links were weak. they played a few tunes of ancient manuscripts but mostly o'carolan and songs. yeats along with a genuine genius jay witcher got access to all the surviving gaelic harps. witcher is a phyicist and air craft engineer a woodworker and was already a decent musician in orchestral music and eastern european folk and the jazz it inspired. unique background. he understood the physics formulas for the resonating string. these are taught to any first year physics student but few apply them to calculating the optimum stringing for ancient gaelic harps. he found several ancient harps that had good design. the lamont, the o'fogarty and to a lesser extent the castle ottway.   he also tyhought that the remnants of the balinderry harp could be extrapolated from, to get the harmonic curve and probably string lengths over the range, and that it was well designed. together with garine yeats they started making gaelic harps. now there are many makers but then it was quite revolutionary. witcher was offered the post as official harp maker for the republic of eire. he turned it down as he was using maple as his main wood and it could be sourced more easily in new brunswick and maine and much cheaper for high quality wood.

now i like mary o'hara and that trfadition. it is certainly as old as most english song traditions which were made up by folk sing mediators in the 19th century. i prefer the gaelic style and try to play it in my own way. so grainne eats had a specific vision of gaelic harping she was promoting and it wasn't the dominant style. now it has had a great influence and people such as ann heyman and siom chadwick have gone to ancient manuscripts and rediscovered a vast repitoire, and have raised the bar of masterufull playing that i am hopelss to ever be worthy of.

the gaelic harp was a different tradition from the lowland and english harp tradition, and much older in all probablity.

the same is true of gaelic fiddling. jack campion is dead wrong about cape breton fiddling and as a lot of lowland scotts do he is spouting a bigoted rant. the scoffing scotman. in fact gaelic fgiddling almost died in scotland. they had a classically influenced style from skinner and others but the gaelic tradition died. that's why almost all the traditional scottish fiddlers came to nova scotia to learn the ancient gaelic style. as did the dancers.

when witcher and yeats started their work there were no gaelic harps available, now there are many makers of fine instruments and the search for the anceint sound has gone deep into many directions, and deep into the intrepretation of the surviving manuscripts. (john skene for instance was collecting harp , fiddle amd pipe tunes in scotland around 1600, although he didn't say which was which. the robert ap huw manuscript is thought to contain many gaelic piecres as well as welsh pieces)

these gaelic cultural revivals do raise the hackles of those who are still deep in british empire colonial bigotry , but it's happening and they are producing beautiful music and beautifull instruments. the reseach is different. previously they ignored gaelic sources but now they are discovering the links and histories bit by bit from those sources. bands like ossian have been open minded and recorded the ancient gaelic style in the poplar folk venues. i would suggest every one give a listen to ann hey man, siomn chadwink, brendan ring and others. they are great players who have revived a great tradition. and ignore the scoffing lowlanders. they are sassenachean after all.


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