Finding harp tunes

Finding harp tunes

Hi everyone

I’m a harp player investigating harp music from all over the British Isles. I’m not strongly attached to any one tradition and so I’m having to learn how to research this stuff by trial and error. I do a lot of learning by ear from recordings but that feels like being a musical magpie!

I was wondering if anyone had any ideas for sources, or specific tune features that might identify a harp tune. I’ve come across the word ‘port’ (as in Rory Dall’s Port or Port Chuil Aodha) that can imply a tune written for harp. Did it later become a generic word for tune? Also there’s Cumha - meaning lamentation - looks like it’s often associated with Ceol Mor.

What makes a harp tune a harp tune anyway? Is it just that it fits under the fingers? Does anyone know anymore about repertoire swapping between pipes and harps?

Corrections / new ideas very welcome!
Thanks

Posted by .

Re: Finding harp tunes

Have a look at Edward Bunting’s book, The ancient music of Ireland.(published by Dover). Bunting has arranged these tunes for piano but they were all originally collected by him from Irish harpers, starting in 1792 when he attended a meeting of harpers in Belfast.

Re: Finding harp tunes

port = jig

& ~ port = tune

Re: Finding harp tunes

Bunting is one good start, who collected specifically from harpists, but was not shy to make ‘corrections’ as he saw fit for his intended ‘customers’…

I suspect you already know the work of Robin Huw Bowen? He has published a number of things, as well as being featured on a number of recordings.

http://www.welshfolkdance.org.uk/

http://www.welshfolkdance.org.uk/grwpiau/aberystwyth/rhb/robinhuwbowen.htm

http://www.welshfolkdance.org.uk/grwpiau/aberystwyth/rhb/robinhuwbowen_publ.htm

http://www.welshfolkdance.org.uk/grwpiau/aberystwyth/rhb/robinhuwbowen_cd.htm

Re: Finding harp tunes

Tro Llaw - a collection of 200 Welsh hornpipes for the harp, from the National Library of Wales.
If you do a search for “Tro LLaw” (without the quotes) on the home page of TheSession.org you’ll find a number of tunes from Tro Llaw that have been posted here.
The ones I’ve posted here, either as originals or as comments to other postings, are tunes:
1245, 1269, 1279, 1310, 1322, 1848, and 1995.

Re: Finding harp tunes

For Irish harp music to play, a good place to start is the series of books published by Cairde na Cruite. These contain lots of the old music collected by Bunting etc., but in more playable settings (as opposed to Bunting’s piano arrangements). These also contain arrangements of numerous airs and dance tunes.

http://www.cairdenacruite.com/publications.html

For info on the old harp music in the British Isles (emphasizing the wire-strung harp tradition in Scotland and Ireland), good starting points include:

http://www.earlygaelicharp.info/

http://www.clarsach.net/

There certainly has been crossover between harp and piping repertoires, in both directions, going back many years. I’m not an expert in that area though.

Re: Finding harp tunes

Is the Buntings Ancient Music by Dover? My copy is from Waltons Publisher, in Dublin. it is the big hardbound version. Did Dover come out with a reprint?

I got it to force myself to read music but have not been very successful! So it sits unused. It is a lovely book though and I live in hope that someday I will read music well enough to deserve it!

Re: Finding harp tunes

Dover has reprinted only the third (and largest) Bunting collection. The big hardbound Walton’s edition compiles all three, and is well worth seeking out. The first volume especially contains simpler, less pianistic arrangements that may be closer to the harpers’ original versions.

Re: Finding harp tunes

Click on “Downloads” and scroll down to find all 3 volumes of Bunting:
http://www.hiddenglen.com/index.php/Music/Music4

The further back you go, the less likely it is to find music directed to be played on the harp (or any instrument) or specifically associated with the harp, and it becomes very much a case of “if you can play it on the harp, it’s harp music.” (or pipe music, or fiddle music, etc.)

Some early sources (17-18c):
http://www.earlygaelicharp.info/sources/
You’ll notice that there is an overlap with lute and similar plucked string repertoire, which is also true of 16-17c English and Spanish repertoire. quite a bit of the lute/harp repertoire is chromatic, and while some of it can be played with the flipping of levers, some needs a chromatic harp (cross-strung or multi-course) or alternative tuning -- retuning an octave or two to include both Fnatural and F sharp, for example.

Re: Finding harp tunes

Some Irish dance tunes that work well on harp are: The Golden Castle (hornpipe), Jim Ward’s (jig), Blarney Pilgrim (jig), Out on the Ocean (jig), Walls of Liscarroll (jig), Cronin’s (hornpipe), Foxhunter’s (slip jig) and many more…also O‘Carolan pieces and slow airs are a given. You might also give the two tune compilations by Grainne Hambly a look. She includes dance music as well as O’Carolan tunes and slow airs in arrangements that will help you get ideas about, and a feeling for, how the left hand accompaniment works in Irish dance tune melodies.

The key to making dance tunes harp-friendly is making sure you make finger groupings that allow your hand to move and re-place in the natural pauses of the tune melody (or alter the melody and/or ornaments slightly to make it work out). The first four measures of Blarney Pilgrim, for instance: 4 4321(move) 3212341232 1234 (creeping down by replacing your thumb next to your 4th finger before you pluck the 4th finger). At the beginning of the tune, you place all four fingers on DE GA and simply achor the other three while you repeat the 4th finger at the beginning of the tune. Overall, the fewer moves your whole hand needs to make to complete the tune, the easier it’s going to be - if you can creep up and down the strings through creative fingering (oh, and avoid crossing over with the thumb, it changes your hand position too much to be efficient time-wise when playing a fast dance tune. Cross over with your second finger) you will be best off.

Good luck with your harp playing!

Re: Finding harp tunes

I’m not really a harpist but I use the lever harp to confirm that I have the proper sense of the tune. If I can play it mistake free with at least one hand (r) then I could and can play lead for a session on flute whistle or Zouk. If I can’t then I don’t know the tune well enough. I have no desire to be a harpist because
I can see how much work is involved to establish the fingering sequences. wb

Re: Finding harp tunes

Check out the recording of Hilary Rushmer , the Welsh harpist that has at least three or more releases
that have been very influential in my own repertoire of classic Celtic tunes.

Re: Finding harp tunes

Lovely! Thanks everyone. Crumbs. There’s so much stuff to go through.

I have 3 early Irish books - A complete Carolan from Ossian, a reprint of Bunting from Walton and an edition from Cork University by Donal O’Sullivan. At some point I want to make the trip to Belfast as well as Cardiff.

Ceolachan have you heard of Eldra Jarman? She was one of the Welsh gypsy harpists, someone Robin Huw Bowen studied. I haven’t figured out if she had any connection with Nansi Richards yet other than instrument.

I’m hoping to find a few more tunes like Pwt ar y bys / Buttered Peas that have some connection with England and Wales. Anecdotally I heard that the gypsy travellers had picked up the tunes while in England then travelled to Wales, though I haven’t found any evidence for this yet.

Regarding pipes and harps the clearest link I know of that of Ceol Mor (‘big’ or ceremonial music) in Scotland. The harp carried the bulk of it at first but as the harp died out the pipe took over. So many pipe tunes fit well under the fingers though that I wonder if there is something inherent in the design of pipe chanters that affects the shape of the tunes that come out.

I really appreciate the contact with other interested individuals. Oral traditions are great… until you want to research them!

Posted by .