Soft Mild Morning
Composed by the blind harp player Denis Hempson it is the only peice we have from him. Denis was in his 90s when this tune was taken down. It definately has that mystical feel to it, very beautiful indeed.
It’s not in D major. It’s in A major. Well, sort of.
It’s hexatonic on A - there’s no G, whether sharp or not. Even so, the tonic is A. Not D.
Really nice tune.
I’m sticking my kneck out here as I think one can say it is in both keys!! It starts off in the key of D in the ‘A’ music but then the ‘B’ music is certainly in the key of A and the tune finishes as indicated in the key of A but then when you start all over again your back into D.
No. It’s in A. Hexatonic. Throughout. As it happens, the chords are all wrong as well. When you get a tune like this where it’s clearly in a mode without Gs, it just destroys the beauty of the tune to go using chords with Gs in them. You end up with a typical guitarist’s mush.
I agree with Ben that it’s A hexatonic - it’s just that the 1st bar is based around a D chord. I’d disagree about using chords with notes in that aren’t in the scale though. That’s part of a backer’s bag of tricks - choosing creative chords for pentatonic & hexatonic tunes that push past what notes are there in the scale and create an extra colour. If you analyse closely what people like Donough Hennessy do with their harmonies - that’s why their chord progressions sound so good. It’s when the chords are chosen badly that this becomes a problem, not because of what notes are present or absent in the scale.
And what about these particular chords, Dow? Try them. Then tell me that G chord is fine. Or any of the others.
I think you made a good point, Ben, I was just picking you up on your generalisation there.
OK I tried the chords, and here’s my honest opinion:
First of all, I like to think that I don’t like the posting of chords in abc under any circumstances. I think it’s a backer’s job to make an effort to learn how to back well enough to accompany creatively and effectively without buggering it up for the melody players. They shouldn’t need (and, indeed, shouldn’t be given) a set of predetermined "correct" chords.
On the other hand, it can be interesting to see what ideas other people come up with, so in a sense it can be a positive thing for creativity and experimentation.
So, now we’ve got that out of the way, on to these particular chords. I think there are some interesting ideas as far as chord substitutions are concerned. Substituting an initial D-A with a minor progression Bm-F#m sounds really nice. It’d also sound nice with m7 chords. Problem is, the effectiveness of the progression is weakened through overuse. It’d have far more effect on the listener and enhance the tune much more if it was used, say, once in the A-part instead of on all repeats.
The same with the G. That G chord works because it leads you into a D chord more satisfyingly than an E chord would, because of the 4th leap between G and D. Problem is, that you’re "forcing" the listener to think in terms of Amix when there are no Gnats, as you pointed out. I think that’s okay. It’s just one possibility. Again, I’d say that because it creates a dramatic harmonic effect, it’d be best to use it sparingly. Maybe in the repeat of the A part, and just use an E chord first time through or something. Or even just once, last time through the whole tune, for effect. Otherwise you risk the whole thing sounding a bit twee and "Celtic" in a sort of Enya way.
So, in conclusion, I think there are some really interesting ideas in that chord set, but as they are written here I wouldn’t follow them religiously. I’d probably make up my own chords whilst using some of Jack’s ideas if I decided I liked them.
OMG that’s the most diplomatic post I’ve written in months! 😀
Yes. Well done, Dow.
However, I stick to my generalisation … in general …
‘Filing out’ the tonal palette by sticking in extra notes that were never supposed to be in the tune tends to lead to everything sounding a bit pan-Celtic to me and … well … frankly, mushy.
The trouble all begins when you forget that this music is melodic, not harmonic, in nature. Then, the accompaniments start to sound as ‘interesting’ as the tune. Heaven forfend, maybe even more so.
At which point, you’ve lost the music, as far as I’m concerned.
btw, I’m not trying to say there should be no accompaniment. But it should be that - accompaniment. It should not take over, or even take an equal part. Just point up the beauty of the tune, assuming that’s at all necessary.
Don’t stop there, I’m just getting into this… 😉
I take your point, Ben, but I don’t think that the situation with accompaniment is quite as black and white as you make out. Yes, the music is fundamentally melodic, in that it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a guitarist there playing with you, but on the other hand, that’s not to say that it’s just melody and nothing more. The two probably most important instruments in Irish music - pipes and fiddle - have the capacity for all sorts of drones, double stops, regulator chords, etc. Also, the melodies themselves could be said to be based around diatonic harmonies. In other words, they’re not simply a randomly flowing bunch of notes, but rather they’re based around structured phrases which are often based around chords, such as the phrase eAcA eAcA, which is based around an A minor chord. There’s nothing unhistorical about that harmony - it’s been there as long as the tune itself, embedded in the very essence of the tune, and to bring that harmony out and make it explicit by playing an A minor chord with it on guitar isn’t going to ruin it, right? If you concede that certain phrases in the tunes themselves are built around existing diatonic harmonies, then you’d also have to concede that - if you’re to add in backing instruments (which you admit you don’t mind the idea of) - that necessitates the input of internally coherent chord progressions that make sense as a whole. That means that sometimes, in order for the chord progression to sound right, you have to impose chords on the melody that are not immediately obvious to someone who doesn’t know how harmony works. For example in the phrase BGEG FD~D2 I’d be more likely to play a chord of A or A7 or some sort of Asus chord going to a D major chord, rather than E minor to D major as the melody suggests on first glance. Put more simply, other less obviously harmonic phrases than eAcA eAcA also suggest certain chords to certain ears, and that’s what’s exciting and creative about backing - the fact that no 2 backers will accompany a tune in the same way. So rather than try and stifle that, I’d rather just let it be, and see what comes of it…
By that I don’t think I’m necessarily disagreeing with what you said, really. I agree that it can all be overdone, and the melody pushed too far with overly mushy relative minors and chords that suggest too much of a change in mode. All I’m saying is that it’s a bit difficult to draw the line at what’s good and what’s not. In the end, like everything else on this bloody website, it boils down to personal taste. 🙂
Discussion: This is of vital interest to me … anyone else? Or I am just sad … ?
# Posted on June 4th 2007 by benhall.1
And the beat goes on, but elsewhere… 😏
Denis Hempson / O’Hempsy / O’Hampsey / Hampson ~ 1694-1807 (113 years of age)
Denis Hempson was born in 1695 some four miles west of Garvagh in the townland of Craigmore. At the age of three he lost his sight as a result of smallpox; when he was twelve, he began to learn to play the harp, which was not unusual for a blind person at that time. ~ Denis Hempson died at Magilligan on the 5th November 1807 aged 112. He had lived in three centuries and was one of the last great Irish Harpers who played in the traditional way.
“Irish Minstrels and Musicians” by Captain Francis O’Neill’s
Regan Printing House, Chicago, 1913
Chapter VIII: Harpers at the Granard and Belfast Meetings
Online ~ http://billhaneman.ie/IMM/
Of the ten harpers who competed at the Belfast Harp Meeting in 1792, Denis O’Hempsey, or Hempson, then ninety-seven years old, was the only one who literally played the harp with long, crooked nails, as described by the old writers. In playing he caught the strings between the flesh and the finger-nail, while the other harpers pulled the strings by the fleshy part of the finger alone. Bunting tells us he had an admirable method of playing Staccato and Legato, in which he could run through rapid divisions in an astonishing style. The intricacy and peculiarity of his playing often amazed Bunting, who could not avoid perceiving in it a vestige of a noble system of practice, that had existed for many centuries; strengthening the opinion that the Irish were at a very early period superior to the other nations of Europe both in composition and performance of music. “In fact,” Bunting adds, “Hempson’s Staccato and Legato passages, double slurs, shakes, turns, graces, etc., comprised as great a range of execution as has ever been devised by the most modern improvers.”
Hempson was born in 1695, at Craigmore, near Garvagh, Londonderry. At the early age of three years he was deprived of sight by an attack of smallpox, and when twelve he began to learn the harp under the tuition of Bridget O’Cahan. In those days, women as well as men were taught the harp in the best families. He studied under John C. Garragher, a blind traveling harper, Loughlin Fanning, and Patrick Conner, successively, all hailing from the Province ot Connacht - the prolific mother of musicians.
At the age of eighteen he began his professional career, being provided with a harp by the generosity of Councillor Canning, Squire Gage, and Dr. Bacon, of his native place. A tour of Ireland and Scotland, lasting ten years, furnished him with a fund of anecdotes and experiences, which rendered his conversation as entertaining as his music was entrancing.
He was fifty years old when a second trip to Scotland was undertaken, in 1745. Prince “Charlie” the Pretender, being in Edinburgh when Hempson arrived, the renowned harper was called into the great halls to play. After a time, four hddlers joined in, and the tune they played was “The King Shall Enjoy His Own Again.” Hempson was brought into the Pretender’s presence, it is said, by Colonel Kelly of Roscommon and Sir Thomas Sheridan.
On his return to Ireland, the celebrated harper played in the houses of the nobility and gentry and in the principal cities throughout the country. Like all traveling musicians, his memory was stored with an inexhaustible assortment of interesting, gossipy narratives.
He had been in O’Carolan’s company when a youth, but never took pleasure in playing his compositions, preferring such ancient strains as “The Coolin” “Eileen a Roon,” “The Dawning of the Day,” etc.
He was not entirely free from egotisin, the proverbial professional failing. In conversation with Bunting in 1793, the year after the Belfast Meeting, he said, with conscious pride, “When I played the old tunes, not another of the harpers would play after me.”
A gay bachelor at the age of eighty-six, he married a woman at Magilligan, in his native County, who bore him a daughter, with whom he spent the last years of his life. Commenting on his belated matrimonial venture, he remarked: “I cant tell if it was the devil huckled us together, she being lame and I being blind.”
The day hefore his death, on hearing that Rev. Sir H. Harvey Bruce had come to see him, he desired to be raised up in bed, and his harp placed in his hands. Having struck some notes of a favorite strain, he sank hack, unable to continue, taking a last farewell of an instrument which had heen a companion even in his sleeping hours and a solace through a life protracted to the astounding span of one hundred and twelve years.
& the famous engraving of O’Hampsey, 1805, as published in Bunting’s 1809 book:
This is not the only melody collected by Bunting from this harpist… Among those others also collected from this harpist was the tune "Aisling an Ógfhir" / "The Young Man’s Dream", which is taken as an earlier form of "The Londonderry Air" (the melody eventually adopted and used for the lyrics "Danny Boy")…
Denis Hempson / O’Hempsy / O’Hampsey / Hampson, 1695-1807 (112 years of age)
I forgot to adjust the dates, born by most accounts in 1965, which means he was 112 when he died…
"~ born by most accounts in 1695, ~"
~ my brain does that too me too often, transposes letters and the like ~ lkie…very frustrating… 😏
im a great great great (i think could be more greats ) niece of dennis hempsey my great grandmother was veronica hempsey one of his decendents its really something to see that people are still talking about his music! his harp is in the hops store in dublin i was trying to find out about him when i came accross this site i only know what my gradad told me about him this was really helpful!
hope i make it to 112 too!!
Nice Claire, if you learn more come back and share it with us, or start up a ‘discussion’ and see what unfolds…
Re: Soft Mild Morning
I started learning this song today on my harp. Love the sound of it. It’s unusual and lovely. It’s in one of Grainne Hambley’s songbooks of traditional Irish arrangements for harp.