Historical Harp Society of Ireland

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Scoil na gClairseach—Summer School of Early Irish Harp 2013 Director's Report

Photo: Pat Moore
Well, what an amazing 10th anniversary summer school we had this year! We celebrated Scoil na gClairseach 2003–2013 with a cake and bubbly at our opening reception and carried on with a celebratory 10th anniversary concert series in Kilkenny, Galway and Dublin, during and after the summer school, with all concerts either sold-out or close to that.

At the opening, we made presentations to our longest-serving students: Paul Best, who has attended ten out of eleven Scoileanna, and Barbara Karlik and Jim Johnston, who have been with us for nine out of the eleven. We’re touched by the faithfulness of our students, most of whom come back to us year on year.

Several ‘family’ members couldn’t be with us for various reasons this year. In their stead we greeted many new faces, from as far afield as New Zealand and Japan. We had twenty-one students in total, from ten countries [England, Ireland, Italy, Switzerland, Japan, Poland, France, New Zealand, Austria, Russia], plus auditors each day.

Our students spanned the gamut from complete beginners who had never before touched a harp, to professional harpists who wanted to refine their skills on early Irish harp. We had more than our usual number of under-18s: five in total, which provided them with a fun peer group together.

This year’s timetable can be accessed here: http://www.irishharpschool.com/timetable.htm

Lecture highlights of 2013 include historian John Gray’s presentation on 18th century Belfast, which helped us put the Belfast Harpers’ Meeting into its social and political context; Jacopo Bisagni’s talk on the philology and organology of early Irish musical terminology and Simon Chadwick’s presentation of his latest work on the repertoire of Rose Mooney, Patrick Quin and other 18th century harpers. But, as ever, when Karen Loomis comes from Scotland to address us, she stole the show! Her presentation of the latest part of her doctoral work on the Queen Mary and Lamont harps (with a side-dish of interesting new information on the Trinity College harp) was breathtaking: she lead us through a presentation of her astonishingly rigorous work, and that of her scientific colleagues who examined and analysed historical wire samples found in the Lamont and Queen Mary harps, and who tested wood samples using scanning electron microscopy, to reveal that the soundboxes of both harps are constructed of willow, and not hornbeam, as had been conjectured for many decades.  This is such invaluable work, presented in a manner, which actually had many of us on the edge of our seats with suspense as Karen led us through her presentation. Thrilling stuff!

Our HHSI Summer Concert Series this year, entitled The Ancient Music of Ireland, presented me, Siobhán Armstrong, Ann Heymann and Andrew Lawrence King in concert, with guests Áine Ní Dhroighneáin, sean-nós song, and piper Ronan Browne. We were really pleased to sell out the Kilkenny concert in our new concert location: the newly renovated Chapter House of St. Mary’s Cathedral. Galway and Dublin concerts were very close to sold-out.

A musical highlight of this year’s concert series was to hear Ronan Browne play his 1760 Kenna Irish pipes set. I had never thought to hear 18th century Irish pipes, never mind a gorgeous set which were already being played more than thirty years before the Belfast Harpers’ Meeting of 1792 and which are still in beautiful condition and in very good hands.

Our field trip to Dublin felt very relaxed this year: we had a smaller number of field-trippers than usual and since we couldn’t access the harps in the National Museum in Collins Barracks, due to staff shortages there, we had a more leisurely time at other museums and libraries.

There are a number of people I’d like to thank for their help and support in the last number of weeks:

An Comhairle Ealaíon/The Arts Council who have financially supported us through their Festivals and Traditional Music schemes; Music Network  and The Dept. of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, who have funded the purchase of harps for us this year; our generous patron Jane Carter; and our other supporters and Society members, who kindly support our work. Our complete Members, Supporters and Patrons list can be visited here: http://www.irishharp.org/patrons.htm

We would like to thank Philip Edmondson  and  Kilkenny School of Music for our summer school venue and John O’Neill and St. Mary’s Cathedral for hosting our Kilkenny concert.

I would also like to give my most heartfelt thanks to the HHSI team behind our summer school and concert series: HHSI Hon. Sec. and Scoil Assistant Director, Simon Chadwick; our PR officer, Natalie Surina; and Sylvia Crawford, our newest administrative assistant; all three of whom have worked energetically, cheerfully and tirelessly for weeks now to ensure that everything came to pass smoothly and successfully.

Maura Uí Chróinín of Galway Early Music, has our gratitude for the lovely concert poster design she made for us and for her help in promoting the Galway leg of the Summer Concert Series.
And finally, our thanks go to John Elwes for his kind and generous logistical help.
Artwork: Hannah Amesso


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