The Plinkety Plink Diaries Part 2

The harpers have all headed home from the 10th annual Somerset Folk Harp Festival. Here’s a wrap-up of our intrepid Chief Harp Correspondent’s final days at the festival.

Sunday, August 1

First off, I apologize for the less-than-anticipated number of posts. I had originally envisioned cranking one out every day, but quickly realized that I wasn’t going to have time for much of anything other than eating, sleeping and harping.

And actually, looking back on it, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

My last post covered the workshops and concerts, but I now realize I neglected to mention the vendor mall, which was pretty interesting in its own right. I’m not looking to buy another instrument right now, but that didn’t stop me wandering from harp maker to harp maker, sitting down to play with anything that struck my fancy.

The coolest thing I saw there was undoubtedly the new light-weight carbon-fiber models made by Heartland Harps. They’re sleek, shiny, vaguely futuristic looking—and they’re 10 pounds where my harp (a Camac Hermine) is closer to 30, even though they’re the same size. So picking one up makes you feel kind of like Superman. Or maybe that’s just me.

Friday afternoon was a trip through centuries of Irish harp history squashed into three hours with two workshops taught by Grainne Hambly, one on the Bunting Collection and the other on the music of Turlough O’Carolan.

The Bunting Collection is a group of tunes that Edward Bunting, a classically trained organist, gathered from the playing of the harpers at the Belfast Harp Festival in 1792.

Good thing: in doing so, he preserved a lot of music that might otherwise have been lost.

Bad thing: he couldn’t leave well enough alone and “corrected” some of the tunes as he transcribed them—some are in keys that the harpers couldn’t possibly have played in.

Really cool thing: many of his manuscripts are now available online as part of Queen’s University Library’s digital collection. And no, I haven’t forgotten about O’Carolan…

On Saturday night after another amazing concert series, a big group of us gathered for the Carolan Marathon. Turlough O’Carolan was a blind Irish harper born in 1670 who is famous for his skills as a composer—he wrote over two hundred pieces of music influenced by the older Irish harp tradition as well as classical baroque pieces. Our goal? To play as many of his tunes as we could over the course of the next few hours.

Somehow we all managed to fit ourselves and our harps into a fairly small conference room, as well as those who showed up just to listen, and a sprinkling of other musicians (mostly fiddlers and a couple of flutes) who came to join in. We didn’t even come close to 200 (thirty would be nearer the mark), but we had a lot of fun. And really, isn’t that the point of it all?

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