Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Harp Before the Moon

The Harp Before the Moon - traveling Ireland with the harp:

Sunday, September, 23, 2007
Lahinch and Doolin, Co. Clare, Ireland

For the past several days I’ve been wearing 2 pair of earrings in a back to front configuration (2 holes in each ear you see)…one ear would have a silver harp in front of a copper BC native moon, the other ear had the moon in front of the harp. It occurred to me the other day as I was talking a photo of my harp in front of the sea, that the harp is my expression outward toward the elements. And so as the phrase, “the harp before the moon” appeared against the backdrop of strings and surf, it seemed a fitting opening phrase in this halting and barely beginning expression of playing harps with the sessions in pubs in County Clare.

In Lahinch on Thursday night last, Debra and I “opened” the evening’s music with our harps in the front room of The Cornerstone Pub, then joined the fiddle and flute players in the back room when they arrived. They were hot stuff! Young married folks from the US living the tradition-musician dream in Ireland, as she was from an Irish family up the coast, but as we talked between sets, I learned that they had both worked at Dusty Strings in Seattle…so Sarah from the shop and Damien from the store both say hello to Eileen, Molly, and all our harper friends there! We joined in the sets as best we could, and sometimes we actually had the key and basic chords in place just before the tune ended! But we also played some solo tunes each, as well as the duo tunes that we have been working on together. All in all, it was a great time, and people (musicians and pub-goers) were enthusiastically supportive of our contributions.

The next night a different group of players took the back room of The Cornerstone, but we were content to sit and listen, and chat with other visitors. A choir group from Holland sang wonderful songs in English, I think! What I mean is that they were phonetically singing the English lyrics as they read the lead sheet, but didn’t really know the words, and so the sound was an odd mix of unintelligible words with wonderful sound! They were buying traditional Irish cd’s and sheet music every where they travelled.

Then last night’s session was in O’Connor’s pub in Doolin. This is a big, rambling place, and the musician’s corner was anything but in a corner…it was front and center! They were raising hell when we got there, but we ate a bit and played a bit in a back room before getting the nod from one of the fiddle players we had met earlier in the hostel. That was the invitation to wriggle our way with harps over our heads, to two stools vacated for us. Oh my, now I felt intimidated! They were blistering hot, and seamlessly tight, but we opened with our new version of Loreena McKennitt’s “Beltane Fire Dance”, I followed with another McKennitt, “Between the Shadows”, and then we were off and away as accompanists with ears tight to the soundboard to find the key, the mode, the chords! The rhythm is never a problem; that fast reel just keeps the left hand ring finger pumping, and a jig is a joy for all 8 fingers to fly. In our next ‘lead’ spots we played a beautiful Breton tune I’ve been learning from Debra, “Tttryyllyygg” (sp???), O’Carolan’s “Clergy’s Lamentation”, a rather fractured version of “Butterfly”, on which they joined at a more stately tempo than they usually play, I’m sure! Our specialty seems to be “Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore”, though only once, last week in Kilcolgan (Co. Galway) did one of the very elderly gents actually sing with us. I attempted my rendition of “Grenadier and the Lady/The Mowers/Bold Fenian Men” but it’s been a while since I’ve played that set at all, and even longer on the small harp!

Now we’re about to leave again, back on the road, this time to Dingle and environs, so more later! But a quick word about our harps…both made by Stoney End in Red Wing, Minnesota, mine is a Brittany 22 string double-strung harp in cherry; and Debra’s is their new Evensong, a 26 string ‘therapy’ harp with a very nice tone, and a good bass accompaniment to the higher pitch of the Brittany. So thanks, Gary and Eve, we are your appreciative ambassadors in the land of green, music, stone, cows, and the waxing moon.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Dingle and Kenmare, Co. Kerry
Coda (and more coda!) to the above:

Monday morning in Dingle we walked into the music shop next to the B & B (one of the reasons for that choice of B & B by the way!) and who should we see but my friend Gregor Stevens from Seattle. We each knew the other was in Ireland (his homeland) but connecting would be a matter of the fates. Well, weren't the fates just with with us all! That night we attended a concert at the church next door (of course) where some popular and marvelous folks played an utterly beautiful two sets: Pauline Scanlon (vocals), Donagh O’Hennessy (guitar) and Owen (sorry, name escapes me) on uillean pipes. And to beat all, Gregor danced at their invitation, got the whole place energized with him, and received a cd from Owen for his efforts. He was brilliant! Then we played a little in the break of a set of a guitarist and accordion player (who was like the wind), and were received as warmly as ever.

Next day however, we came to Kenmare after the hair-raising drive from Killarney and here we were “discovered” while unpacking the car on the street; my hard-shell harp case is labeled, “harp” with a Seattle address all over it and our discoverers were indeed from Seattle. So once again, the B & B was across from the music shop, and the pub that was recommended to us was next door. I love these towns! After dinner we came into a fully packed room, with 3 players already in swing…fiddle, guitar, bodhran, and were welcomed in. And were we ever welcomed! Once unpacked and introduced to and by the other musicians, we started our contribution with “Paddy…” it’s a great opener for us. And the place went as silent as a tomb. You could hear the Guinness bubble. Now we’ve been invited by the other players to join them tonight at another pub a short drive away, and well, I think we just might! So stay “tuned” so to speak!


katia said...

Sounds like you are having a wonderful time! :))

The photos on the right are so very small. If you downsize to 900px or so on the long side and put them in the body of the post then we'll have the option to click on them and see the larger versions.
I'd personally love that.

Be well my harp-playing, merry-making friend!


oceana vox said...

Monday, October 1, 2007
Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

The view of the sea again, the entrancement of the wind, and the passage of time over the grassy hills, these things have brought me back to this land that surely I once knew with the familiarity of bones.

Last night’s musical adventure in The House of McConnell in Ballycastle followed on the heels of the previous evening in the Smuggler’s Inn Hotel, near Giant’s Causeway, a few scant hours after our arrival here. It amazes me the way the music surfaces yet again after a full day of driving, but it does! But last night was its own phenomenon and as such, needs more preface:

We had driven from Shannon to Dublin and back on Friday and for all those 12 hours I got my 30 seconds worth of playing a slow air to and for the Trinity (aka Brian Boru) harp in the Long Room of the Library of Trinity College (renamed Dublin University). The slow air, one of my favorites, is Oidche Mbath Leibb or Goodbye to You…recorded on cd#2, Full Hearts, Empty Mind. This was the heart of my musical pilgrimage to Ireland…to pay homage to a harp from the 13th or 14th Century, although it was romantically and incorrectly attributed to Ireland’s 11th C first High King, Brian Boru. My overt romanticism didn’t go so far as to imagine that the ancient harp would resonate with mine, but there was something deep and compelling about just being there and letting the modern harp strings sound out toward to the ancient instrument behind glass. The officials in the library were taken aback by my request to play, but enjoyed it anyway, and perhaps it won’t be an isolated event…I know I’ll go back to play there again.

Saturday morning we picked up Ted at Shannon Airport and after another 8-9 hours driving arrived at Giants' Causeway where we went harpubbing (or is it pubarping?) before we even unpacked, and for the first time in 3 weeks there was a harper there! She was playing a 22 string lap harp with great energy and skill! Ted and I went out again last night to meet up with Sabine and Dick (harper and does that make him a harphubby?) who is also a fine fiddler and hammered dulcimer player. But the real treat for me last night was to learn of Sabine’s knowledge and passion for geology, paleontology, and archeology, and as a result we talked shop longer than we played harps! So I will be taking her up on her offer to prowl the nearby beaches for fossils, and in return will give her my 2nd copy of the Geology of Ireland map from the Geological Survey of Ireland office in Dublin (thanks to Frank Fagan there).

The morning scoots away from me now on a brisk sea breeze, and the sky is clouding over towards noon…so, more sooner dear friends! We go off now to hop around on the 60 million year old (born yesterday!) basalt columns of Giant’s Causeway…they point toward Scotland, a mere 20 miles across the water.