John Chambers wrote:
>| From: Yuval
>| Why the accompaniment should not be used in Irish music? what
>about | Celtic harp accompaniment like chieftains got? | Is Irish
>traditional music unaccompanimented? Is it only melody line?
>You seem to have spotted one of the real inconsistencies in
>the "pure melody" argument. The harp is about as ancient and
>traditional an instrument as you can find in Irish music,
>and it has always been used as an accompaniment instrument.
>A harpist can hardly avoid playing chords. Not that they
>would necessarily be the same as 19th or 20th-century
>chords, but they'd be there.
This is a common assumption, but actually it's not really based on
much evidence. Derek Bell was basically a classical harpist when he
joined the Chieftains, and a lot of what he does is just coming up
with something to fit. It's not based on huge amounts of research.
A lot of the time he plays a nylon or gut strung harp, an instrument
that was unknown in Ireland until the late 18th century, when the
harp tradition had almost died out.
That whole thing about the tiompan seems to have been invented solely
to give him an excuse to play hammer dulcimer. As Caoimhin points
out, no one really knows what a tiompan is. I saw the Chieftains
this summer in the Guinness Fleadh, and Derek's big solo spot
consisted of some Scott Joplin pieces on the piano. All I can say
is, for a ragtime piano player, he should stick to playing Carolan
tunes with classical harp technique. Max Morath has nothing to worry
Caoimhin Mac Aoidh wrote:
>On the same amount of evidence one could conclude that the tiompan
>was in fact a banjo.
And if Paddy had convinced Barney McKenna to go with the Chieftains
instead of the Dubliners, who knows what arguments might have been
advanced? African slaves transported by Algerian pirates, etc.
What evidence exists about traditional harp technique,
which consists mostly of Bunting's rough transcriptions (not the
published versions) and some early 17th century Scottish lute
transcriptions of harp pieces, indicates that in the traditional
style of performance on the wire-strung harp the only form of
accompaniment consisted of doubling some melody notes in a lower
octave. This is the opinion of the leading expert on traditional
harp technique, Ann Heymann. The harp was always a solo instrument,
it was never used as an accompaniment instrument. Nor is there much
evidence of any accompaniment being used in Irish music before the
late 19th century--with the exception of that one picture from the
early 19th century of the flute and bodhran.
In Welsh music, the ap Huw manuscript seems to indicate that
some kind of chordal accompaniment was used. The Welsh played
gut-strung harps similar to the Gothic harp used elsewhere in Europe.
Only the Gaels used wire-strung harp. It appears they may have
developed the technology of making wire at quite an early date,
as evidenced from some of the beautiful and intricate jewelry made
in early Celtic times. (They also seem to have been the only European
people to have invented distilling independently of the Arabs.)
However, the only argument that what the Welsh did has anything to do
with the Gaels is that some Welsh manuscripts from an early period
(12th c. or so) say that the Welsh learned to play harp from the
Irish. This does not take into account several centuries of
independent development, though.
The writings of Giraldus Cambrensis have sometimes been taken to mean
that the Irish used harmony at a very early period. However, it is
very difficult to figure out what he really meant. The evidence
suggests that if they did so, they gave it up later on. However, my
own opinion is that much of what he says refers to the part of
Britain chiefly populated by Scandinavians. We have as evidence here
the very early hymn to St. Magnus (patron saint of Orkney) "Nobilis
humilis", which is in parallel thirds in the Lydian mode. In the
medieval period the third was considered a particularly British
As far as things go nowadays, if guitar accompaniment is acceptable,
then harp accompaniment should be also. However, in Irish music,
accompaniment of any kind is a modern innovation.
In lowland Scotland the cello was used during the 18th century as an
accompaniment instrument for dance music, replacing the bass viola da
gamba which seems to have been used in the previous century.
In regard to traditional instruments, while reading all these posts I
was listening to a record I found in the library, "The Travelling
People of Ireland: Irish Tinker Music collected by Alen MacWeeney",
copyright 1967. What could be more authentic than these ancient songs
with background noises of puppies, children, etc.? Yet the very
first track is lilting with accompaniment on oil drum.
WRT the whistle, it seems to have a long history. According to one
source I found recently, it was traditionally made from the
wood of the boor tree, which has a soft centre which is easily
removed. The tin versions were made in imitation by the travelling
tinsmiths in more recent times, following which the Clarke company
set up steam-powered mass production in the 19th century.
Instrument names were less accurate in former times. It seems that
some references to the "flute" actually mean recorder. This is more
the case in Scotland, though. As far as I know, there isn't any
evidence that the recorder was ever played in Ireland in a
traditional context. It's possible there were some isolated
examples, but they didn't create a tradition.
I play bass and tenor recorder in the role of accompanying a singer,
which I like because the range goes underneath a female voice. But I
stick to flute or whistle when it comes to playing tunes. At one
time I played tunes with a woman who was a very good classical
recorder player. She said that some tunes were playable, but others
were totally impossible. Probably this is because a recorder is
designed to play in keys like C and F, whereas traditional music is
more in D, G and related keys. Some have cited Emma Christian, who
has a very nice style. Until I saw her in person, I thought she was
playing some kind of whistle. But she doesn't play session tunes.
Joel Shimberg wrote:
>There was a 2-meter(or so)-long, S-curved trumpet-like horn called
>the Lyr or Lur that is considered a cultural symbol in Denmark. If
>this is what you're thinking of, I can't imagine that it much place
>in Irish music, even given the history of Danish invasions of the
A while ago I played at a session with a very tasteful bodhran
player by the name of Maria Cullen O'Dwyer. And how pleasant it was
to encounter a bodhranadoir with excellent musicianship. She is
Irish, but was out here in California visiting her brother. I
discovered while chatting that her husband makes reproductions of
Irish Bronze Age horns. She gave me a CD called "Coirn na hE/ireann:
Horns of ancient Ireland". This consists of Simon O'Dwyer playing
actual Bronze Age instruments unearthed by archaeologists and now in
the National Museum of Ireland. This is not something to listen to
for musical enjoyment, but from a historical point of view it is
of great interest.
If anyone is interested they have an e-mail address
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These early horns have contributed to the modern use of the digeridoo
in Irish music. I believe on some Brian McNeill albums the instrument
is listed as "Pictish horn". It was Rolf "Tie Me Kangaroo Down"
Harris who first suggested that digeridoo technique might work on
them. Apparently one 19th century researcher died after trying to
At any rate it should be understood that these instruments were
played by the inhabitants of Ireland before the Celts arrived.
We don't really know much about their culture. But they can't be
claimed as "traditional Celtic" instruments.
>Michael Robinson (Is that
>right?) contributed a long, detailed, and comprehensive post (or
>two) about what Celtic is and/or isn't. It would be very much worth
I did? What did I say? I'm sure it must have been worth reading!
At any rate, these questions interest me, and I have gathered a lot
of relevant information on my website, which might be of interest to
people who haven't seen it. Please start at the home page so my hits
counter gets incremented!
e-mail: [log in to unmask]