minstrel: Delurking/another harp player/workshops

Barbara Webb b.h.webb at stir.ac.uk
Tue Dec 4 06:05:37 PST 2001

While everyone is coming out of the woodwork, I guess I should too...

I'm a non-professional but keen musician, with most involvement via 
the SCA (I'm in Harpelestane (Edinburgh), Drachenwald (Europe)) but
increasingly outside it too. If you want to skip the following bits about
harp playing, at the bottom of this message is a question about
early music workshops...

My main (period) instruments are shawm and harp. On shawm I play a mixture
of 'lively' medieval music and renaissance dance music, often with bagpipe
(which my husband plays). But as people are discussing harps at present
I'll focus on that -

I have two harps: a small gut-strung medieval harp; and a slightly larger
'gothic' harp (also gut) with bray pins. The medieval harp is actually one
of the early music shop's "weekender" kits - 100 pounds + a long weekend's
work + 50 pounds for gut strings = a bargain! I am very happy with this
wee harp, it projects well, and has an interesting tone that grows on you.  
I use it for 12th-14th century music (troubadour, trouvere, cantigas etc.)
often along with medieval fiddle (my husband again - he also makes
medieval fiddles for anyone interested) and/or a singer. The gothic harp
gets used for some of the above, but with the brays I am particularly
using it to play 15th century dance music (brays make it loud enough to be
more useful) and music from the Robert ap Huw manuscript.

I am mostly self-taught on harp. Early on I looked at the Andrew
Lawrence-King book which was interesting but is more an idea than a
'tutor'. He argues you should use a thumb-under technique, not the thumb
over technique that is now standard for classical and folk harp. Since
then, I've got the impression that most people think 'thumb-under' as he
describes it is too extreme, and a more relaxed position is better. He
also argues for a particular use of stress in which the thumb and middle
finger are 'strong' and the index and ring finger 'weak'; so fingering for
any tune should relate to this. After some initial resistance I've found
this to work well for early music. As a consequence of reading this book
first (as I always wanted to do _early_ music on harp, not generically
play the harp) I found the other 'harp tutor' books I looked at to be in
sufficient conflict that I just browsed for tips rather than follow them
closely - so sorry, no particular recommendations...

I've also recently had some lessons with Bill Taylor (who lives not far
away) which has been very interesting. He uses the same 'strong/weak'
system as A L-K, and also uses a lot of stopping (less than wire
harp technique, but more than you see elsewhere). He is also (as 
many of you know) an expert on the Robert ap Huw manuscript so we've been
working on that, which is very interesting in its own right, but also
interesting to relate ideas from there to playing music from other sources
on the harp. 

As a final point I thought it might be interesting to discuss some of the
early music courses available (around the world) as I've been to a few in 
Europe that were excellent, and would like to hear recommendations. My top
recommendation would be the troubadour music course run by Joel Cohen &
Anne Azema in Provence: a week of intensive coaching on the language,
singing and accompaniment to troubadour music, in a beautiful French
mountain-top village. See http://members.aol.com/Boscam/lestage.htm

Sorry to go on for so long...

Caitlin de Courcy 

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