Somerset Harp Festival Online

Lectures & Demos


Here are all the workshops that are not hands-on! Fascinating lectures, talks and demos from fascinating presenters. You'll be able to ask questions during any of the "Live on Zoom" workshops when they happen during festival weekend because we'll have the Zoom chat window to capture your questions to the presenter. All of the "live" lectures will be recorded as they happen and will be available for later replay during the term of your subscription: All-Access (which runs from July 5 to October 31) or a Limited-Time (running from July 12-July 31). Archive Videos are only available to those who have purchased access that segment. HHSI Lectures are part of the Festival of Early Irish Harp, an optional Sunday Add-on.

(click on any workshop to learn more about what it covers)

Dennis Waring of Waring Harps will guide you through the construction of their 19-string, corrugated cardboard and wood harp, built from their unique kit. In the first part you'll build the harp and in the second part you'll string it and tune it. Purchase the kits before the festival for the discounted price of $125+$50 shipping.

Some musicians approach music of long ago with an ear as to how it might originally have sounded, researching the original instruments and evidence for historical tuning, temperament, articulation etc. But it is obvious that one can never be confident of how close one really gets to the musical past. So why try at all? Can this ‘hopeless’ task deliver surprising, satisfactory, even fascinating results? How? This illustrated talk triangulates some of the issues in early Irish harping pre-1800, deciphering juicy historical music sources, and aiming to share a great deal about what is known about historical Irish harp performance practice. It further explains how gaining knowledge in this area can lead a 21st-century harpist to an abundance of ‘new’ ancient music to play, meeting it humbly, on its own terms, without shoe-horning it into modern styles.

Learn to Do It Yourself. You are, inevitably, going to break a string. You should know how to change it. Take this workshop and get a lesson in knot-tying and replacing strings. If you're a beginner or have never changed your own string, you must take this workshop!

Learn to Do It Yourself. This mini-workshop focuses on properly using your tuner and tuning your harp. Essential! Is there a difference between tuning with levers up or levers down? What about the difference between tuning loud or soft. Then what do you do when your lever buzzes when engaged? You gotta know this stuff.

Whatever your level as a therapeutic harper, you'll want to find out how a double-strung harp can be your best friend in therapy work. Based on her thousands of hours of experience using her double-strung in therapeutic work, Nan will treat you to a brief harp therapy session, share stories and demonstrate how the resonance possible with a double-strung harp can be doubly effective in healing. The ability to improvise easily is vital when doing therapeutic work and Nan will show you how effortless this is on a double-strung. In this demo you'll be given concrete suggestions of various double-strung techniques that are most useful in harp therapy. Handouts will be provided. Harps are not needed to enjoy this workshop.

Curious about the early Irish harp? See and hear a demonstration on a replica of an historical instrument. This workshop will introduce you to the harp that entranced listeners in Ireland and Scotland for centuries. Strung with metal strings, it has an enchanting resonant sound, with a long sustain. We’ll cover the basics of how it is tuned and played, and where you can find resources such as instruments, music, and lessons.

The ancient Irish harp of Ireland and Scotland is richly portrayed in legends and poetry, and imbedded within are deep truths about the evolving traditions. Ann Heymann will take you on a journey following the "echoes" of archeology, mythology and history, revealing deep esoteric traditions and a conjectural role of the Irish harp in the development of the harp in Europe.

Meet three strong-minded Irish harpists: Sydney Owenson (novelist), Frances Power Cobbe (Fanny Power’s descendant) and Miss Egan (the harp maker’s daughter). These women defied 1800s gender roles to forge independent careers with lasting cultural legacies. Drawing from her research, Nancy will tell the long-buried stories of how the harp played an important part in their interesting lives.

Mailí Bhán was traditionally the first tune taught to Irish harpers. Edward Bunting collected it from the harper, Patrick Quin, just over 200 years ago. Through learning Mailí Bhán, you will also be learning the principal fingering movements, both by name and by 'doing'. When you have learned these fingering movements, and they have become assimilated into your hand, you will be ready to move on to the other first tunes. These are the fundamental building blocks for exploring more old Irish harp repertory, style and technique.

From her lifetime of artistic research, Ann Heymann has collected published and unpublished statements that, when combined with known performance standards, reveals deep truths of style and technique extending from medieval times to the music of Turlough O’Carolan and Denis O’Hampsey.

Explore the world of digital sheet music and how to make the switch from paper to tablet. Robbin will go over the basic starter pack and give tips and favorite shortcuts and enhancements to make going digital easy and helpful. Find out how liberating it is not dragging a case of music to a gig and having access to music that is not even in your paper library yet. You'll get all the pointers in getting started, including how to convert music you already have, organizing tips, best practices for using the tablet in practice and at gigs and so much more.

The mysteries of harp regulation will be completely resolved in this one workshop with our expert harp technician! Liza will answer your questions about what it means to have your harp regulated and all its associated concerns such as what happens to your harp as it ages and why the harp shifts. See what that looks like. Bring your harp to this workshop and see it for yourself. How old is too old for your strings to be on your harp? What are the top 5 reasons your harp will buzz? There are all sorts of things to be learned about your harp--no matter how long you've been playing you'll learn all kinds of useful info in this workshop.

Get an up-close view of the historical harp-making processes through a detective’s lens and peek into a historical harp maker’s workshop. Discover the constructional differences between historical and modern Irish harps, and learn about temptations as well as challenges in reconstructing historical instruments in a modern environment. We will look at somewhat unexpected, but common, features found across most of the extant old harps held in Irish and Scottish museums, and learn how these challenge a contemporary harp maker. We will also devise historical construction methods and techniques. See for yourself why it is so important to be able to look at the original instruments from all possible angles, inside and out, if one wants to create a true copy of an actual historical harp.

It is generally assumed that the old Irish harpers’ playing style was lost when the tradition died out c1800; that only the melodies of their compositions survive. This illustrated talk presents new evidence uncovered by Siobhán Armstrong during her recent PhD studies on the historical Irish ‘lower hand’ as she now calls it. She outlines a totally accessible, easy-to-reproduce, authentic playing style, which will appeal to harpists of all levels, particularly those who feel frustrated at handling complicated bass lines, chords and harmonies. This clean, spare, more ancient approach is appropriate for Carolan, and also for the harpers who came before and after him. Hear more about what Siobhán has discovered, taking a close look at pages from the harp-music collector, Edward Bunting’s field notebook of the 1790s, in which he transcribed music gathered from the last surviving early Irish harpers.

The bell-like sound of the harp of Ireland and highland Scotland was heard in great halls throughout the Gaelic world. Built to be strung with wire, the substantial frames of the few surviving historical instruments stand in silent testament to a rich, centuries long musical tradition. Karen will premier the results of her forensic analysis and study of Ireland's Hollybrook harp. This is an interactive online lecture where you'll have a chance to talk to Karen directly and ask questions about her research.

From the middle ages through the early modern period, the bell-like sound of the harp of Ireland and highland Scotland was heard in great halls throughout the Gaelic world. Built to be strung with wire, the substantial frames of the few surviving historical instruments stand in silent testament to a rich, centuries long musical tradition. Today, this type of harp is undergoing a revival, as musicians seek to recapture its lost sound. In this presentation, Karen will trace the history of this iconic instrument through the surviving harps. Hear how Karen's ground-breaking forensic analysis of the Queen Mary harp and other recent discoveries are reshaping our understanding of these ancient instruments and are making it possible to build new instruments that more closely follow the craftsmanship of the originals.

If you've ever said to yourself "I always wanted to play the harp" Robbin will answer Frequently Asked Questions in this workshop offered to our daily Visitors as a "get acquainted" session.

In this general introduction, Simon covers aspects of the history of the harp in Ireland and Scotland from earliest times to the present day. He will look at the old harps, the manuscripts containing old harp music, and the information about the old harpers. Why did the tradition come to an end, and how has it been rediscovered and revived?

The old harpers didn’t write down their music, because they learned it, and passed it on, by ear. When the inherited oral tradition came to an end in the 19th century, that transmission stopped. So anyone since then who has wanted to play old Irish or Scottish harp music has had to get it from somewhere else, from outside the harp tradition. From the 16th to the 19th century, other musicians did write down harp music, and adapted it for keyboard, fiddle or other instruments. This session will discuss some of these sources, trying to understand them as second- or third-hand witnesses to the lost old harp traditions.

Widen your horizon regarding “the right music” for those very special circumstances in hospitals, meditation and other delicate moments. Based on his real life experiences in many different settings from nursing homes to hospitals and various healing situations, Alfredo will share his unique approach and solicit input from attendees as well.

You've heard of harp therapy and therapeutic music training programs, and you are interested in this field, but how does doing this work differ from a wedding gig, playing at church or a recital? Come and find out what therapeutic musicians do every day and what it's like. Discover what a fulfilling day can be and what special skills are needed. Come if you're interested in the topic. You don't know what you don't know.

Every harp player needs to be aware of how their technique and body should work together to prevent injury and playing problems and facilitate the performance of difficult passages. With his medical background in the fields of Music Therapy and Sensory Motor Learning, Dr. Ortiz will help you focus on the right aspects of your technique and learn good habits. Prevention is the key and breaking bad habits may seem difficult but learning how your body works and responds to your playing technique is essential. Take this workshop if you've ever gotten up from the harp with sore hands, arms or shoulders!

The early Irish harp enjoyed a position of high status in Gaelic society, and has endured as an emblem of Ireland for centuries. In this presentation, Karen will explore what made this musical instrument special and show evidence of its importance on the surviving old harps. She'll regale you with its history as Ireland’s emblem and further delve into its music.

Whether it's to share your music on the Internet or just to listen and learn about your own playing or needing a demo to promote yourself or wanting a final packaged CD to sell, this workshop will touch on all the basics of recording you and your harp. Aryeh will go over the basic essentials of creating a good recording for the harp as well as the stages of recording. Learn about tracking, mixing, mastering, and producing a final packaged CD, as well as options for selling digital downloads.

Although the historical harpers are long gone and can’t be here to show us how they played their instruments, they left behind visible wear showing where their hands and wrists (and feet and legs too!) rubbed against the soundbox, how they replaced strings, and even how they adjusted the position of the harp to play it. See for yourself, and inform your own explorations of playing style. This workshop will include demonstration and discussion of how to interpret the harpers’ wear marks. For more on Dr. Loomis' forensic analysis on early Irish harps, see her archived 2020 workshops.

Listen and talk to master uilleann piper, Jimmy O’Brien-Moran, one of the most highly respected traditional Irish musicians of his generation. Playing the neglected repertory he has recovered from old manuscript sources and archive recordings, hear Jimmy on historic pipes sets bequeathed to him by older masters. This relaxed, interview-style workshop will allow you to interact with, and question, an artist who exhibits a rare and authentic style of music-making within Gaelic traditions, about what is important in playing Irish music. Hearing the knowledge and ingrained style of a living master Irish musician will help you to make more authentic Gaelic music.

We may never fully understand how the old Irish harpers played because the living tradition, transmitted orally, came to an end about 200 years ago. But we do have many pieces of the puzzle. New research in this field makes possible a deeper understanding of traditional performance practice and allows us to attempt to reconstruct this lost art. Sylvia's main area of interest is in traditional Irish harp fingering. She'll summarize her most recent work with an overview of her approach and exciting new insights into traditional fingering. This is a work in progress.

Updated 2/25/21 Workshop descriptions and schedules are subject to change. Refresh your browser to make sure you have the latest version of this page.