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1409Re:: Who uses sister strings (na comhluighe) in tuning their harp and...

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  • Joe Ennis
    Feb 4, 2015
      Hi Cindy

      First NOPE: "They are specified as the G pitches below middle C, and the vibrating pitches of those Gs is probably approximately the same as they are now. "  music scales have changed, this is a big topic all in itself.

      Second maybe nope: "My own experience with the sisters on my 29-string Queen Mary copy is that they do set up a definite boundary between the treble and bass realms of the harp."  I am one that disagrees that the na comhluighe  form a divide between "treble" and "bass" realm;  when I play the more bass pitches of the melody line, it goes below the na comhluighe and that is why the first F# below the na comhluighe strings has not been removed, because it is needed for the melody line.  I have not yet found any music that has taken me an "octave" below the na comhluighe.

      I am kinda a maverick as I do not follow the replica Harps, I make my own.  I usually use Robert Bruce Armstrong's drawings.  My information for the older musical scales (that is before the Equal Temperament, before the Mean and Well Temperament) comes from The Rise of Music in the Ancient World East and West by Curt Sachs and Tuning the Historical Temperaments by Owen Jorgensen and A General History of Music by Charles Burney.  Also if you are interested in the the Robert op Huw, or Gryffydd op Cynan Harp Music Scores, Charles Burney translates one song into more or less modern score notation and gives a key for the rest.  If you go looking for it, Burney calls it Richard Morris' manuscript.  Burney published in 1789.  I use the 1958 Dover Pres re-print.  On the Replica Harps ... I have examined the Harps in the National Museum (Dublin) and found that they were modern built.  I have examined and photographed the Harps in the Guinness Warehouse, better, actual relics.  But mostly I just build Harps and experiment with them.

      A Thank you: "Astrid Adler (Ireland) has a new book out called Play the Companions that contains some of her discoveries and ideas on incorporating the Companions (Sisters/na comhluighe) in playing. Here's her blog; you can order the book from her online shop there: http://blog.astridadler.com/"  I did not know about this book, I will have to order it.

      More comments on: " I think you're probably right that earlier harpers used a just tuning system; the question is when that practice stopped (or if it did, before the harp tradition itself became extinct.) Most of the harp repertoire we have now is from no earlier than the 17th century, and by Bunting's time, so many of the harpers were playing Baroque-style music (as did Carolan, of course.) Surely they were tending towards equal temperament tuning by that time, like their fellow players of other instruments?"

      Well if a musician uses one string to tune another string (what we are talking about here) one can only get a Just scale and nothing else.  Note that Dennis Hempson's life spanned O'Carolin's life (Hempson was born first and lived longer).   Hempson stayed with the "old" music and strongly did not favor the Baroque/Italian style harmony.  Carolin did not have a choice, he was not as well known nor established, so he had to follow current fashion to get fed.  Problem caused by Charles I being exiled in France and growing up on French Court Music.  When I play Carolin, I favor Shee Beg and Shee Mor as this is the only O'Carolin piece that I am sure is composed in the old style.  

      The Just scale is the oldest and it is the scale that was used for more than 10,000 years of music history.  Only when the Church Organ started to be popular did music run into trouble.  The Ancient Greeks only divided an "Octave" into 4 parts and pass laws that said composers could not compose music with a range greater that and octave and a fifth.  

      The Church Organist wanted something to do with the left hand.  A concord was not enough, the organist went looking to invent chords.  Chords are not possible with a Just scale.  The Organist did discover the "Wolf" note combinations.  That is what caused the Mean and Well scales to come into existence.  The Mean and Well Scales are Music Philosophers trying to get more useful note combinations per keyboard.  The Equal scale had to wait for Neiper to be born.  Neiper was the mathematician that invented logarithms.  For thousands of years Music Philosophers had tried to find a number that when multiplied by itself eight times or twelve times equaled two.  Try it.

      The Organ at St. Ann's Church in Belfast is important.  This organ most likely establishes what pitch the na comhluighe were tuned to.  Bunting is credited with a good ear for pitch ... if the pitch that he heard the na comhluighe being tuned to at the Belfast Harp Festival was off as much as a half tone, he would have said something else besides G.  Bunting came along just after the Civil War in England and Cromwell's Army had rampaged all over Ireland.  There were a lot of Puritans and Levelers in Cromwell's Army and they disliked Church Organs and destroyed all of them in Ireland.  With the Restoration, all the Churches rushed to get their organs back.  There were NO Organ makers in Ireland or England, they were all dead or fled.  As soon as each Parish, could raise the money, they sent to Germany for Organ repairmen/tuners.  What they tuned the Organ at St. Ann's Church is important. 


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