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1417Re:: Re: : Who uses sister strings (na comhluighe) in tuning their harp and..

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  • clarsa1r
    Feb 7, 2015
      Andy, do you have any evidence that the clairseach was commonly played with the bagpipe and trumpet? Certainly it was used to accompany the voice, and it's convenient as a singer to have a choice of singing in a C tuning or a G tuning. I'm sorry if you mentioned this in the paper; I haven't had time to read it yet. Thank you for sending me a copy. 

      I have a Master's in Music (in voice performance), and I understand the vagaries of tuning and the various systems, proportionalities, etc. I even sat through an hour-long Ross Duffin lecture on the subject at the Madison Early Music Festival, for which I should get some kind of special certification. ;) 

      I'm just not sure it's highly relevant to the discussion we've been asked to have here. What use do modern players of the clairseach make of the Sisters? (I am going to use that term unapologetically, by the way, because Bunting did, and he says the harpers of his time did, too. When I was trying to adjust to playing with them early on, I was known to refer to them with a more vulgar word, as well. However, most of what we know of the Sisters comes from Bunting and his harper-contemporaries, so call me a prude, too.) 

      Not that history and music theory have no bearing on the matter, but we can't use them to come to any conclusions on even what pitch to tune them on a harp today, even though I still think G makes the most sense, so it's convenient for me, personally, that Bunting says that's what the pitch was. It's possible that even in Bunting's time, the Sisters were tuned in mostly for the sake of Tradition (with a capital T), and those harpers (especially the sighted ones) were already asking themselves why the heck they were still doing such a thing.
      For what it's worth to those of you who are interested in what Ann Heymann does (since she's been brought up here as an authority), she strung my Kortier Queen Mary copy with gold strings, and with G for the Sisters. Her Trinity copy also has G Sisters. This, even though these medieval instruments significantly pre-date Bunting and his harper contemporaries. It just makes sense when your lowest string is G, and you're playing in C or G tuning almost all the time. (Working backwards, deciding to make the lowest string G on a new harp also happens to work out conveniently with the lengths of these strings, the string materials, and the written evidence that those were the two tunings most commonly used by harpers in Bunting's time, at least.)

      I hope there are not any lurkers on the edges of this conversation who might have something to offer about how they use the Sisters in their personal playing, but who may be hesitant to jump in to what has become a technical discussion. I would be very interested in the contributions of anyone who has practical experience to share. 

      Cindy S in Austin, TX
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