One of the things I have always loved about being a musician is researching the history and context of the pieces I play. Understanding the context in which a piece was created is enormously beneficial to developing my own approach to interpretation and performance. I am endlessly fascinated by the way in which musicians re-interpret older pieces and debate issues of ‘authenticity’. No where is this more evident than in folk music.
Years ago another musician berated me for playing Irish folk tunes in too much of a classical style. Apparently I was unaware of the subtleties of rhythmic interpretation that I would only understand, I was told, unless I hung out in an Irish pub listening to Irish musicians play their own music. Since this time I have spent a lot of time playing in Celtic sessions, quite a few of which have been in pubs by the way, and generally researching and trying to have a better understanding of Irish and Scottish music in particular. I have also listened to many folk performers from the British Isles. I have to say that I find the issue of ‘authenticity’ a bit of challenge, but I will save that particular discussion for another day. However, my research and the wonderful musicians I have come across have been inspirational for my own harp playing. One harp player that I have really enjoyed listening to recently is Mary Macmaster from Scotland. Mary has come over to Australia at least twice and toured with the percussionist Donald Hay. When Mary was here last we got into a discussion about Scottish folk tunes and their origins in aurally transmitted culture. She told me about an amazing archival website set up by the Scottish Government to preserve this culture called, in English, the Kist O Riches or, in Gaelic, Tobar an Dualchais:
On this website you can look up Scottish folk tunes and hear them being sung on recordings that date from as far back as the 1930s. Some songs have many different versions represented on the site, some are in Gaelic and some in English, some recordings are only of the spoken word or a solo voice, others have many instrumental voices. The site is well worth a visit if you love folk music as much as I do but beware you may get caught up listening and exploring for hours!