As with the past year, most of our activities took place online, including monthly workshops and a multi-session course, as well as an in-person playing session.
We held eight monthly online workshops between September 2022 a June 2023, along with a playing session in Edinburgh in December 2022. We offered classes for both elementary and intermediate players, and we looked at quite a variety of historical and traditional tunes. These included a modern air, 17th-century coronation tunes, a Renaissance dance tune, a Medieval Danish song, and two ancient Gaelic airs.
Wire Branch members from across the world joined our fourth annual online courses in playing music from the Robert ap Huw manuscript, containing the oldest harp music from anywhere in Europe. The courses, split for elementary and intermediate players, took place in six sessions between January and May 2023, with the two groups playing contrasting pieces directly from the original tablature.
Bill Taylor, Treasurer
We have had a busy year with workshops, with Nia Jenkins in November, and Robin Huw Bowen in March. Bill Taylor came down to give a concert in June, which several of our members attended, and then we had a workshop with him on the Sunday. In August we had Elinor Evans.
We meet in between workshops to revise the music they teach us.
In June a few of us played at the Botanic Gardens with Shelley Fairplay, that is always a lot of fun.
We are working together to incorporate different styles of music to suit everybody’s taste. There are a few tutors on the list for the future, and we are hoping to go and play more in public again.
Peggy Bishop, Secretary
Another full year of harping
Transpennine Harps continues to thrive with 55 – 60 harpists from across the M62 corridor and beyond.
Highlights were our sessions with Anne-Marie O’Farrell and Lauren Scott. Our programme is inclusive as possible, catering for many tastes and all abilities. We enjoyed playing together in one room again, but we are mindful that we have members who enjoy our online sessions from all corners of the country – and of course one of our tutors is based in Toulouse.
We have several groups – Classical, Slow Strings, Old Malton and Tamsin’s Troubadours, Lucy@TPH and small groups playing for specific events such as accompanying a local choir. Our online festival in November was a great success, thanks to Lucy Nolan and Tamsin Dearnley.
Harp hire remains buoyant, with all seven harps out at present.
We can list everything we have done, which is quite considerable! What we cannot do as easily is to convey the great sense of companionship, support and fun we have as a group. Our lead tutors, Tamsin Dearnley and Lucy Nolan, have built up a great rapport with and between us, as well as encouraging us to do more than we ever thought we could as harpists, whatever our level. They have our grateful thanks for all that they do for us.
Claire Dale, Secretary
Our year started off at Bamburgh with the joint meeting with the Edinburgh Branch. 25 members attended and we had a very enjoyable day.
Our monthly Saturday morning meetings continue to be well attended and are attracting new members. We have two other monthly meetings when we learn new music and rehearse for performances.
Our December meeting is always popular. 22 members attended last Christmas and we had a happy morning playing Christmas music and enjoying coffee and mince pies!
We have had two courses this year. Savourna Stevenson visited us in October, followed by Rachel Hair in June. Two very different courses which were very much appreciated.
Harps Northumbria have been out and about playing throughout Northumberland. We joined forces with the Bridge Singers on March 1st to present a selection of music from Wales.
Playing at Felton for the Felton Music Festival is now a regular event. A lady from Exmouth told us we were the best thing she’d ever heard!!
I would like to thank all of the committee for their hard work this year. We have lots to look forward to in the coming year.
Margaret Thompson, Convenor
Our membership levels have remained steady over the last year. We have added to our stock of hire harps, supported the Edinburgh International Harp Festival and Harp on Wight (where we had a stand publicising the Clarsach Society and our branch), jointly organised a residential weekend at Benslow Music taught by Steph West and Elinor Evans, ran a day workshop in Berkshire with Steph West and Sally Whitaker, and continued to run local playing afternoons. We are looking forward to this year’s residential course in October at Benslow Music with tutors Lauren Scott and Steph West, and a Carols with Harps event in December in Hampshire.
Felicity Merchant and Anne Chorley, Convenor and Secretary
The NES Branch is a vibrant, active branch of the Clarsach Society. Our members are spread throughout the Grampian and Angus Regions so are widespread. Our flagship annual events include our Harp Retreat in March, 2 Tea Concerts July and Dec, 2 Harps of Gold Charity Concerts in December. Other events include a concert at Bennahar Camp Hill Community to support their open day, European Folk Day, playing for Care Homes and a Concert in Strathdon.
Workshops included Stonehaven Folk Festival, SCAT collaboration Come and Try, and Lucie Hendry. Special Projects comprised Arduthie School Project which was a week of tuition in traditional music, and also a Collaboration with SCAT (Scottish Culture and Traditions) to provide regular tuition in Clarsach and bring the Branch and SCAT together in a mutually beneficial way to promote the Clarsach in the NE of Scotland.
Current Members – 43 No of clarsachs owned 29 Performances – 12
Ensemble Meetings-8 Branch Meetings 12 Workshops – 3
Special Projects 2
Irene Watt, Convenor
It has been a challenging couple of years for our branch, but I am glad to say that we are emerging from the fog and finding our way again as a group. We started with our AGM in September where we only had our minimum quorate present and we were unsure how to proceed. I, reluctantly, became our convenor, temporarily, as well as being the committee member in charge of Harp Hire & our Branch representative, but I would be overjoyed to find someone who would take over the convenor role for us on a more permanent basis as I really cannot do the role justice with my various commitments on and off the island already.
We are very grateful to the Creative Scotland Covid Recovery Grant from the Society which funded our first group of 3 workshops to get us going again. After we reached out personally to some old friends, we were so excited to see historical members returning into our fold. Since then we have enjoyed a further 5 workshops together in our new venue at St. Peter’s church hall, which is a little smaller but a more central location. Harp hire payments have been keeping us going and it is encouraging that are accounts are so healthy despite our numbers still being quite low.
Some of our youth members have had very productive years.
- Fiona Langley achieved 2nd place at the Perth Mòd, performed at the Glasgow Concert Hall with the Harris girl-group Alt at the Celtic Connections festival and had an inspirational time at the Michael Rooney youth outreach workshop at the EIHF before she rushed off to sing with NYCOS – she’s a very busy girl! She also combined her skills for the first time, singing with clàrsach accompaniment at the Harris local Mòd in June.
- Isla is developing her confidence and joined the Teen Fèis with her Clàrsach for the first time this year in July, alongside her piping skills.
- Charlie surprised herself by learning to play the clàrsach up to Grade 3 standard in one year, achieving a B in her Nat 5 music exam. She now looks forward to taking her Higher music exam next year.
- Mairi Anna Binns has completed her 2nd year at the Junior Royal Conservatoire of Music, this time as a Pedal Harpist in the Classical Department. She has thoroughly enjoyed her tuition from Sharron Griffiths and now looks forward to moving to Italy as she prepares to start tuition with Anna Lorro at the Luco Marenzio Conservatory in Brescia. She also achieved a Merit in her Grade 5 Theory exam and pushed herself forward to be the Edinburgh Youth Orchestra’s only harpist this year at their Easter & Summer courses with their most recent performances in Edinburgh, Glasgow & Paisley. Mairi Anna assures me however that her clàrsach playing will never be left behind and will be taking her Norris with her to Italy. We wish her all the best for the future within the music industry, in whatever form that takes.
Màiri Macleod, Branch Convenor
In autumn 2022, the Highland Branch started the term with an online workshop with Sunita Staneslow, then in-person workshops with Karen Marshalsay and Sara Evans. Sara drove all the way from the Pyrenees and also treated us to a duo concert with her partner on double bass. We also had our annual Christmas workshop with Cheyenne Brown and Isbel Pendlebury. In 2023, we continued our workshops with Jennifer Port, Siannie Moodie, Wendy Stewart and Fraya Thomsen. In March, we culminated all these amazing tunes into a fabulous concert at the RNI Chapel. The concert also featured children’s and adult’s ensembles who had recently performed at the Inverness Music Festival.
The branch also ran several ‘come-and-try’ sessions with Emma Wright and Cheyenne Brown, hosted in Inverness, Dingwall, Evanton, Kingussie, Aviemore and Grantown as well as at the Inverness Gathering and Belladrum Festival.
With support from the Creative Scotland Covid Recovery Fund via the Clarsach Society, we have released our first ever Highland Branch tune book. The 18 featured pieces have been collected from those currently and historically involved with the branch. As the Clarsach Society itself was formed in 1931 in Dingwall, it is wonderful to have this collection of tunes reflect the Clarsach Society’s Highland origins. These books are available for purchase!
Kirsty North, Secretary
I recall my Mother used to say “ the years pass more quickly as you get older “ and I thought that what a strange thing to say. Now, I understand. It certainly seems like only a few weeks since I wrote my previous annual report. However, on reflecting on the past year, it is clear that as a branch we have packed a lot in!
I suspect the highlight for many was the fact that we have returned to our full range of pre Covid activities with all our regular live events once again featuring in our calendar. We enjoyed an excellent evening of music at The Young Performers concert in August, a variety of music, solos and pieces by Na Clarsairean at the Open Platform in October and then rounded off 2022 returning to The Queens Hall for our Harps of Gold Christmas concert. Neeps, tatties and music featured in January at our Burns Bash, and then rehearsals commenced for our concert at EIHF in April.
As a branch we are fortunate to have four fantastic “resident tutors”, Isobel Mieras, Margaret Collin, Rosemary McKerchar and Ellie Evans who arrange the music for all our performances.
However, It’s not all been about performing. We have also enjoyed sessions with guest tutors Charlotte Petersen, Ellie Hetherington, Karen Marshalsay, Wendy Stewart and Fiona Rutherford. We visited Bamburgh in September for a great day of music with the Northumberland branch and in June we hosted an evening for harpists on a trip to Scotland with Sunita Staneslow. We ran two Come and Try sessions and also organised follow on classes for new players who attended the adult beginner class at EIHF. As a result of both we are delighted to have a number of new members.
How quickly a year passes when you’re having fun with your harp!
Morag Philips, Convenor