• Glasgow Branch Report 2020

    How strange it is to look back at our year of clàrsach events before lockdown at the Glasgow branch!  We’ve had lots of fun and have learned music from some wonderful musicians.

    The year started very eventfully for us with preparations for the Royal National Mòd in Glasgow.  As host branch there was an opportunity for us to perform at the concert at the end of the day of clàrsach competitions and so for our September workshop, Gillian Fleetwood taught us her arrangement of Puinneagan Cail as well as Tog Orm Mo Phìob which had been arranged by Màiri Macleod for everyone to play together.  Our October workshop was only a few days before the event so Gwen Yorke took the chance to rehearse the Mòd music and Rachel Rutherford introduced a new tune too.

    The big day arrived and our branch members were very much a part of the clàrsach competitions.  Everyone pulled together to make an excellent team of stewards, chairpeople and tuners.  As a branch, we tend to have one-off workshops and haven’t done much performing as a group before so the concert at the end of the day was a big event for us.  We were all delighted with how it went and everyone was keen to do it again sometime!  

    In November it was time for our usual highlight: our annual joint meeting with the Edinburgh branch!  We were taught tunes by Ellie Hetherington and Becky Hill and enjoyed catching up with our friends from the east.  The other workshops from December through to March were taught by Sarah MacNeil, Romy Wymer, Pippa Reid-Foster, Ruth Mackay, Sam MacAdam and Karen Marshalsay.  By the time of our last workshop we had already heard that the harp festival had been cancelled and everyone was getting fairly edgy about what was to come but thank goodness for the music!  Over lockdown we’ve kept harping through our branch padlet of resources which has been a really fun way of dipping in and out of clàrsach activities.  Things are starting to look a bit more hopeful for music-making again.  Fingers crossed for some live tunes soon!

    Convenor – Gwen Yorke

    Secretary – Rachel Rutherford

    Edinburgh Branch Report 2020

    What an eventful session this has been!

    It started out well in September with a friendly, enjoyable day in Bamburgh as guests of the Northumbrian Branch. We played good music, tucked in to a wonderful pot luck lunch and even enjoyed a beach walk in beautiful sunshine.  A perfect day. 

    In October our Open Platform featured  delightful performances from some very young players, from brave adult beginners making debut appearances as well as exciting and beautiful music from more experienced  performers. We also had the  rare chance to hear the music of the guzheng, the Chinese horizontal harp, in the hands of Sarah Bonham Wang.  

    November saw members travel to Milngavie to join the Glasgow Branch in an afternoon of delightful music arranged and led by Eleanor Hetherington and Rebecca Hill – and delicious tea and cake in excellent company.

    Next came the Day to Play and rehearsals in preparation for our annual “Harps of Gold” Christmas concert in the Queen’s Hall.  Our chosen charity was Parkinson’s UK Scotland and, to our delight, their Singing4Fun group joined us in a truly inspiring performance.  61 harps onstage were joined by musicians  from George Watson’s College directed by Rosemary McKerchar to make a joyful start to Christmas celebrations.

    The “Burns Bash,” celebrating the birthday of our national bard, took place on January 25th -the actual day –with Margaret Collin as our tutor.  Her choice of music delighted everyone and her teaching was wonderfully paced for all.  The Burns Supper followed in gourmet style, thanks to our wonderful catering team!

    In February and early March na Clarsairean, the Branch Orchestra was rehearsing with soloist Rhona Smith of Drake Music, Scotland in preparation for a performance of the new Suite, “Shapes and Shadows,” at the Edinburgh International Harp Festival. 

    Then came the global pandemic.

    Despite having to cancel all planned activities, we were able to share and enjoy Virtual  EIHF and we continue to meet to share new music at  our regular Zoom sessions led by various teachers. Our aim now is to support as best we can all who perform, teach and love clarsach music. 

    We thank the members  of our wonderfully supportive committee for all their work in organising events and looking to the future, and all those members who undertake a myriad of other tasks to ensure the smooth running of our events.

    Isobel Mieras and Helen Forster


    Dumfries and Galloway Branch Report 2020

    We had great dreams for 2020 and Wendy had put together a lovely programme which we planned to perform in Dumfries as part of the Arts Festival and at Gatehouse of Fleet as part of the Big Lit Festival. Until lockdown we had maintained our regular monthly meetings, though some had to be cancelled because of storms & flooding. 

    The shared meeting with Harps North West, Harps Across the Border, in September 2019 was again a very enjoyable event, led by Mary Dunsford and we were hoping to have another in September 2020, but it is looking likely that it will be another Zoom event. The small surplus after this workshop was donated to the Dumfries and Galloway Youth Orchestra. A group of older members meet regularly and have played at care homes and support groups, and individuals have entertained residents who have enjoyed the soothing sounds of the clarsach and even sang or hummed along with some of the tunes. Harpists also joined in the Thursday evening clapping for the NHS, playing tunes such as Somewhere over the Rainbow and Scotland the Brave! In the lead-up to Christmas we played in the atrium of the Dumfries and Galloway Infirmary and one member played background music at Threave House, a NTS property at Castle Douglas, which caught the interest of members of the public, some of whom tried out playing the harp! 

    In lockdown some of us took part in the virtual EIHF, attending workshops and concerts, and enjoying Wendy’s workshop on Ca’ the Yowes. Wendy also contributed to the very enjoyable NE Branch’s Virtual Tea Concert and Wendy organised us to make a film of What we did in Lockdown – the highlight for me was Pauline playing her “pedal” harp (on her bike!)

    We haven’t had any virtual playing sessions as a group, as one of our member’s broadband connection is unreliable, ans some others aren’t confident in using Zoom. But we’re hoping that restrictions may soon be eased a bit more so we can meet in some sort of “live” group. Thanks as ever to Wendy Stewart, our Convenor, for great tunes, inspiration and encouragement, and endless patience.

    Lyn Walby

    Branch Secretary

    Bristol & West of England Branch Report 2020

    The Bristol & West of England Branch continued to enjoy monthly harp meetings during the autumn of 2019 and the first part of 2020, learning mostly traditional tunes.  There were two themed meetings: in December we learned a selection of Christmas carols and in January we learned Scottish tunes in preparation for Burns’ night.

    We also invited two guest tutors to lead workshops.  In October, Ben Creighton-Griffiths treated us to an exciting Jazz Harp workshop, subtitled ‘an introduction to improvisation for the beginner jazz harpist’.  We looked at the reggae rhythm and at a Bossa Nova and experimented with using lever slides and with improvising over the rhythms.  

    In November, we welcomed Emily Harris, who taught us some Welsh tunes intended for performance by a big ensemble at the 2020 World Harp Congress (which was to have taken place in Cardiff earlier this year and is now postponed to 2021).

    The arrival of the Covid-19 virus and consequent cancellation of our get-togethers led to our first online meetings, using the Zoom videoconferencing tool initially and, in later meetings, a combination of Zoom and Skype in order to accommodate members who were struggling with one or other of these tools.  Our Convenor, Julia Hammersley, worked hard to get the online meetings up and running and to record and post online videos of the tunes.  Though a few people experienced technical hitches, the meetings went surprisingly smoothly for most people and were usually well-attended, with some good feedback from members.  The meetings took place weekly from April until July, when we moved to monthly meetings.  We have learned a host of new tunes, from traditional Irish and English music to an Iranian tune and new compositions by Julia and by Isobel Mieras.  

    Contrary to expectations, the Covid-19 lockdown and restrictions this year have caused us to do more harping as a Branch than in a normal year.  We are looking forward to being able to meet again in person to play through all the new repertoire we have learned, but at least we know that, in the meantime, we can continue to meet and play online.

    Catherine Dack (Secretary)

    Argyll Branch Report 2020

    The branch has again enjoyed another busy year, that is until lock down happened!

    We always have a full schedule of monthly workshops led by the ever-patient Ingrid Henderson.  These generally take place near Oban but as our membership is still continuing to increase in the south of the region, we quite often hold additional workshops in Mid-Argyll as well.

    Isobel Mieras also paid the branch a visit in July and under her careful tutelage, we came away with a range of lovely pieces which we use for local performances. 

    We had a great time at our weekend residential in August with a Harry Potter themed venue in a local castle no less. Everyone gets into the spirit of the weekend and prizes are awarded for the best dressed harp and sometimes harper!

    In September, we held a rather unusual workshop based on Russian melodies which Pru Williams had put together with her teacher Monica Turoni. Pru gave us some really interesting background to the pieces and explained the context of the translations. We were also able to purchase the music book which has proved an unusual addition to our repertoire.

    In November, we once again played in the global orchestra #iPlay4Peace. We had an ensemble of ten members taking part. We performed a haunting fiddle tune called ‘Winning the Peace’ composed by Paul Anderson. 

    This year we also played two sets in the Taynuilt Ceilidh. It takes a lot of persuasion to get our members onto the stage, but they played beautifully and the hard work running up to it was very worthwhile.

    Some of our members also took part in a ‘Coffee and Clàrsach’ session in Tarbert. We expected a few members of the community to support us but were overwhelmed with the response and we were kept playing for over two hours!

    This year the branch was delighted to support one of our members, Lindy Veitch, who was asked to give a talk and demonstration on the clàrsach at the Dunollie Castle Clan Gathering in Oban. We played a varied set and had considerable participation with the ‘Come and try’ session afterwards.

    We have continued to have some workshop sessions online and our thanks go to Ingrid for this. I’d also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge all the hard work our tutors do. The preparation always goes unseen but is very much appreciated by all of us.

    I know some of our members have really missed the social contact and time with their harping friends. Here’s to a full programme of events next year!