Last week I was at a music event, taking part in an autoharp course taught by John Hollandsworth, who is a bluegrass/old time player from Virginia.  And one evening I watched an extraordinary duet, involving John and Heather Farrell-Roberts, my own autoharp teacher.  Heather has developed a very personal style of autoharp playing - very lyrical and English, like Delius.

 

To find a common piece of repertoire they looked, of course, to Carolan - and played 'Fanny Powers', combining their two very different techniques and styles.  Lovely.  You could, as they say, hear a pin drop.

 

I have no sense at all that the Irish music community has any awareness of the autoharp's love of the works of Carolan - I discussed this last week with an Irish-American fiddle player.  The autoharp has a curious history - a European parlour instrument became a sort of folk instrument in the USA.  And it is a curious instrument - on most instruments you are always creating chords, on the autoharp you are always unpacking chords.

 

But the point is that the best autoharp players who have ever lived are alive now.  It is only in the last 10 or 20 years that really good musicians, in different traditions, have explored the autoharp, redesigning it and rebuilding it to meet their needs.  And of course one of the things they need is repertoire - hence the love affair with Carolan.  Whose work flows easily from the harp to the autoharp.

 

There might be a little project there for someone...

 

Patrick O'Sullivan

 

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