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'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)

mg 03 Mar 16 - 09:55 PM
keberoxu 03 Mar 16 - 07:32 PM
GUEST,Peter Laban 03 Mar 16 - 07:19 AM
keberoxu 02 Mar 16 - 07:41 PM
keberoxu 02 Mar 16 - 07:12 PM
Rapparee 02 Mar 16 - 07:06 PM
Jack Campin 02 Mar 16 - 06:11 PM
mg 02 Mar 16 - 01:49 PM
GUEST,Gealt 02 Mar 16 - 01:37 PM
GUEST,Gealt 02 Mar 16 - 01:34 PM
Jack Campin 02 Mar 16 - 08:41 AM
keberoxu 01 Mar 16 - 01:03 PM
mg 29 Feb 16 - 06:58 PM
keberoxu 29 Feb 16 - 05:29 PM
maeve 29 Feb 16 - 09:34 AM
GUEST,Peter Laban 29 Feb 16 - 09:21 AM
michaelr 29 Feb 16 - 12:48 AM
leeneia 29 Feb 16 - 12:03 AM
GUEST 29 Feb 16 - 12:02 AM
MartinRyan 28 Feb 16 - 07:04 PM
leeneia 28 Feb 16 - 06:43 PM
keberoxu 28 Feb 16 - 04:26 PM
keberoxu 28 Feb 16 - 03:46 PM
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Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: mg
Date: 03 Mar 16 - 09:55 PM

They might have died or emigrated. What happened to fiddlers of Scotland? Ended up in nova Scotia and I have heard that they had to reteach Scots fiddling from nova Scotia.


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Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: keberoxu
Date: 03 Mar 16 - 07:32 PM

My post of 29 february contains a paraphrased quote from Máire Ní Chathasaigh; my conscience prompts me to contribute the exact quote.

No other instrument symbolises both the continuities and discontinuities of the Irish music tradition so thoroughly. It is the oldest instrument within it, having been played here for more than a thousand years, and therefore the one which appears to have changed the most.
page 173, The Companion to Irish Traditional Music (only the article titled "Harp")


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Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: GUEST,Peter Laban
Date: 03 Mar 16 - 07:19 AM

I would suggest there is a consensus the bardic harp tradition in Ireland died by the early 19th century, Bunting recording the last breath of it.

While the harp itself may have survived, I don't think it's right to suggest harping in Ireland is an unbroken link to past musicians.


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Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: keberoxu
Date: 02 Mar 16 - 07:41 PM

mg, my 29 February post to this thread did not single out Carolan a/k/a Cearbhalláin, this is true. My post only spoke generally of blind Irish harpists who played harps with wire strings. Carolan is certainly in that category, actually he is the most memorable of the lot.

In this day and age, we have Derek Bell of happy memory, who made two solo recordings of Carolan's music. Somebody correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe Mr. Bell made those recordings with a harp with wire strings. Elsewhere, Bell admitted that he toured with a nylon-string harp because wire-string harps are so terribly sensitive to fluctuations in temperature and humidity that one cannot keep the things in tune during tour performances.

And in between the epoch of Carolan, and the revival of Carolan's music by everyone from Sean O'Riada to Derek Bell, I have to ask you, mg....where are all the harp-playing males IN BETWEEN? At that point it seems that the harp survived, erm, in spite of men musicians. (One exception would be classical music but that is a different tradition.)


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Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: keberoxu
Date: 02 Mar 16 - 07:12 PM

"....the stereotype is that the harp is an instrument for submissive women."

Sexism, in other words, plain and simple? Relevant, I agree, to the "spinning Eileens" dismissal. Is this the whole story?

Pose this question to the likes of Janet Harbison, who deserves a Mudcat thread of her own, and what would she say? She plays the harp. She is a woman. Submissive? I DARE you to call Janet Harbison submissive. Acquainted with prejudice, limitation, restriction, exclusion? Actively engaged in confronting same? She looks that way to me, from what I can find out about her.

A separate post in future may quote Harbison, who at present is a Ph.D candidate (well, maybe she finished the doctorate and I missed that). She has written about the harp, about harp music in Ireland, and about traditional music in Ireland. She has some pithy opinions about the prejudicial attitudes of writers like the author of the "all the dear spinning Eileens" putdown.

Only just getting acquainted with Ms. Harbison, and I like what I see. It would be telling to get her comments on Mary O'Hara's generation.


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Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: Rapparee
Date: 02 Mar 16 - 07:06 PM

Toirdhealbhach Ó Cearbhalláin was criticized for being "too modern." The Clancys were criticized for making Irish folk songs "too theatrical." Francis O'Neill can be said to have saved many, many Irish folk songs and music, which he collected in Chicago.


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Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: Jack Campin
Date: 02 Mar 16 - 06:11 PM

Google thinks differently.

Try an image search for "irish harpist" and see what predominates.

Not many of them look like Johnny Cash, Ian Bruce or Marilyn Manson.


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Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: mg
Date: 02 Mar 16 - 01:49 PM

my image of the irish harp is in the minstral boy ..with his wild harp slung beside him... I think more of male harpers..was not O'Carolan? Was not my possible relative (same name as my ggf) Cornelius Lyons also a great harper. Bard of Armagh..male.


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Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: GUEST,Gealt
Date: 02 Mar 16 - 01:37 PM

Re my previous post:

"All O'Donnell singing Spanish Lady, recorded for German television called 'LIED FUR TRAUMER MUSIK FUR REBELLEN' translate to 'Songs For A Dreamer Music For Rebels." 1966."


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Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: GUEST,Gealt
Date: 02 Mar 16 - 01:34 PM

Not sure about your last sentence, Jack Campin.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDSVXIJqjbY


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Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: Jack Campin
Date: 02 Mar 16 - 08:41 AM

I'm not entirely sure where this thread was intended to go. Isn't the stereotyping being complained of there simply a consequence of the gender stereotyping that goes along with the harp in many other cultures? In Scotland we have Isobel Mieras seemingly taking on the role of the Miss Jean Brodie of the clarsach - the movement she presides over is not much like the Irish one but it's nearly as gendered.

If the stereotype is that the harp is an instrument for submissive women, is it surprising if the tourist culture industry expects them to look pretty and do what they're told?


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Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: keberoxu
Date: 01 Mar 16 - 01:03 PM

The review in the opening post on this thread, was something that surprised me during a search on Deirdre O'Callaghan's name, online; the intent of my search was to uncover more about, precisely, O'Callaghan's generation of convent-educated musicians. There is nothing secret about this review, about the recording it reviews, or about the artist featured on the recording. If I could locate them, anybody could.

All I am going to say about the artist, whose name I chose not to emphasize, is that the harpist is a member of a generation different than the generation of O'Callaghan, Watkins, O'Hara and so on. My focus is less on any individual than on a generation of musicians, or the comparisons -- similarities and differences -- between different generations of players of the Celtic harp. So when the reviewer singles out one recording and one artist, he is doing his job; it's just that my interest is elsewhere.

Well there is this too. I am writing as though the artists in question could read this themselves. And they literally could, seeing as how there is nothing secret about this forum, and that online searches like the one described in this post, routinely pull up Mudcat Cafe messages through searching on the names in the messages. All the parties involved are alive and well as far as I can make out, whether in retirement or active. I guess, in my process of educating myself about music and musicians that are new to me, that I want to find out what people are talking about, and at the same time I don't want to give offense. My aversion to conflict is making me evasive in speech, I admit that. I won't stop other people from making statements that are condescending to the point of insult. I can't avoid being addressed, when I join a conversation, by somebody more confrontational than me. All I can do is weigh my own words with care.


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Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: mg
Date: 29 Feb 16 - 06:58 PM

I have never heard it as Eileen but Eily (SP?)

Also, regardless of what the Irish Irish like, Irish Americans, and I am one, love their shamrocks. I call it the curse of the Irish. If you have a bakery, an auto parts store, a tavern, and have an Irish name, you most likely want a shamrock on the sign. I have the curse myself and see it as a great honor to have such a wonderful symbol. Irish can be quite condescending to Irish Americans and quite insulting, especially around St. Patrick's Day, which is basically an Irish American and not Irish Irish holiday..when all the plastic paddy insults come out.

You should not insult people's ancestors, and that is what a lot of this comes down to. I also think that the shamrock is sort of like a passover symbol where you hope that some token will spare you some of the troubles that our ancestors faced.


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Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: keberoxu
Date: 29 Feb 16 - 05:29 PM

When I first saw the phrase that is the name of this thread, it stopped me short, because I was too ignorant to get it. Mudcat members straightened me out by quoting the first verse of The Spinning Wheel, which describes "Eileen" sitting in moonshine; I don't know that song, and without knowing it, had no clue what the phrase meant.

"Colleen" is the word I have more often heard used in a dismissive, even antagonistic way; and while looking up more information on harp-playing in Ireland, the word "colleen" was quoted several times in interviews and dissertations. I got the point. While I had never heard of a "spinning Eileen," I was aware of what Mary O'Hara, quoted in a previous post, calls "racist caricatures" and also of the commercialized images from the tourist industry. After all, I knew what actress Roma Downey meant when she opined, in an interview, "Maureen O'Hara has a lot to answer for," regarding the over-romanticized big-screen stereotypes.

Maire Ní Chathasaigh has written that the great antiquity of the harp in Irish history and culture, going back across so many periods of changing times and eras, means that the harp and its traditions have gone through changes. Having looked at other people's research and writings, I wonder if the word "transformations" is not too grandiose a word.

Much is made, in in-depth writing on the subject, of the change between the blind Irish harpists, largely men (okay, not all of them were blind), with the wire-strung instruments they played, and the gut-stringed harps that graced drawing rooms, parlors, and the music departments of convents, in a more recent century when most of the harp players were women. This latter scenario was well-entrenched when Sean O'Riada called attention to Carolan's music, and recorded same on a harpsichord with wire strings rather than hiring a harp player to play the music. It gives one much to think and reflect on, which is my inclination. Of course if people want to make a debate about it, with pros and cons, then debate they will. And I will stand back and let them.

So I would rather dwell on the context and consider the history, since "spinning Eileens" doesn't make sense to me without it. The phrase is a distraction, personally; to this moment, I have a mental image of a little music-box figurine spinning round and round....guess I am too literal-minded to appreciate any humor in it.


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Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: maeve
Date: 29 Feb 16 - 09:34 AM

The review- scroll to the bottom of the page.

What does it matter who and where and why? It's a review, written with more than a bit of condescension, that's all. Those who play harp and those who appreciate it will make certain to make the music and listen to it with many harpists and styles to choose from.


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Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: GUEST,Peter Laban
Date: 29 Feb 16 - 09:21 AM

I have a recording of Séamus Ennis singing 'The Spinning Wheel'. I did always think it had something to do with the fact the recording was of a gig in New York.

[i]'Nobody plays them'[/i] Well look at this snap: harpers : Holly Geraghty, Gráinne Hambly, Paul Dooley, Oisín Morrison, Laoise Kelly, Deirdre Granville, Máire Ní Chathasaigh and Kathleen Loughnane. And I could probably think of the same number of very fine contemporary players.


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Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: michaelr
Date: 29 Feb 16 - 12:48 AM

So keb, stop being coy and name the people you're talking about. Who coined the term "spinning Eileens" and what do you think it means? What's the point regarding "the harper whose name I've withheld"? Is this some secret insider discussion, or can we all participate?


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Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: leeneia
Date: 29 Feb 16 - 12:03 AM

Mediocre intellects rely heavily on the process of association.

That Kathleen Watkins, Deirdre O'Callaghan, et al, played for Yanks and Euro-tourists says absolutely nothing about the quality of their music. Neither does it matter that audience members have a blue rinse. (Something I haven't seen for decades.)

Tone, pace, dynamics, richness and an interesting repertoire - these things make good music, not the 'coolness' of the audience. And yes, the musician can be old, female and even fat and still be a good musician.


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Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: GUEST
Date: 29 Feb 16 - 12:02 AM

"as much sinned against as sinning"

Didn't some smartarse say that about the trees along the Royal Canal?


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Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: MartinRyan
Date: 28 Feb 16 - 07:04 PM

There has been a quite significant revival in harp-playing in traditional (Irish) music circles in recent years. The approach to both instrumental music and the accompaniment of singing is markedly different from that of the generation referenced above. In fairness, the latter were often at least as much sinned against as sinning, to borrow a phrase.

Regards


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Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: leeneia
Date: 28 Feb 16 - 06:43 PM

Written by a critic, you say? Critics stand somewhere between used-car salesmen and pickpockets in probity.

The snide remark is not excusable, but it's not unexpected, either.

(I visited Ireland in 2007, and we stopped in a pub that had a sign for Harp beer. The barmaid told me, "We have lots of signs with harps in Ireland, but nobody plays one.")


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Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: keberoxu
Date: 28 Feb 16 - 04:26 PM

More about said bathwater, in the words of Mary O'Hara herself, from her revised memoirs, Travels With My Harp.

from Chapter 7, quotes:
To my horror I saw them carrying on two giant cut-out shamrocks and placing them at the back of the stage. I was dumbfounded when I was asked to sit with my harp in one of them while [Dublin Mayor] Bob Briscoe was on stage. I envied the beautiful Irish wolfhound standing in the other shamrock, seemingly impervious to the indignity of it all. There's nothing wrong with the shamrock as such, but when it is perennially associated with leprechauns, shillelaghs, green beer, and Delaney's donkeys, I feel it is prostituting the true image of our beautiful country and its ancient culture. It smacks of stage-Irishism. It has echoes of Punch's earlier racist caricatures of the Irish as capering troglodytes and simian-faced morons....
Suddenly a stage-hand rushed up to me: 'Quick, there's time.' Unceremoniously I was shoved across the vast stage, had a stool pushed under me and was told, 'You're on.'   Good accommodating Irishwoman that I was, I took a deep breath and launched into "O Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling...."   It was Ed Sullivan's own choice of song. But before I could even finish one verse, I felt his patronizing hand descend on my head and heard him saying to the viewers something like, 'That's it for tonight, folks.' Off the air, he had the temerity to ask me to 'sing a little song now for the studio audience...'


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Subject: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: keberoxu
Date: 28 Feb 16 - 03:46 PM

This may amount to a whole bunch of nothing. However!

Delia Murphy, who recorded The Spinning Wheel, "spinning Eileen" and all, is much discussed on Mudcat threads. So is Mary O'Hara, who unlike Ms. Murphy actually played the harp and sang simultaneously, and who came a generation later than Ms. Murphy. I learned of both of these very popular, beloved recording artists from the Mudcat Café.

But although the Folkways album recorded by Deirdre Ní Fhloinn was something introduced to me in childhood, I was ignorant of the historical context in which she learned, and performed, her singing and harp playing. As stated in a post on another thread, the Folkways LP copy in my house was intact, including the little paper booklet for which that recording company was known, and which gave information for which there was no room on the liner notes on the record jackets. Ms. Ní Fhloinn's album booklet was limited to the song lyrics -- Gaelic, with one macaronic tune about a dialogue between a farmer and a fox -- and English translations of same. There was nothing whatever about the artist, Ms. Ní Fhloinn (also known, in her youth, as Deirdre Flynn), nor about where she learned the harp or who her teachers were.

Had it been otherwise, today I would probably be no wiser about The Spinning Wheel or Delia Murphy; but I would have learned then what I had to come here to learn, that Deirdre Ní Fhloinn, Kathleen Watkins, Deirdre O'Callaghan, and Mary O'Hara were all graduates of The Harp Room at Sion Hill convent school, where they studied singing with one of the Dominican nuns (in another post I said Ursuline nuns, sorry, I got that wrong), and learned the Celtic harp from one of the Ní Shéa sisters.

Although, since it was before my time, I still would have not seen that episode of the Ed Sullivan variety show on television, in which Mary O'Hara was a featured guest and about which she writes bluntly and bitterly in her memoirs, mincing no words about the patronizing, condescending treatment she received.

And it still would be news to me, that amongst fellow traditional musicians of a more recent generation, the example set by Mary O'Hara's generation would be belittled as follows:

"Kathleen Watkins, Deirdre O'Callaghan, and all the dear Spinning Eileens may still be charming the blue-rinse Yanks and mead-swilling Eurotourists in stone castles, but....[name withheld to protect the innocent] has taken the harp, with a little help from one Máire Ní Chathasaigh, out of the castles and back to its place in Irish trad music."
The preceding was written, NOT by the harpist whose name I have withheld, but by a journalist/critic for Arts West Magazine around 1999. Said writer is a trad musician whose name can be turned up in Mudcat threads using the search engine; for all I know, this writer might be a Mudcat member.

Well, once I was myself part of a class of students with a teacher or two, although not in a convent school; and I was exposed, however briefly, to the way that professional (especially academic) musicians talk about the profession and the people in it, to their blunt criticisms and decided opinions. So the preceding quote does not come as a complete shock even to me.

Still, I question: is it throwing the baby out with the bathwater, to dismiss Kathleen Watkins, Deirdre O'Callaghan, Deirdre Ní Fhloinn, Mary O'Hara, et alia, along with the tourist industry's exploitation of them and their image? What say you, Mudcatters?


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