The Sallow Harp | 7'
for SATB, SA, or TB with piano & harp
"Who will teach me to play / those strings that ring like bells / but cut like knives?" The Sallow Harp recounts a lost history: the old Irish harp tradition of playing brass- or silver-stringed instruments with fingernails rather than fingertips, resulting in a bell-like sound.
One harper in particular, Denis Hempson (1695-1807), helped preserve this tradition, and his lifelong devotion to this technique is the reason we have a record of this music today. His teacher Bridget O’Cahan was an ancestor of contemporary poet Julie Kane; Dale Trumbore is Kane’s niece. In The Sallow Harp, Kane’s poetry and Trumbore’s music explore the relevance of old traditions to today, even as they mourn music lost to time.
The Sallow Harp was commissioned by the Macalester College Chorale, directed by Michael McGaghie.
The Sallow Harp is available to preview or purchase through Graphite Marketplace. This piece may be performed with piano only or with piano and harp.
Note that rehearsal scores (piano reduction only) may be purchased separately from the full conductors' scores (chorus, piano & harp).
THE OLD IRISH HARPERS
Those were not the instruments
of angels up in clouds
but of human beings
blinded by smallpox
Their hearing grown sharp as a fox’s
Their nails grown long as the talons of eagles
to pluck strings of brass or silver
that would cut modern fingertips like razors
The last of them
Denis Hempson from Magilligan
Taught by Bridget O’Cahan
He lived to one hundred and eleven
Now he’s buried in St. Aidan’s
with the bones of my O’Cahans
And his songs are just symbols on a page
Oh I could steal a sallow harp
from a glass museum case
I could sharpen my nails
But who is left to teach me to play
those strings that ring like bells
but cut like knives,
the music of the old Irish harpers?