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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). 




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

to quill-points


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?


—Julie Kane

Similar to The Sallow Harp:

Half the World

Breathe in Hope

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