Here’s an O’Carolan question

Posted In: Amateur Harpists

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    Audrey Nickel on #164632

    I’ve heard several people now say “Turlough O’Carolan was a decent composer, but he wasn’t a very good harper.”

    tony-morosco on #164633

    I don’t remember the details, but I have a couple of books on O’Caronlan and indeed if I remember correctly there are comment from his contemporaries stating that he wasn’t the best player.

    In fact if I remember correctly it was one of the people who became one of his first patrons who, after hearing him play, said something like, “So… have you ever thought of composing instead?”

    He got his patronage for his writing, not his playing. Also keep in mind that Irish harpers had a reputation for being outstanding. To say O’Carolan was not the best is not to say he was horrible. I’m sure he played quite passibly, but just not up to the standards of some of the other well known harpers.

    So while he played the harp his fame and the patronage that came with it was for his composing not playing.

    Elizabeth Volpé Bligh on #164634

    Wasn’t O’Carolan blind from the age of eighteen? I would think that would make it more difficult to play smoothly.

    Audrey Nickel on #164635

    Most harpers of that time were blind…smallpox was rampant, and music was pretty much the only way a blind man could make a living. (“Dall” is Irish for “blind,” and you’ll find several harpers of the time with “dall” in their names). There were techniques they used to find their way around the harp (my teacher’s shown me a couple), so it really wasn’t all that big an impediment.


    unknown-user on #164636

    I’m curious, what are the techniques used to find your way around the harp when you can’t see?


    Audrey Nickel on #164637

    One technique is sliding…that works well for adjacent notes.

    Leigh Griffith on #164638

    I have an old book about Wales which mentions forbidding a school for
    the blind in North Wales from ‘giving every blind boy a harp’. It seems
    they felt overrun with blind harpers begging by the roadside.

    unknown-user on #164639

    Wasn’t he also a little ‘overly fond of the drink’? That type of prolonged indulgence isn’t kind on ones finer reflexes.

    Valerie Hawkes-Howat on #164640

    I find it interesting to compare this to

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