Clarsach_Clo_Canan_EdinburghInternationalHarpFestival_LR_08Well, the 35th EIHF went off with a bang! Isobel, my joint-artistic adviser and I are delighted with how it all went.  A selection of concerts, each special in its own way, numerous fascinating and well attended workshops and jam packed courses all contributed to seeing many happy, shiny faces around the campus.  Add to this the burgeoning harp exhibition and the humming Festival Hub, the get-together opportunities like the late night sessions and the cafeteria and it’s no surprise we’ve had great comments and feedback.

The festival got off to a good start with a welcoming reception followed by an opening speech from the effervescent Elinor Bennett, this year’s distinguished guest.  I then presented a short cameo concert featuring performances from some of this year’s performers, some new and some familiar: Robin Huw Bowen with Meinir Olwen establishing Wales as our featured Celtic country, Anne-Marie O’Farrell introducing us to her duo with ‘moothie’ player Brendan Power, Adriano Sangineto representing Italy (without the parrot – sadly!),  Sirin Pancaroglu and Bora Uymaz’ evocative harp and voice from Turkey, Park Stickney and the percussive/lyrical flute of Violaine Contreras and all rounded off with a sing-a-long-a waulking song from Mairi MacLeod.  This was part of a sneaky plan to prepare the crowd for a flash mob at the Gaelic concert!

I enjoyed every concert; this blog would stretch into the night if I attempted to describe them all but I’d like to make particular mention of Extrava-Cambria.  Isobel and I gave Robin carte blanch to create an evening to celebrate the harp in Wales with only a couple of suggested artists.  What he came up with was spectacular.  Several triple harps (oh the job of tuning!), several featured groups and some singers.  I was struck several times how well the whole group played together, the concert was a great success.

There was, of course, the special concert to celebrate the Clarsach Society, harps@85, put together very adeptly by Isobel Mieras.  It gave a wonderful flavour and representation of what the society has achieved over these years with performances from some of our longer term members e.g. Alison Kinnaird and some of our newest.  Everyone gave their services for free acknowledging the great debt we all owe the society and the big influence it has had on all of our lives.

I’d also like to make mention of the Gaelic concert – Clàrsach, Clò is Cànan.  This began as a germ of an idea from our Gaelic adviser, John MacLeod, himself a former Harris tweed weaver.  John wanted to celebrate the tweed and the associated music and song to highlight the 125 year anniversary of An Comunn Gàidhealach.  The concert grew wings and flew off into space with Fraya Thomsen’s Community and Stardust which featured vocables drawn from waulking songs while Mairi MacLeod treated us to some cloth related songs and the trio Shine started the whole off in cosmic style with glorious harmonies.  The final part of the concert was a fascinating demonstration of a waulking where women shrink a length of tweed by thumping it on a makeshift table (often an old door, in this case an old mini billiard table upside down and some Ikea trestles!) with all the musicians singing alongside two ‘cailleachs’ (old ladies) who chatted and gossiped in Gaelic and conducted the necessary actions like measuring the cloth.  We thought long and hard about how to bring the audience in to the action and came up with the idea of projecting it up on a screen in real time.  This meant that as well as having the waulking happening close to us we could have a bird’s eye view of it all.  John gave an excellent running commentary while this was going on and with a flash mob finale of the song Mairi taught us on the Friday, the whole came over extremely well.

I spent a lovely few days watching the festival unfold with constant to-ing-and-fro-ing of stewards in the Hub and round the campus, Mary Macmaster’s team of stage managers quietly moving around getting things ship shape for all the concerts and keeping artists happy in the green room, Mary’s lovely, relaxing area designed to ensure a good time is had by all artists before, during and after each concert.  The office which doubles up as a staff room serves equally to nourish tutors and committee members with quiet chat and cake!  This is now my 4th year back involved with the festival and it constantly amazes me how able and committed our team is, I’m proud to be part of it.  Now let’s do it all over again, the work starts now!

Patsy Seddon, Joint Artistic Adviser