My music springs from my collection of unusual ancient instruments. Many of them are handcrafted replicas of historical musical instruments preserved in museums.
I love these ancient instruments because the musical systems designed into them, and the sounds that come out of them, are foreign to the modern ear; yet because they lie at the roots of present day traditions, they also seem intriguingly familiar.
My main discipline is Gaelic harp, also known as early clarsach or early Irish harp. This is a high status musical instrument which flourished in medieval Ireland and Scotland right through until the18th century in Scotland and the 19th in Ireland. Several beautiful and striking examples survive from centuries past. My other website, Early Gaelic Harp Info, provides much information about the historical Gaelic harp traditions.
Baroque Irish harp: Made by David Kortier. This is one of the HHSI Student Downhill harps, copied from an instrument made by Cormac O’Kelly in 1702. This instrument is perfect for the 18th century Irish music of Carolan or Lyons. However, it is not always here - it goes off on rental with my students and has adventures!
The Scandinavian bowed-harp traditions seem very ancient, but survived as living traditions into the 20th century, meaning we have audio recordings to listen to! This is related to Welsh crwth and Shetland gue. read more...
Jouhikko or bowed lyre, made by myself in 2008, copying a 19th century Karelian instrument in the National Museum of Finland. My jouhikko has two black horsehair strings, and is played with a bow made from a curved branch.
Lyres have fascinated me for a long time. Despite appearances, they are not really primitive or ancestral harps, but have a heritage and music all of their own. The northern lyre tradition stretches right back into pre-Christian times, and died out around a thousand years ago.
Germanic lyre, with horsehair strings, made by Davy Patton, this instrument is copied from the lyre excavated from a 6th century pagan warrior grave in Trossingen, Germany, and decorated with ‘kolrosing’.
Irish lyre, with iron, brass and silver wire strings, made by Michael King. This is a speculative reconstruction based on early medieval Gaelic myths, and stone carvings on Irish high crosses. Its bridge is a copy of the Skye lyre fragment - the 2500 year old lyre bridge discovered recently in Uamh an Ard Achaidh (High Pasture Cave). Read more...
Fiddle music is of interest to me, as in Scotland the fiddle was one of the three instruments that was used to play ceòl mór, the others being the pipes and the clarsach. My fiddle is an anonymous old instrument that I rescued from a street market and set up with natural gut strings and a baroque bow.
Trumpet was the first instrument tradition I really learned, from the ages of 8 through to 19. My trumpet is a very basic ‘natural’ trumpet in the 17th century ‘baroque’ style. I am experimenting with style and technique as it relates to my other traditions.
I have been working recently on the history and music of the spitzharfe or arpanetta.
My trump or jew’s harp is a rather fancy model, made in Siberia by Pavel Potkin.
And finally... this one does not belong to me. It is the Katherine bell of St Salvator’s College in the University of St Andrews. Said to have been made in the 15th century for the college, it has been melted and recycled a number of times, most recently in 1940. It hangs with five others high in St Salvator’s tower.
I am a member of the band of ringers who are responsible for ringing these bells. We practice and perform every week, as well as for special University events. The music of the bells is a very interesting and idiomatic 17th century English tradition based on tone row permutations. I usually ring singles, minimus, doubles & minor methods, and have recently started learning to ring surprise minor. More...
Also recordings of Fawley bells.
Simon Chadwick, St Andrews, Fife, Scotland. Return to front page.