I’ve been fortunate over the last 5 or so years to be able take harp workshops from some outstanding Irish harpers: Janet Harbison, Maire NiChathassigh, Grainne Hambly, Marta Cook. And they all say that with Irish music, melody takes precedence over accompaniment, over ornaments, over arrangements. It’s a concept that I liked hearing, given that doing anything complicated in my left hand while trying to play melody in my right typically leads to pretzel fingers and little music being made. My arrangements are very simple, because that’s what I can play.
Of course, then these wonderful harpers play totally drop-dead-gorgeous arrangements of traditional Irish tunes, with ornaments and chord progressions and bass riffs and other complexities that make the tunes beautiful and completely out of my reach. When they play, these tunes are way more than melody. So I didn’t really understand what they were trying to impart until listening to a guitar CD I picked up in Ireland last summer.
The CD is titled simply, Celtic Guitar, by Fergal Scahill. On the majority of tunes it’s solo guitar, playing unadorned melody. No finger picking, no chords, no fancy rhythm change-ups. Just melody, played exquisitly, piercing and lovely. Bare bones traditional tunes, played with exquisite tone and caring.
And I know that my harp is just as lovely when played as simply as this solo guitar. If I play a tune with the same careful attention to tone and timing, with the same caring for the tune that shines through on this CD; if I play believing that there is not anything missing, that melody is indeed enough, I have to believe that no one else would think that there was anything missing, either. A most excellent lesson.