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Performance Video: Campbell’s Farewell to Redcastle/A.A. Cameron’s Strathspey (Trad. Scottish/J. Scott Skinner)

The name of the opening 2/4 march is a bit of a mystery; no one is quite sure where “Redcastle” is.

A. A. Cameron of Dochanassie, Invernesshire (1877-1951) was a world champion Highland heavyweight athlete.

Recorded in April 2021 at St. John’s United Church, Chesterton IN, for the 2021 Gebhard Woods Dulcimer and Traditional Music Festival.

Learn more at http://www.gebharddulcimer.org/.

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My Hogwarts letter: from contract to concert

Back to school! By now, you’ve started a new term at Hogwarts, right? Unless it’s your first year, or you grew up in a Muggle family (or both, like Harry), you already knew the drill.

September 1, Hogwarts Express from Platform Nine and Three-Quarters at King’s Cross. Check.

Before that, back-to-school shopping in Diagon Alley. (And maybe a butterbeer at The Leaky Cauldron.) Check.

And you ALWAYS know what to buy—all thanks to your yearly Hogwarts letter via Owl Post. Check.

Now, even though it’s already October, It feels like my Hogwarts letter finally arrived. After gazillion days of playing at home (and a pretty cool virtual festival—you can check out performance videos on my YouTube channel), I just learned that I’ve been booked to play a LIVE, in-person concert!

So, now what? How do I get ready? What does MY Hogwarts letter have in common with, say, Hermione Granger’s? Two things: routine paperwork, and excitement. (You know she couldn’t wait to see the book list!) 

Details change, but the routines stay the same. When Hermione shopped in Diagon Alley, she bought different History of Magic and Transfiguration books every year (the heavier, the better), but her shopping list always arrived in her Hogwarts letter.

Same for me. When I’m booking and preparing a concert, the details change, but I use the same paperwork each time: worksheets, contracts, spreadsheets, and setlists. Here’s a little more about the routine paperwork I use to get ready (and how the excitement joins the party).

Worksheets and Contracts

After someone contacts me (Hey, Cindy, I’d like to book you for a concert!), that’s where I start gathering information for the contract, using a fill-in-the-blanks worksheet. Here’s some of the stuff I need to know:

  • Date and time: am I available? Check that calendar. 
  • Location: near or far? Round trip mileage? Indoors or outdoors? (If it’s near my home in the Midwestern US, I play indoors only between October and April. Brr. Not harp-friendly weather.)
  • Fee quote and deposit: for concerts, deposits are preferred, although not always possible. It’s my decision whether or not to accept a gig with no payment up front. (This is different than freelance gigs, like weddings and background music, where a deposit is always required.)
  • How long will I play? How many sets? (If it’s for more than 60 minutes, I’ll need to break the performance into more than one set, with a stretch break between sets.)
  • Music requests, if there are any.

After the contract is approved and signed, and the deposit is processed, I reserve the date and time in my calendar, and add it to the Events page on my website.

Spreadsheets and Setlists

Now that I know when and where I’ll be playing, it’s time for the “what.” Here’s where the excitement comes in. Time to plan and prepare that music!

  • For repertoire I already play, I keep repertoire spreadsheets, so I can quickly find and sort the tune information I need, including when and where I’ve played it. This is really helpful if I’m playing a repeat gig. Same audience as last time? They’d like to hear something different for this concert.
  • Using the contract information, I plan my set(s) with a setlist template that gives me a variety of tempi, types of tunes, and more. And it’s a perfect cheat sheet on my iPad Pro during the concert! (I love the forScore app.)
  • Now that I’ve decided on my setlist, I can practice the music for the concert! If I want or need to add new music for this concert, additional prep time is needed to arrange the piece.

Other Details

Of course, I have other things to do for a concert, like loading my car, travel, setting up my harp and equipment—and PERFORMING! Then, after greeting fans and selling merch, it’s time to tear down, load the car, and hit the road for home (or a hotel for overnight). Follow up might include getting the final payment, if not already paid. And I like to send a thank you note, and ask my booking contact for a testimonial.

So that’s how MY Hogwarts letter works—the routine paperwork that makes the music happen. I’ll share more about my harp systems and routines another time!

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Double-Strung Harp FAQ S1E1: What Is a Double-Strung Harp?

Hi, I’m Cynthia Shelhart. You can call me Cindy. And it’s time for some Double Talk. Double-strung harp, that is.

Welcome to the first episode in my double-strung harp FAQ series. Harp lovers and harp players have been asking me questions about my instrument for a long time, and this is my chance to answer some of those questions for you. 

We’ll start today with the most basic question of all: What’s a double-strung harp? How is it the same as other harps? How is it different? And what’s the big deal with two rows of strings? What can they do? 

Same

Let’s get started with: how is it similar to other harps?

If you look at a double-strung harp from the side (but not too close, just yet), you’ll see that like single-row harps, it is a type of lever harp. Lever harps are tuned diatonically, or in a major scale. That’s like the white keys on a keyboard instrument or a do-re-mi scale.

And each string has a sharping lever that can be used to change the tuning of the string by one half step—for example, from a C natural to a C sharp, or an F natural to an F sharp—without manually shortening or lengthening the string with a tuning key. This saves a lot of time and effort for the harpist. And if you set the levers in different up and down combinations, that allows you to play in different musical keys. So, that’s something that’s the same with its single-row harp cousins.

Different

But what’s different?

Okay, come on over; get a little closer, look at the harp from a different angle. And you’ll see where the double-strung harp gets its name, or we might even call it a double harp, for short. You take a look at it, you can tell it gets the name from two rows of strings. Pretty straightforward. They are identically tuned: the C note across from the C note, from one row to the other, for example. Those are unison notes. They are identically tuned with each other. And two rows of strings, for one, one advantage allows both hands to have access to the entire range of notes on the harp, from low notes to high notes. And they can even overlap in the middle and not have a musical traffic jam. 

It’s very rare for a harp to be able to not only be able to play unison notes with itself, but also to be able to play repeating notes, or special effects that involve repeating notes, without your hands trying to cancel each other out or muffle already vibrating strings. I’ll show an example here of what that looks like on a single-row harp and how that sounds. (harp example audio) 

Spoiler alert: that doesn’t sound very good. But then try the same thing on a double-strung harp, and also play a little bit of overlapping music. So you can see and also hear the advantages that you get from two rows of unison-tuned strings. (harp example audios)

And also, if you look at the harp from the front angle of the harp, you can see that not only does it have two rows of strings, but it also has the possibility of having an entire set of levers on either row. Two full sets of levers, like this harp has. And I’ll talk more about double harp levers, and their settings and notation—how we, say, you set the levers this way or that way. Yeah, we’ll talk about those in future videos. 

Wrapping Up

So that’s it for the introduction to the double-strung harp. It’s just enough like other lever harps to be familiar, but with two rows of strings, just different enough to get your attention. 

If you liked what you heard today, please make sure you’re subscribed, so you can be notified. And if you want to be the first to get some more Double Talk, head on over to my website, CindyShelhart.com, and sign up for my mailing list.

In the next episode, I’ll dig a little deeper into those strings and levers and tunings that we use on double-strung harps. See you next time.

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O’Carolan on the double

My newest book, Double the O’Carolan Tunes (Book 2 of The Double Dozen Series) is coming soon!

While it’s in production, I thought it might be a good time to answer some questions about this new book of arrangements for double-strung harp.


So, what’s in the new book? Anything digital to go with it? 

  • This book, Double The O’Carolan Tunes, is a collection of 13 compositions by Ireland’s most famous harper and composer, Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738), arranged for intermediate-level double-strung harp.
  • Performance advice and technique tips in each Performance Note help you sound like a polished pro.
  • Want a head start on learning the music? Online MIDI audio recordings can help you out, especially if you learn best by ear. (Download tracks soon at cynthiashelhart.com/resources.)

You can play music from this book if:

  • You’ve just finished the Make Mine a Double method book. You’re in the right place! The intermediate-level music in Double the O’Carolan Tunes is a great addition to your repertoire, just like the Chapter 5 arrangements in MMAD.
  • You’re an experienced double-strung harp player. This book is for you, too! These custom arrangements bring out the unique qualities of the double—and make it easier for you to sound even better.
  • Each arrangement has 2-3 pages of music, depending on the length of the tune. (Longer tunes, longer arrangements.)

Can I play these arrangements on MY double-strung harp?

  • Absolutely! These arrangements are written for medium-sized (26 x 2 strings) double harps, or you can change them to fit your smaller or larger instrument.
  • Wondering about keys and tuning? I recommend a full set of levers for this book. The key signatures range from 1 flat to 2 sharps.
  • 2 of the Double the O’Carolan Tunes arrangements use pre-set tunings to help avoid lever changes, and only 1 arrangement includes a lever change. However, if you’re missing a couple of levers for a pre-set tuning, no worries. Just manually re-tune those strings.
  • In each arrangement, you’ll see register shifts for both hands, notated with treble and bass clefs, so that notes are written where they sound (with fewer ledger lines).

Where do the tunes come from? Which ones are in the book?

  • These tunes were compiled from historical manuscripts and publications by Irish music scholar Donal O’Sullivan in his book Carolan: The Life Times and Music of an Irish Harper. This is THE book for O’Carolan tunes and information.
  • Most of O’Carolan’s music was written down and published after his lifetime, so O’Sullivan used categories and sequential numbers (instead of composition dates) to organize the tunes. You’ll see these corresponding O’Sullivan numbers on the arrangements. (O’Sullivan did NOT call these tune numbers “opus numbers.” In Western classical music, opus numbers are used to catalog a composer’s works by date.)
  • Here are the arrangements you’ll find in Double the O’Carolan Tunes:
    • George Brabazon (Second Air)
    • Sir Festus Burke
    • Carolan’s Concerto
    • Carolan’s Draught
    • Carolan’s Welcome
    • Planxty Drew
    • Hewlett
    • Colonel John Irwin
    • Charles O’Conor
    • Eleanor Plunkett
    • Fanny Power
    • Sheebeg and Sheemore
    • Captain Sudley

Double the O’Carolan Tunes is available in 2 versions: a PDF digital download, or a print book/PDF download combo package. If you’re a print book person, you’ll love how the coil binding opens flat on your music stand, and the PDF is perfect for tablets! (I love using mine on my 12.9” iPad Pro with the forScore app.)

You can pre-order your copy of either version today for the first shipment (available by November 2021) right here.

Cheers!
-Cindy

PS: If you’d like to preview an arrangement from Double the O’Carolan Tunes, I’ll send you a PDF copy of Carolan’s Welcome. It’s yours when you join my list. Thanks!

PPS: And if you’re wondering how I arrange these tunes for double-strung harp, guess what? I’ve got a new book in the works about this… stay tuned for articles, videos, and more!

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Performance Video: Eleanor Plunkett/Fanny Power/John O’Connor (Turlough O’Carolan, arr. Shelhart)

I’ve been playing this set of tunes by Irish harper Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738), named for three of his patrons, for a long time. Eleanor Plunkett was my very first O’Carolan tune, and it still holds a special place in my heart.

Recorded in April 2021 at St. John’s United Church, Chesterton IN, for the 2021 Gebhard Woods Dulcimer and Traditional Music Festival.

Learn more at http://www.gebharddulcimer.org/

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Year 30 starts today

Double-Strung Harp Day

Can you believe it? 29 years ago, on September 7, 1992, I picked up my first double-strung harp at the Fox River Valley Folk Festival in Geneva IL. (That’s why I always celebrate September 7 as Double-Strung Harp Day.)

So… not only have I performed, recorded, arranged, composed, & taught double-strung harp for 29 years… today also begins YEAR 30! I’ve got big plans in store, and I’ll start by telling you about a couple of new additions to Harp Central.

New harp: Hi, I’m Dunstan

On May 19, my awesome new Double Morgan Meghan harp arrived from Rees Harps. It’s a 27×2 double-strung harp, which means it has 27 strings in each string row (that’s 54 strings, for those of you keeping score at home). It’s technically a lap harp, but has a big, warm voice. (Videos coming soon!)

The harp body’s made of cherry wood, and the soundboard is poplar with a maple veneer. The most eye-catching part is the custom soundboard, handpainted and handgilded (yes, it’s real gold leaf!) by Rees Harps’ own Garen Rees. Garen and I came up with the design from photos of medieval churches, and this Westminster Abbey holiday ornament (inspired by the Abbey’s triforium windows).

Why Dunstan? May 19, the day my harp arrived, is also the feast day of St. Dunstan of Canterbury (924-988). Among other things, St. Dunstan helped found St. Peter’s Abbey—the beginning of Westminster Abbey—and HE PLAYED THE HARP.

For real. And I’d never heard of this guy before.

So it all adds up: Harp delivery date on the feast day of a harp-playing saint? The Westminster Abbey connections? You know I had to name that harp Dunstan. You’ll see and hear Dunstan in upcoming videos!

New book coming soon

Preview cover for Double the O’Carolan Tunes book

The next book in the Double Dozen arrangement series is… Double the O’Carolan Tunes!

Stay tuned for more information in my next post. And if you want to be the first to know about the new book, make sure to sign up for my mailing list.

Cheers!
-Cindy

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She’s leaving home

The first harpist who made a big impression on me, years before my first harp lesson? And maybe the first modern inspiration for the double-strung harp? This woman.

Harpist Sheila Bromberg, who played on “She’s Leaving Home” on The Beatles’ 1967 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, has died at 92. Among her many achievements, she was the first female musician to appear on a Beatles record.

Recording engineers created the “doubling” effect for the iconic track’s introduction from Bromberg’s first take on the March 17, 1967 session. This video tells the great story of the Abbey Road recording session, and also features a talk show with Bromberg and Sir Ringo Starr—as they met for the first time.

Thanks, Sheila. Safe journeys.

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Success and sources

Thanks to everyone at the Gebhard Woods Dulcimer & Traditional Music Festival for a great weekend! I enjoyed teaching two Zoom harp workshops (well done, harpers!) and the live chat during my prerecorded concert set.

As promised to my Fit for a Queen workshop, here are some of my favorite sources for English country dance tunes. Which sources – and which tunes – are *your* favorites? Let me know in the comments!

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It’s festival time!

Finally! Excited to return as the harp headliner at the 2021 Gebhard Woods Dulcimer & Traditional Music – yes, they have harp! This year’s virtual festival is free, with no registration needed.

My concert and both workshops are all on Sunday, June 13, 2021. The harp workshops are for *all* lever harps (key of G tuning); be sure to download handout PDFs before the workshops . I’ll feature the double-strung harp in my concert set.

My Sunday, June 13 GWDF concert and harp workshops (all times US Central):

  • 1:00 PM: Workshop: Flora & Fauna: Outdoor Tunes for Indoor Harpers.
  • 2:30 PM: Main Stage double-strung harp concert set (prerecorded).
  • 4:00 PM: Workshop: Fit for a Queen: English Country Dances for Lever Harp.

GWDF Festival Home Page: http://www.gebharddulcimer.org/2021
GWDF Facebook and Insta: @gebhardwoodsdulcimerfest

The Festival Home Page is the hub for all GWDF activities, including my concert set and workshop links. You’ll need Zoom technology to participate in the Main Stage, Workshops, and Community Tent.

Zoom Workshops: access via the GWDF Festival Home Page. The Zoom link for each workshop will appear ca. 10 minutes before the hour, and you can join the workshop until 10 minutes after the hour. You’ll also need a camera and microphone on your device for workshops.Download harp workshop PDF handouts, and the workshop schedule, on the GWDF workshops page: http://www.gebharddulcimer.org/workshops-2021

GWDF performance schedule page: http://www.gebharddulcimer.org/concert-schedule-2021

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Welcome to Double Talk!

Welcome to Double Talk, my new blog on double-strung harp! I can’t wait to share more about double harp – its repertoire, techniques, history, and more, with video, audio, and articles.

Today is a great day to launch the blog, because March 1 is St. David’s Day, the national day of Wales – and the Welsh triple harp is the direct ancestor of the modern double-strung harp. This Google Doodle from 2017 shows a Welsh triple harpist in traditional dress, in a field of daffodils:

And to celebrate today’s launch, here’s a video of my arrangement & performance of a traditional Welsh air, The Queen’s Dream (Breuddwyd Y Frenhines):

Cindy (Cynthia) Shelhart plays The Queen’s Dream on a Dusty Strings FH26 double-strung harp.

If you’d like to play this arrangement yourself, the sheet music PDF is available at https://cynthiashelhart.com/product/the-queens-dream-pdf/ .

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus! (Happy St. David’s Day!)