TUAMGRANEY Harp Festival returns in full bloom this weekend and final preparations are being made.
Artistic Director and harper, Fiana Ni Chonaill is at the helm with a dedicated committee behind her. “We are really excited to have such a wealth of talent coming to Tuamgraney,” she told The Champion. The Castleconnell native said she is honoured to take over from the esteemed founder Elisabeth Affolter. “LIzzie taught at the Harp School in Castleconnell and I met her there,” Fiana explained. “She was living in Tuamgraney and got me interested in the harp festival. I studied Music at the University of Limerick (UL). That’s my musical home and it’s lovely to be back so close to it.”
The pandemic meant that the festival had to be cancelled in 2020 and it ran online in 2021. This year, it is making a welcome return to venues around Tuamgraney, but will retain an online element. “It just wasn’t the same last year when we couldn’t meet and reconnect,” Fiana said. “At the same time, we had huge interest from all over the world when we were online. To cater for those people, we have retained an online element and that marks a new direction for the festival. The online sessions last year really showcased Tuamgraney and they might even inspire people to come and visit.”
Another central part of this year’s event will be the inclusion of harp makers who will share their craft and expertise. “When I was growing up and learning the harp, it was very difficult to get an Irish-made one,” said Fiana. “The craft has really been revived and it’s wonderful to have Brian Callan from Galway, Tim O’Carroll from Kerry and Kevin Harrington from Cork joining us. We will livestream the session with them too. It was really popular last year.”
Another special feature of this year’s event will be a special presentation to Lizzie Affolter and Fiana is keen to pay tribute to her dedicated committee.
“Lizzie has done so much to promote the harp and the festival,” Fiana said. “The committee are marvellous. They really have their fingers on the pulse. Manus McGuire was to be a patron, but he has really rolled up his sleeves and been a wonderful addition to the committee.”
As always, the festival’s opening and closing sessions will be among the highlights. Led by Clí Donnellan and Séamus Bugler. They take place at Nuala’s bar and Restaurant on Friday at 9pm and again on Sunday at 5pm.
The festival promises a feast of music and learning. Workshops begin on Saturday, May 14, with the first happening between 10.30am and 12.30pm. The workshop will be led by harpers Anne-Marie O’Farrell and Catriona McKay. Those intending to take part should have a minimum of two years playing experience. Registration will take place at 9.30am at Nuala’s Bar & Restaurant.
Concertina and fiddle workshops will also run.
For those who would like to know more about the skill in craft of building a harp, a number of experts will be on hand for a Q&A session from 2pm to 2.45pm at St Cronan’s.
Competitions take place between 3pm and 5pm in the stunning surroundings of St Cronan’s Cathedral. Solo harpers under the age of 18, and with a minimum of three years playing experience, will be put through their paces on one of Ireland’s oldest churches, where Brían Ború himself once walked. Ensembles of all ages, with between three and six members, may also compete. Competition organisers have said those participating are welcome to play their own choice of Celtic music for a minimum of five and maximum of eight minutes, performed continuously. They have also asked that competitors pay special attention to the selection of tunes, and efforts should be made to play tunes other than jigs, reels and hornpipes. Participants are encouraged to explore the music of other Celtic nations to provide as much variety as possible. Newly-composed tunes are welcome provided they stay in the traditional celtic style and an effort should be made to ensure that the harp is the central focus of the arrangement. Prizes include The Rita O’Dowd Perpetual Trophy.
The Saturday night concert, getting underway at 8pm at St Joseph’s Church, is set to be one of the highlights of the Ffestival. This year’s line-up includes Catriona McKay, Anne-Marie O’Farrell, Susan Ní Cholmáin, Rebecca Mc Carthy Kent, Manus McGuire and Mareka Naito, Music Generation Laois harp ensemble, Cieara Kilkenny Music and Alan Hogan.
The founder of the festival Elisabeth Affolter will be honoured with a special presentation on the night.
On Sunday, an online workshop takes place at 2pm. Niamh O’Brien will cover two tunes, ‘Spórt’ by Peadar O’ Riada, and the contemporary piece ‘Song of the Sea’, by Lisa Hannigan. Niamh will explore approaches to arrangement and provide tools which allow any harp player to arrange pieces themselves at home.
The ‘Minding Your Music’ workshop takes place from 3pm to 5pm, with Clí Donnellan. A PhD graduate, Clí will look at issues of anxiety around playing, particularly in public. Having experienced some struggles herself during her own musical journey, Clí began to research ways that could improve her own musical experience. In 2018 she completed a PhD in Philosophy through music. This body of research looked specifically at how we can enhance our connection to/and music expression thereby elevating our enjoyment and performance experience.
Playing our music at its best does not just involve good technical practice routines, it also involves developing good mind practices.
This workshop is suited to those over the age of 16, who have been playing music for a significant length of time, whether amateur or semi-professional. Some written exercises will form part of the workshop and there will also be some some practical musical exercises.
The festival will close with a session from 5pm to 7pm at Nuala’s. More details of all of the festival activities and events are available on Tuamgraneyharpfestival.ie.