Greetings, fellow travelers! I now return rather belatedly to the series of adventures I had in Scotland and Italy last summer. (My excuse is that everything, including life, was put on hold while I concentrated last year solely on our harp guitar exhibit, catalog, and October festival, not to mention releasing a 25 track CD). For those just joining me, feel free to start the journey here. We now pick up again in Scotland after the AMIS (American Musical Instrument Society) banquet on Saturday night.
For Sunday, I planned to spend most of the morning and day at AMIS, while unbeknownst to me my wife Jaci set out on her own quest, a longtime secret fantasy – trying to get me into a kilt.
She headed straight to the largest Tartan weaving center in Scotland (near the castle). Though the workers were off for the weekend, there were 15-20 looms on display with different patterns.
I do like the matching family duds. But no, if you’re wondering…she resisted temptation and I dodged a bullet, remaining blissfully kilt-less. I mean, really – it’d be like Jerry Lewis in an episode of Outlander.
Afterward, Jaci spent the day at Edinburgh Castle, which I was loathe to miss, but we did see it 14 years ago.
Replicas of embroidery by then-imprisoned Mary Queen of Scots
The Great Hall
Meanwhile, I headed to the AMIS activities at Reid Concert Hall (where the musical instrument museum was originally located), to put in final silent auction bids on a slew of rare and obscure books donated by members. I would not get away cheap, but I did come away with 7 of the 14 I was hoping for.
I next took in the paper sessions on stringed instruments, including:
Tsan-Huang Tsai explaining the two very different paths of the 7-string qin – one in China’s cultural revolution and another in Taiwan’s cultural renaissance. You didn’t know about that, did you? (me either)
This was followed by Stewart Carter’s “Images from the Mogao Grottoes” (Buddhist paintings). Then Ulrich Morgenstern explained the gudok, a Russian bowed lute (pictured is his reproduction).
Lastly, we were all captivated (I was blown away) by a harp I was completely unfamiliar with: the Norwegian Krogharpe. Musician/scholar Nancy Thym explained how the perfect “V” of the two similar sides (they are both hollow soundboxes) made little sense until she deduced how it was actually held and played.
Crazy, right? Well, play it she did. Here’s a crude iPhone video I shot. Before she is joined by her husband Thilo Viehrig on the rebec (which he built), listen to the unearthly, primitive sound of the steel strings buzzing against the large brays. Yes, “Krogharpe” is not only a great name for a “Prog Rock” band but would be a great instrument in one!
The entire instrument, including the wonderful sea serpent head, was copied from a museum instrument. She went into its relationship to medieval harps in Scotland, Ireland, and Siberia, with a convincing theory (to me) of how it may have actually evolved into those (the shoulder and hands switching positions). But don’t quote me.
The buzzing bray inserts
After lunch, I migrated over to the museum’s new location in St. Cecelia’s Hall to take in the fully revamped exhibits. Just before lunch, I had picked up a CD by the museum’s resident Early Guitar & Lutes historical player, Gordon Ferries…
…whom I immediately stumbled upon in a display gallery, practicing for his afternoon demonstration on two exquisite instruments from the collection. This is a beautiful Lacote.
While he gamely attempted to practice, I circled him snapping photos, chatting him up all the while.
Eventually, I left him to his work, enjoying a private concert as I took in the room. I’d seen or known of, most of the plucked strings. This is their Lacote decacorde, a unique and important harp guitar variant. I didn’t love it on display sans strings, so was glad to learn that they are restoring it, with my friend Daniel Wheeldon recreating missing components.
Mandolins and Guittar variants
This was a showpiece in their previous location, and is again here, in the center of the room: a magnificent contrabass serpent, the only one known and the approximate size of an actual anaconda.
Another center case with similarly tall theorbos
Bowed strings and bagpipes
Storage drawers beneath the displays contain additional pull-out displays. I can’t quite make him out, but I believe that’s James Kopp poking around for more bassoons.
The early keyboards are arranged in two long rooms.
The more I learn, the more I love learning – and obsessing – over these incredible creations.
The hands-on demonstrations were now beginning, and hearing the unique sound of some of these instruments is something I never miss.
I then ran downstairs to catch Gordon’s show & tell & listen. Here he’s playing their best Panormo.
I took in a couple more papers (harpsichord, brass) before heading off to meet Jaci at the restaurant Doric (the shot above is my bus ride over there). This was at the insistence of friend Frank Doucette, who is never wrong about such things. (Vegans, cover your ears) We had tremendous lamb and pheasant, and here I would like everyone to sing as drunkenly loud and fast as you can this Scottish classic (I didn’t make this up): “I’m not a pheasant plucker, I’m a pheasant plucker’s friend; I’m only plucking pheasants as a means unto an end!”)
We then made it back to St. C just in time for a special concert by Il Rossignolo, “one of the finest young Italian groups of early music.” Playing difficult period instruments, including the museum’s Jacob Kirckman harpsichord above, these guys were beyond any other Early Music group I’ve had the pleasure of hearing. As absolutely expressive and musical as it gets, and what blew my mind was how incredibly tight they were no matter how ridiculously difficult the timing and phrasing became. Inspiring and humbling…from my own musical vantage point, it was like watching a different species. Thanks to whoever arranged that for us!