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Scottish Harp Society of America
Travel Scholarship to Scotland 2023

Tiffany Schaefer's Travel Blog

Hello everyone, welcome to our new members and I hope you enjoy following the blog for the next 2+ weeks!

Day 1, September 25:

We arrived in Edinburgh around 9 this morning (though of course it felt like 4 am for us!), after a rather eventful layover.

To make a long story somewhat short, our flight from Cleveland to Boston was a bit delayed, which shaved down our 2 hour layover significantly. By the time we reached Boston, we were told we'd have just enough time to either 1) run down to the gate on foot and go through another round of security, or 2) wait another 10 or so minutes for the next bus to our gate, and skip security. Either way would cut it close, but should be fine. We opted for # 2!

The bus arrived and dropped us and a few other Scotland-bound passengers at the door. We all rushed to enter but were stopped with no explanation, while the employee who rushed past us and locked the door behind him looked at us through the windows motioning "1 minute." This went on for about 10 minutes, at which time they finally let us through to try and catch our 9:10pm flight - at 8:56pm.

This may have been fine except for the fact it was stressed to us our flight would close boarding at 9, and the bus had in fact brought us no where near the gate we needed.

Thus followed what probably looked like a comical chase of about 4-5 people desperately running to the other side of the airport. Spoiler alert: we made it, landed safely and picked up my rental harp from the Clarsach Society today who were very helpful!

All that aside, tomorrow my traveling companion (the ever implacable harp husband Jonathan) and I drive to Glasgow for my first harp lesson of the trip with Gillian Fleetwood, and then a Gàidhlig song lesson with Joy Dunlop.

Many thanks to SHSA for helping to make this trip a reality. More to come!


Day 2, September 26

Hàlo a chàirdean! Tha sinn ann an Glaschu an-diugh.

Hello friends! We are in Glasgow today.

After some much-needed sleep, we made the drive from Edinburgh to Glasgow where I met with the charming Gillian Fleetwood, whom I haven't seen in person since OSAS 2018! It was wonderful to catch up a bit, meet her adorable little boy, and learn one of her brilliant compositions, Drawing Room (Gillian's new book will be officially published soon, so all harpers take note!). During our lesson, we discussed that there comes a point in our musical journeys when one should forget about all the rules of harmony and theory knowledge, and just throw something at the proverbial wall and see what sticks...that includes throwing in some unorthodox lever chages! I'm excited to play around more with this "permission" to be free.

We had lunch at the Willow Tea Rooms (thank you Debra Ramsey for the recommendation!) and of course had to take away some treats: fruit scone with clotted cream and jam , iced gingerbread, and shortbread.

In the afternoon I had a fantastic Gàidhlig song lesson with Joy Dunlop, a Scottish Gàidhlig singer and speaker. I have been taking Gàidhlig lessons since May of this year, (and sticking with Duolingo since February), but I've loved Gàidhlig song for years.

For those who might be unfamiliar, Gàidhlig is one of the four official languages of Scotland (the other three being British Sign Language, English, and Scots - you've heard Scots before, surely..."it's a braw, bricht moonlicht nicht the nicht" - ye ken?). It shares ancestry with the Irish and Manx Gaelic languages (whereas the Scots language shares ancestry with English - both having branched off from Old English). The stats say that only 1% of Scotland speaks Gàidhlig, but it is a beautiful language nonetheless, and the songs can't be beat.

Joy taught me two dance songs, I bhì à dà, and a jig, Fear a bhios fada gun phòsadh. These are both from the puirt à beul (literally "songs from the mouth" aka mouth music) tradition, which are dance tunes traditionally sung acapella. When you don't have a fiddle, harp or pipes handy - the dancers can still dance! Thus, the main thing with these songs is to bring the rhythms and tunes to the forefront, so the lyrics don't tend to be very profound and ornamentation is not shoehorned in; and if the singer needs to take a breath, they're free to drop a syllable!

Hence you have lyrics which translate to, for example:

- I like potatoes and butter! ('S toigh leam fhin buntàta s ìm)

Or today's songs...

- How will my little girl dance a reel with a couple in her way? (Ciamar a ruidhleas mo nighean 's dithis anns rathad oirre?)

- On a man who is late in marrying, grass and heather and moorland plants will grow (Fear a bhios fada gun phòsadh, fàsaidh feur is fraoch is fireach air)

It was pleasure to meet Joy and get some expert tips on pronunciation, where to stress vowels and dynamics and where to breath in faster songs. We then checked into our hotel, went for a lovely walk by the River Clyde, and got some dinner. I have to say we've been very happy with our restaurant choices so far. I'm about ready to petition for Cleveland to get a Nando's PERi-PERi.

Tomorrow we head up to Glenfinnan for two lessons with Ingrid Henderson!

Willow Tea Room 4.jpg

Day 3, September 27

Today we left our Glasgow hotel, and made the trek up to Glenfinnan. We were a bit worried about catching storm Agnes, but she stayed out of our way. We hope everyone southwest is staying safe!

The drive took us through Loch Lomond national park and we marveled at the misty mountains. Since we saw an easy turning off point in Tarbet, we decided to stop and are so glad we did. A piper was just beginning to play as he prepared to take the next crowd down to the boats to cruise the loch. I was happy to recognize most of his tunes! We got some chai and shortbread at the Bonnie and Ben Cafe and took lots of pictures.

The road took us through several other lochs before we reached the Highlands proper...and oh the mountains are just something otherworldy. What a beautiful drive, so unlike anything at home or even the mountains of New England. It's enough to make one cry (I might have).

We arrived at our destination and were warmly greeted by Ingrid Henderson who had come out in the rain to let us in her lovely Glenfinnan studio. I enjoyed my first lesson with Ingrid very much. We seemed to be on the same page about several things, and she gave me loads of accompaniment & ornamentation ideas. The tunes we worked on today were Àiridh Nam Badan, a 17th century jig from the Patrick McDonald Collection, Bodaich Beag Abriathachain, and Stirling Castle (Strathspeys). I'm excited to go back tomorrow for another lesson focusing on self-accompanied singing.

Now I'm practicing in the shed of this lovely B&B, and a little (read: huge) spider has come to listen!

More tomorrow. Oidhche mhath/goodnight!


Day 4, September 28

This morning I had one more great lesson with Ingrid Henderson. We discussed accompaniment ideas for the two Gàidhlig songs I learned with Joy Dunlop on Tuesday. Takeaway: I need to practice more 7th chords. Afterwards Ingrid kindly made a quick video with me, which I'll try and post tomorrow since the internet is slow here in Dornie.

The rest of the day was for sight-seeing, as it also happens to be our 10th wedding anniversary! We went to Eilean Donan Castle. I've wanted to go there for years and it was surreal to play in front of it (because you know I had to take the harp out! Video here.) The castle lies within the parish of Kintail, and after seeing numerous references to Kintail inside, I knew that's what I had to play.

Théid mi dhachaidh hi ro dhachaidh

Théid mi dhachaidh chrò Chin t-Sàile

I will go home

I will go home to the cattle-fold of Kintail.

After seeing these mountains anyone can begin to understand why the composer would wish to go home.

We headed down the road to our B&B for the night, and cannot get over the views right in the back yard. I said hello to some friendly horses. Fish & chips for dinner.

Tomorrow we will spend the morning on the Isle of Skye before we head to Cromarty Harp Village for the weekend to take classes from Corrina Hewat, Jennifer Port and Emma Wright.

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Day 5, September 29

What a day! We left our lovely B&B in Dornie after chatting over a nice breakfast with the other patrons, and headed to Skye. This was the first day we've really had to deal with a heavier rain and wind - but we did manage to make it up the path to Castle Moil no worse for wear, albeit a bit soaked. Guys don't walk on the black rocks, ok? They're slippery. I found out for you.

We drove further in, to the town of Broadford, visited the gift shops and had lunch. Then on to Cromarty Harp Village!

The only issue with renting an EV is being at the mercy of charging stations where we can find them - and hoping they work! We made a pit stop in Dingwall to charge and found of couple of books at the little bookshop then finished our drive to Cromarty. It was a beautiful drive, and the sun had finally come out.

Cromarty is absolutely gorgeous. I had been to this retreat during 2020 when it was on Zoom, and it feels like an honor to be here in person on the first year back from the pandemic. We began the evening with introductions, dinner, and several wonderful stories told by Heather Yule. Then up to the loft room for talking and harping and whatever the Scottish equivalent of shenanigans are. Looking forward to classes and sessions tomorrow!


Day 6, Sept 30

How is it already the end of the week?? It's been a whirlwind trip, but every day has been fantastic. Today was the first full day at Cromarty Harp Village. The advanced class was taught the Peerie Starling by Corrina (takeaway....more 7ths), Glenlivet and Road to the Isles by Jennifer, and Pomababy Reel by Emma.

Cromarty is such a lovely village. The weather has been nice enough to take walks today. Did I mention there's a bakery? AND a cheese shop?

After dinner there was a beautiful and inspiring set by Freya Thomson, who is launching her new book "Release."

The session started a bit before 9pm and is still ongoing as I write this at 11! More tomorrow.


Day 7, October 1

Tha mo cheann na bhrochan.

This is a Gàidhlig phrase which Emma shared with us meaning "my head's full of porridge." A fitting phrase for a second full day of classes after a late night session.

We finished the weekend by learning Transition by Jennifer Port, a pretty Si Beag Si Mhor duet from Emma Wright, and Harp Tribe from Corrina Hewat, which she composed after OSAS last summer. So special!

Rain threatened all morning, but had stopped long enough at lunchtime for a harp photo op by the shoreline. Jennifer gave me some background on my rental harp, which was kindly donated to the Clarsach Society by Joy Mort's husband after she passed away. It's been a reliable harp this week!

In the late afternoon all classes came together for a time of sharing tunes we had learned. All weekend I kept thinking how like OSAS this was (but instead of every other harp being a Kemper, it's Starfish!). How lucky we are to have a similar festival in Ohio?

Thank you to our fabulous tutors this weekend! As we drove away, we were greeted by sunbeams. Tomorrow, we visit Culloden (and hopefully a quick stop at the Kelpies in Falkirk) before spending the coming week in Edinburgh.


Day 8, October 2

There may still be some porridge in my head, but today was mainly a harp-free day, and a new adventure.

We spent the night in a very cozy glamping pod on Kinchyle Farm. No doubt this was glamping - with hot water, internet and updated washrooms. The view both at night and in the morning was stunning. This put us close to our morning destination of Culloden Moor, where the Jacobites took their last stand to reclaim the throne and were defeated in 1746. It was interesting to walk through the museum and learn more about such a pivotal moment in Scottish history, and to see the site which is referenced in many songs. Along the moor there are stones honoring the different clans and the soldiers that died, leading to a large cairn commemorating the battle.

OH! And we finally saw a hairy highland coo.

Of note during the trip, at one point we crossed the River Spey and could see Ruthven Barracks, also used by the Jacobites at one point.

We had a beautiful drive all the way back down to Edinburgh, where we had just enough time to check into our air b&b (with a friendly host and his very good doggo to greet us) and freshen up. We then met up with Rachel Hair and Elinor Evans for a delicious Indian dinner! It was so good to catch up with Rachel, and to meet Ellie for the first time.

Grateful to be in the same place for more than 2 nights! Tomorrow is the first of 3 lessons with Karen Marshalsay.


Day 9, October 3

My writer husband and I have often found similarities between writing fiction and arranging for harp. Today after my lesson, we were discussing different types of writing. Certain writers craft prose in such a way as to make the reader say "well, that was an interesting sentence." The reader isn't necessarily looking out the window into a new world, they are admiring the "window dressing." Other writers prefer that their individual words fade away, allowing the reader to look through the "window" of the text, focusing solely on the story itself. The words and writing style never distract from the story.

This is exactly what Karen Marshalsay and I talked about today, translated to harp.

Besides learning new - to me, actually quite old - ornamentation, downward rolled chords, and other bits and pieces that make things sound traditional, she took me through one of my arrangements and pointed out places where I could use better phrasing, different ornaments and perhaps less in the left hand so as not to lose the tune itself.

After many years of desperately trying not to be "boring" in my harp arrangements and trying to sound like other people, stripping things down in this way has been challenging and interesting, as have Karen's pointed (though kind) questions!

"Are you playing a tune, or a harp arrangement?"

Are you focusing on the individual words, or shining the light on the story itself?

3 hours sped by, and I am looking forward to tomorrow for more of the same.

*Photo of Topping & Company Booksellers, Edinburgh


Day 10, October 4

You can tell we've settled in one spot as there are fewer pictures!

Today, Karen and I went over more exercises for ornamentation, and she walked me through how one might accompany a strathspey in a more traditional, tune-forward style. I was fascinated to learn that Alison Kinnaird, Karen's teacher, was one of the pioneers for harpers playing dance tunes, which up to that point had been left to fiddles and pipes. Before Alison took the initiative in the 60s, harps were mainly used to accompany Gaelic song, in a rather "harpy" way. So...thank you Alison!

After lessons today we walked around the streets of Edinburgh for lunch, some gift shopping, book shopping, and bakery shopping!

Tonight will probably be a quiet night in with our host Craig and his very cute dog Fergie. Tomorrow is an off day for sight-seeing.


Day 11, October 5

Well, not much of a blog post today I'm afraid. Instead of shopping at Grassmarket as planned, I sent the harp husband shopping for tests, tissues and soup. It has been a beautiful trip so far and I hope we are able to continue it.  Thankful most of my lessons are done (and to Karen for the extra covid tests, fingers crossed it's negative)...time will tell!


Day 12, October 6

Unfortunately those two lines showed up on the test this morning.

Karen and I will schedule a zoom lesson for when I get home to round off our time together. Currently we are working on canceling our train tickets to England, where I was going to meet up with a guitar friend and a long time harp patron.

In spite of this unceremonious end, I have had the best time! Many thanks for SHSA for sponsoring these excellent lessons. We already know we have to come back sometime!


Today I had my final lesson with Karen, over Zoom! It's nice to have my harp back for this one. We talked through more ornamentation, and ways to bring out the tune with the left hand. The way Karen adds subtle damping techniques to a melody reminds me of adding punctuation and emphasis to a sentence - ensuring you're not speaking in a monotone voice. It's quite something.

For our members who get the Kilt & Harp newsletter, I'll be writing up more about my learning experiences and publishing an arrangement soon.

Also, as promised, I'm attaching a quick video I made with Ingrid Henderson up in Glenfinnan. Once again, this has been a magnificent experience. Love to all!

*PS here is a video of the arrangement I was required to write as part of my scholarship; Bodaich Beag Abriachain.

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