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classes, harps, and snow oh my!

Bangor, United Kingdom

It snowed today! This next week is supposed to be the most snowfall in Bangor in the past forty-five years...I'm pretty excited (I never ever see snow in February!).
Today is also the start of my second week of classes, so maybe I'll be able to make sense of Practical Music Technology and start playing with recording this week. Also I've been reading for the History of Punk Rock and the theories behind the movement are really interesting. Apparently the reason punk was so huge and raw in the UK was on account of a recession in the economy giving teenagers little or no chance of employment. Punk Rock provided an outlet for shocking the public into remembering how futile their values and futures were. Kinda depressing. This, and too much leisure time, is why punk rock fashion is so intense, according to Peter Wicke in his book "Rock Music: Culture, Aesthetics, and Sociology."
Our professor brought a sword to my Intro to Medieval Literature class and then proceeded to rant about how Beowulf was such a masterpiece, so I'm going to love that class. Arthurian Literature is equally fun--I started T.H. White's "The Once and Future King" and have been enjoying it. I hope I enjoy Malory as much...

On Saturday I had a truly Welsh cultural experience! I went to a traditional Welsh music workshop to meet harpists (and play!) and as soon as I walked in I realized that not only was I the only American there, I was one of the very very few who did not speak Welsh. Thus, all of the group announcements were in Welsh, and the performances at the end of the day were entirely explained in Welsh, so I had no idea what was going on for about half of the day. Fortunately the harp lessons were in English.
The harp instructor, Elin, is Welsh and plays the triple strung harp. She has played for Bill Clinton! She doesn't really read music and teaches by ear like all traditional Celtic instructors. She explained that she prefers learning and teaching by ear because notes and meter are too restrictive, and you should be improvising and embellishing as with tradition anyway. She also let me play on her triple harp (this is super exciting!) and it is kind of like staring at an M. C. Escher drawing without your glasses on. Her harp, particularly, was difficult, as some of the coloring on the C and F strings had totally faded so most of the strings were white, and in the middle C octave for the right hand both the G and the F were black strings (usually only the F strings are black) so it was extremely difficult to differentiate the notes! She said she just doesn't look at the strings anymore. I wish I had that luxury! (I expect that all of you understood that rant after my extensive (unasked for) tutelage of harp construction!)
So...with every different kind of harp there are new tools you suddenly have at your disposal. With a lever harp you can easily have only one accidental, say in the upper octave, and immediately play a chord without that accidental. With the pedal harp chromaticism is much much easier, and you can do cool things like pedal slides and glissandos. With triple strung harps you have three rows of strings: on either side the rows are exactly the same diatonic collection, while the middle row contains the chromatic notes (like the black keys on a piano).
Here is a picture! http://www.marytriola.com/pics/TripleStrings.jpg
This means that you can play the same diatonic thing at the same time in the same range. Or you can do this really cool echo-y thing by playing the notes of a melody in your right hand, and playing the same notes in the same octave with your left hand but slightly off beat. AWESOME.

My flat started a really cool tradition last Sunday. Georgina, who was here last semester and actually knows what is going on, cooked us traditional English hot pot and ginger snaps, which were amazing. We decided to make Sunday nights Cultural Dinner night, and we would take turns cooking! Last night Freddy, who was born in Ecuador but moved to Chicago in middle school, couldn't decide between Ecuadorian food or American food, but ran out of time so he cooked pasta with two different sauces and made broccoli, and served fruit salad and chocolate cake for desert (his cooking was super fancy and we're a little worried that he raised the bar too high!). Next week we're going to have German currywurst (?) which should be fun.


permalink written by  outlawedwings on February 2, 2009 from Bangor, United Kingdom
from the travel blog: triple_strung_heart
tagged Dinner, TripleStrungHarps, WelshMusic and PunkRock

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Great post, Stephanie. I didn't understand a lot of the harp details, but I get the gist. Punk rock is really interesting. There's another (classic) good book about this by Dick Hebdige called the Subculture: The Meaning of Style. It's worth a look!

permalink written by  Kim Smith on February 13, 2009

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