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Harp Symposium 2020 – Irish Harp By Note, Rote & Reason

Irish Harp by Note, Rote & Reason

An exploration of Irish Harp Teaching Methods

Sunday 1 March 2020, 9:15am to 5pm

Ulster University, York Street, Belfast

This symposium is intended to stimulate debate and exploration of the three prevalent methods of learning Irish / small / folk / Celtic harp in Ireland today. These may be categorised as: by ‘note’ (as from the literacy-lead ‘classical’ tradition), by ‘rote’ (as the oral/aural method reproducing pre-arranged traditional music) and by ‘reason’ (an oral/aural organic method producing spontaneous and improvised traditional music). All of these styles of teaching (and playing) have contributed to the thriving environment of Irish harping – but the oral/aural teaching of the harp and the resulting skills of the students vary significantly from teacher to teacher, almost all of whom are teaching intuitively or from their own experience rather than from any form of established pedagogy. This symposium will discuss the merits of all three methods and offer the teachers a forum to learn from each other and to consider a combined pedagogy for Irish harping going forward.


9:15 Registration

9:45 Welcome and Introduction

10:00 Keynote Address by Dr. Janet Harbison “Irish Harp by Note, Rote and Reason

10:45 Break

11:15 Guest Speakers:

Denise Kelly McDonnell, TU Dublin Conservatoire: “Irish Harping From a Classical Perspective”

Áine Ní Dhubhghaill, Royal Irish Academy of Music: “The Development of the Royal Irish Academy of Music Harp Syllabus”

Patrick Davey, Examiner, London College of Music: “On Notations for Traditional Music Teaching”

Dr. Liz Doherty, Specialist in Tradional Irish Music: “Towards a Traditional Music Pedagogy”

1:00 LUNCH

2:00 Harp Teaching Demonstrations

Denise Kelly McDonnell: Learning ‘by note’

Lucy Birch: Learning ‘by rote’

Janet Harbison: Learning ‘by reason’

3:30 Tea and Forum - Chaired by Aibhlín McCrann, Cruit Éireann, Harp Ireland



01 Mar 2023  9:15 am - 5:00 pm


Belfast, Co Antrim,