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Sylvia Woods discusses her book "Teach Yourself to Play the Folk Harp"

BROADCAST: Sep. 2, 1982 | DURATION: 00:52:47

Synopsis

Syvia Woods, an American, and 1980 All Ireland Harp Competition winner sits down with Studs Terkel in a wonderful discussion on the history of the folk harp and plays a variety of selections. As a self taught folk harper, she has written a book "Teach Yourself to Play the Folk Harp" for the absolute beginner. She is known as a harper and not harpist because she doesn't play the orchestra harp. She also discusses her involvement musically in a documentary for PBS entitled "Chicago Secret Wilderness", produced by Mike Hirsh. The folk harp is also known as the celtic harp or Irish harp. It is much smaller than the orchestra harp at three feet. It has thirty two strings with no sharps or flats. The C string is colored red and the F blue to distinguish them. Turlough O'Carolan was a well known harper born in 1670 and died in 1738. Alan Stivell, Osian Ellis and Nansi Richards Jones, who recently passed away, are influential in this time. Woods has written a suite of her own entitled "The Brandiswhiere Suite" about a magical harper that can change winter to spring. The album will be out in November and also will have a book illustrated by Steve Duglas entitled "The Harp of Brandiswhiere: A Suite for Celtic Harp". It should be noted that many harps found in museums were discovered hidden in Irish soil because they were outlawed by the British government. There were also laws in Ireland that designated how many colors classes could wear. Peasants one, merchants six, Kings eight or nine and harpers seven or eight. Quite often, harpers, were advisors to Kings.

Transcript

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Studs Terkel Sylvia Woods, an American woman, has won the All-Ireland Harp Competition against participants the world over, including Irish, in mastering the Irish harp. She won the first prize in 1980 at the city of Buncrana in the County Donegal. And Sylvia Woods has written a book, a very marvelous book, on teaching yourself to play the, the folk harp, and we'll come to this in a moment, too, though she began playing the classical harp. And, so, today Sylvia Woods and music from the harp. The Irish harp. Of that in a moment, too. She's also done the music for a documentary you'll soon see on PBS on Channel 11 dealing with Chicago's secret wilderness, so in a moment we hear the harp after this

Harp Instrumental message. [Harp

Studs Terkel You know, watching your fingers go with that harp, first that melody, that song, is that in traditional folk?

Sylvia Woods That's a, a song by O'Carolan, who is probably the best known of the old harpers, and that's his biggest hit, which is called "Carolan's Concerto".

Studs Terkel How far back?

Sylvia Woods He lived 1670 to 1738.

Studs Terkel Now, he's where? Irish?

Sylvia Woods Yes. Ireland.

Studs Terkel You say the harp. This is not--this is smaller than--how can we describe it here in the studio? This is considerably smaller than the classical harp.

Sylvia Woods Yes. It's about three feet tall. It has 32 strings. Harps are tuned like the white notes on the piano. You don't have any black notes or any sharps or flats. The great big gold harps that you see in the orchestra have 50-some strings and they have pedals on the bottom that you can move to make sharps and flats, which is why they're called pedal harps, but on these we don't have sharps or flats, you--it's just like on the white notes on the piano. And another interesting thing about harps, all harps, is that they have colored strings. Cs are colored red and Fs are colored blue. This is standard on the big orchestra harps, too. Otherwise you'd never know where you were.

Studs Terkel This, this is called Irish harp?

Sylvia Woods Yeah, generally almost any small harp is called an Irish harp, unless it happens to be a South American harp. That's just kind of a general term that's used for these harps. They're called Irish harps, or Celtic or Celtic harps, or folk harps. The names are kind of interchangeable. In fact, there's a, a company in Japan that makes Irish harps, they call them Irish

Studs Terkel A company in Japan

Sylvia Woods [Laughing] That's right.

Studs Terkel That figures. So the, the harp itself, of course, is an ancient instrument. The, the ly -- I say when we say lyre, we're talking to a certain kind of harp.

Sylvia Woods Well, the basic difference between harps and lyres is that harps are basically triangular, and lyres are basically square or rectangular, and so that's the difference.

Studs Terkel And lyres are also smaller, isn't

Sylvia Woods Lyres are usually smaller, yes, but harps sometimes come the same size as lyres, so you have to do, make the distinction.

Studs Terkel So far back, it goes back to ancient.

Sylvia Woods Some people say, actually, that the harp is probably the first ancient stringed instrument and that it started from the bow and arrow, like when you let go of the arrow, it twangs, and so they kind of added more strings to their bows and that's

Studs Terkel how How did you, 'cause you won the Irish, All-Irish competition in the County Donegal in 1980, you're an American girl.

Sylvia Woods Right.

Studs Terkel How did that come about, you and the harp?

Sylvia Woods Well, I started when I was in college on the orchestra harp.

Studs Terkel As late as that.

Sylvia Woods Yep, I was 18 at the time, and then the last year I was in college my sister moved to Paris, and she sent me a record of a unknown harper whose name was Alan Stivell, who's now the best known harper in the world. But at that time--

Studs Terkel Why do you, pardon me, harper you say rather than harpist.

Sylvia Woods Ah yes, people that play the big orchestra harps are harpists, and people that play small harps are harpers, so I consider myself a harper now instead of a harpist.

Studs Terkel And so you heard Seville.

Sylvia Woods I heard Stivell, and he's very well known in Europe, he's kind of almost a rock superstar over there. He's from Brittany, and that was the first time I had heard any of the small harps and I fell madly in love and decided that's what I wanted to do. So that's how I got interested in it.

Studs Terkel Well, how about teaching? You had a teacher.

Sylvia Woods I had a teacher on the orchestra harp, but I had to teach myself Irish harps because--

Sylvia Woods Oh you're self taught then?

Sylvia Woods There were no teachers at the time and there were no books and very few records.

Studs Terkel So this is self-taught.

Sylvia Woods Yes, although a lot--most of the hand position and the technique and everything is, is the same as the orchestra harp.

Studs Terkel So you, you worked, I know we, we heard this folk tune, this traditional folk tune, and you, you play, you've written your own pieces for harp as well.

Sylvia Woods That's correct, yes.

Studs Terkel Well, what, well go ahead. What -- what comes to your fingers now?

Sylvia Woods Okay, well, the, the pieces that I have written are all part of a suite that has to do with a magical harper whose name was Brandiswhiere and he could do all sorts of amazingly wondrous things with his harp and one of the things that he could do was change winter to spring, which is very handy around this part of the world, I'm sure. So this is the piece that I wrote that Brandiswhiere uses to change the winter to spring.

Studs Terkel Now this is your story, too.

Sylvia Woods Right.

Harp Instrumental [Harp

Studs Terkel Beautiful. This is part of a suite.

Sylvia Woods Yes. It's, we've almost finished recording it, and so the album hopefully will be out in November sometime.

Studs Terkel Is there a harp following?

Sylvia Woods It's growing greatly. When I first got into it about 10 years ago, there were, I could find about two records and no books, and now there's, I don't know, at least 40 books that I know of. And I sell records from at least 15 different artists or groups that have Irish type harps in them, and it's definitely growing. Also, part of the problem used to be that you couldn't find a harp to buy, but there's now some very good harp makers, especially here in the States, mostly here in the States. And so they're becoming much more available and people are hearing them, and so it's--the renaissance is just beginning, so to speak. In the next 10 years you'll see a lot more of

Studs Terkel So 'cause you mentioned Stivell, a man from Brittany.

Sylvia Woods Right.

Studs Terkel As very popular among young, too, huh?

Sylvia Woods Especially in Europe, he's not that well-known here except in certain

Studs Terkel But the harp is--do you think--this Osian Ellis, the Welsh harp virtuoso--has he played a role in any of this?

Sylvia Woods Yes. Now the--in Wales things are different. In--the Welsh have a harpist called a Welsh triple-strung harp, that Wales is really about the only place it ever was played. It was invented in Italy, but it never caught on anywhere except Wales and became somewhat the national instrument of Wales, and it's a very difficult instrument to play and very strange. It has three complete rows of strings instead of only one like most harps. The woman in recent times who's the most well-known of the triple harp players name was Nansi Richards or Nansi Richards Jones, and she died a few years ago at the age of 92. She had learned from the gypsies when she was young, they used to come through and teach her, and--

Studs Terkel Traveling people.

Sylvia Woods Traveling, yep. The traveling gypsies in north part of Wales. And--but unfortunately the triple harp has almost died out. Osian plays and a few other people play, there's a great young folk group in Ireland called Ar Log, which means "rent a group" in Welsh and they have a triple harp and so they're trying to somewhat revive it, and I am one of the few people here in the States that plays triple harp, and I'm trying to revive it, too. We're getting some harp makers to start make them again so it doesn't totally die out because it's such an interesting, strange instrument.

Studs Terkel Since we've mentioned Wales, do you know "The Ash Grove"?

Sylvia Woods Sure! I'll be glad to play it for you.

Harp Instrumental [Harp

Studs Terkel Thank you. That's beautiful.

Sylvia Woods By the way, that's in my book, too, in my beginning book.

Studs Terkel Which requires that the book, this is a, a booklet, Teach Yourself to Play the Folk Harp, by Sylvia Woods, 1980 All-Ireland harp champion. And in this book you a little bit of the history I find very fascinating, which I've just, you know, a few moments ago looked through it, several pages here, brief history there, and then you have some of the scores of familiar songs: "The Grenadier" and "My Love is Like a Red Red Rose"--that Robert Burns? Yeah, it is. "Drink Only with Thine Eyes", of course, Ben Jonson poem put to music, "All Through the Night", we learned that in school, the lullaby, and "Allemande", a kind of dance, isn't it?

Sylvia Woods Mmm hmm. And there are some, some tunes in there that are very familiar and some that would be familiar in certain parts of the world or certain parts of the country, and some simplified classical pieces, so there -- I tried to put in something so that no matter what background someone came from, there would be some tunes in there they would

Studs Terkel So this is a learning, you, you break it down, how-to--

Sylvia Woods Yes,

Studs Terkel And using some of the familiar and very lovely songs. "Eileen Aroon" and some more "Wild Mountain Thyme" is in here, "Clair de Lune", "Cockles and Mussels", "Alive, Alive, Oh", "Johnny's Gone for a Soldier", the "Minuet".

Sylvia Woods Yeah, the book assumes that you don't know anything, you've never read music before, you've never played before.

Studs Terkel You mean from going through this one can learn elementary

Sylvia Woods Yes, it teaches, it teaches you how to read music and how to play. I've gotten hundreds of letters from people all over the country and even all over the world that, from people that have never played anything in their lives and don't have a teacher and they've made it through the book, so

Studs Terkel Well, I suppose we should, guess we should tell people I suppose how -- It's Teach Yourself to Play the Folk Harp by Sylvia Woods and a number of printings here, and it's post office box 29521, Los Angeles. 90029. Post P.O. Box 29521. That's the name Sylvia Woods, you know. Los Angeles, 90029.

Sylvia Woods That's right. Also, if--that address is good for anything, [laughing] anything having to do with harps. We also have a, a folk harp society for people that are interested in small harps, and there is a chapter in this area very small, but we're hoping that it will grow.

Studs Terkel Here in Chicago?

Sylvia Woods Yes, and we're getting chapters various places around the country. I was very surprised, we had our first chapter meeting in Los Angeles last year and we had 70 people show up, so we're real pleased with the way that it's going.

Studs Terkel So this is interesting, the time of higher and higher technology, it seems there's a counter movement of--

Sylvia Woods Back to simplicity.

Studs Terkel In your home or a friend's home or, like, chamber music groups were popular, as are in some quarters. The harp. Do you know, since we mentioned Osian Ellis and you played "Ash Grove", isn't there a Welsh form called penillion?

Sylvia Woods Yes.

Studs Terkel And that is what, is singing one tune?

Sylvia Woods Yes. The, the, well, it's kind of changed over the years. The way it is now, the harp player plays a familiar tune such as "The Ash Grove", and they just play it straight, and then the singer or the poet has to sing over that, singing a totally different tune. It used to be spontaneous, ad lib so to speak. They would have big competitions and just at the very last minute, the contestant would be told what the subject was they had to sing about and what the tune the harp would be playing, and they would have to just make it up as they went along, and there's, like, millions of rules. For instance, you can't end a phrase at the same time that the harp does, and you can't do this and you can't do that, and you can't be singing the same notes at the same time, and it--but unfortunately it's kind of degenerated from there now, it's not nearly as, as hard as it used to

Studs Terkel But Osian Ellis did the whole thing. He

Sylvia Woods Oh he's incredible.

Studs Terkel He played "Ash Grove" and then sang something else against it, he did both.

Sylvia Woods Right. Yes, it's, it's very interesting. I was in Wales a few years ago and went to the Eisteddfod, which is the--

Studs Terkel That's

Sylvia Woods Big competition, and, and heard, heard quite a bit of it, and--

Studs Terkel Did you take part in the Eisteddfod?

Sylvia Woods No, I didn't.

Studs Terkel That's Welsh people only? No.

Sylvia Woods No. There, well, there is actually two every summer. One of them is basically just Welsh, and then the other one is an international one, and people come from all over the world.

Studs Terkel That's right. There is an album I have somewhere. What is--Sylvia Woods is my guest. Let's try one from the book.

Sylvia Woods Okay.

Studs Terkel Any one. I'll just, shall

Sylvia Woods How about the "Wild Mountain

Studs Terkel I like that.

Harp Instrumental [Harp music playing]

Studs Terkel Go Lassie, go.

Sylvia Woods Yep.

Studs Terkel "Wild Mountain Thyme". You taught yourself, this is the part I, I, that is so, you know, fascinating.

Sylvia Woods Well, there, especially when I started, there was a great lack of teachers. It's not hard to find an orchestra harp teacher for the large harps. But there was nobody that I could find that even played the small harp. In fact, the renaissance here is much further advanced than in Ireland. In Ireland, there still are no teachers. In fact, I go over there once a year to teach, because it's really hard to find teachers. I go and teach for two weeks in Buncrana every summer. And

Studs Terkel Who are your students?

Sylvia Woods Well, most of them are kids from around Buncrana. Part of the problem is they don't have harps, which makes it very difficult. The harp is actually the national symbol of Ireland, but you don't see very many of them around anymore, and it's just starting to be

Studs Terkel You know, it's used as a name that's pejorative. You know, the nick--you know, people called by names, you know, Italians are called names and Swedes are called names, and Jews, and Irish sometimes are res--he's a harp. You know. So the word harp is associated.

Sylvia Woods Definitely. There--it's on--the post office has a harp on the front and all their coins have harps on the back. The phone booths all have harps on them,

Studs Terkel Didn't the harp become a subversive instrument at one time, too?

Sylvia Woods Oh, the British government from time to time used to outlaw it and hang all the harpers and burn the harps and things, so most of the harps that we have in the museums, the old harps had been buried in order to preserve them and every, you know, every once in a while one of the farmers will be farming and hit something and it happens to be a harp or something. And so, but most of them that are in

Studs Terkel Like a buried weapon.

Sylvia Woods That's right. They had to hide them at several different times during the history or they would have been destroyed, because the harpers really did kind of incite the people to riot, so to speak. They were the ones that were really carrying on the tradition and they would sing and they would sing the songs that would get the people

Studs Terkel Is there an earl--would you know--this is asking too much probably. You know one of those early Irish songs?

Sylvia Woods No, not really. I don't--

Studs Terkel Seventeen eighty-nine--

Sylvia Woods No, I generally don't sing, I just, I just play.

Studs Terkel I didn't mean to sing, I thought the melody of one of those.

Sylvia Woods Oh, well, a lot of the--actually, a lot of the really old Irish tunes were originally harp tunes. Brian Boru was a very famous king or chieftain of Ireland, and, and one of the most famous harp tunes that we know as a harp tune is "Brian Boru's March", and there's some question as to whether Brian Boru wrote it. He may have played the harp, we're not sure. He may have written this or his harper may have written it or it may not have had anything to do with him and he may never have heard it.

Studs Terkel Do

Sylvia Woods But this one is--yes. This one is "Brian Boru's March".

Harp Instrumental [Harp

Studs Terkel Oh, I like that. That has sort of a martial air

Sylvia Woods Oh, yes. You can see them marching over the hills. Actually, the harper was very, very important in the old times. He was kind of like only a step or two below the king. He often was an adviser to the king or the chieftain, and one of his jobs was to play the men into battle. He kind of had a job like the football coaches of today. They get in there and they go, "All right, guys, we're going to go out there and we're going to get them." And so he would be singing the songs about how well they were going to do and how they were going to win the battle and playing on his harp and would kind of march them into battle. Eventually the bagpipes took over the role, which was a little bit more, a little more martial than, than the poor little harp, but they were very, very important. In fact, in some times in Ireland there were laws as to how many colors you were allowed to wear. The peasants were only allowed to wear one color, and the king was allowed, I'm not sure what the number was, eight or nine, and the harper was one step below that, he could wear seven or, or eight different colors, and the merchants would be below there, and so you could tell kind of where someone was in the society by how many colors, so the harper definitely was very important in

Studs Terkel Was the harp that important too, as far as you know, in middle Europe, Eastern Europe, history, tradition?

Sylvia Woods I don't think it was ever as important as it was in Ireland and, and Scotland. There, there were harpers, but you don't get nearly the stories about them that you

Studs Terkel Now in the United States, now we come to the movement, you know, Scottish, Irish migration to Appalachia, you know? You know the ballads are there, their instruments, not harp, but I suppose the dulcimer would be closest to it, wouldn't

Sylvia Woods Yeah. The harp really didn't come over--actually, one place it did come over was to South America. It never really came over to the North, but many of the priests brought harps to South America from the Spanish priests and, and from Ireland and the South American harps of today are considered by some to be the ancestors of the Irish harps, and much of the hand position and,and different things in the south is much closer to the ancient Irish way of playing than we are today.

Studs Terkel The, the, they have different names I know, the Latin American harp. They're small, too.

Sylvia Woods Well, they're smaller than big harps, how's that? Bigger than smaller. They're small--they're larger than the Irish-type harps. They're smaller than the orchestra harps. They're generally very, very lightweight and--but a bit taller. A lot of the harpers play standing up. They usually play with their fingernails on the right hand and without nails on the left. Now, most Irish harps are strung now with nylon or gut strings and you play just with your fingertips. The ancient type of Irish harp was strung with metal strings, and those you play with very long nails. Now, the metal strung Irish harps have just started in the last five years to be revived at all. They died out in the 1700s, and there's a, a group from around this area that's called Clairseach, they tour all over the country, but they are from Chicago and it's a husband and wife, Ann and Charlie Heymann, and Ann I think is the best metal harp player in the world in my opinion. She's incredible, and their group is called Clairseach. But those harps you play with long nails, but most harps you play with--

Studs Terkel It's

Sylvia Woods Really?

Studs Terkel Just yesterday.

Sylvia Woods Oh, it's a great one. They're, they're incredible.

Studs Terkel They're coming to town, I think.

Sylvia Woods Probably. They are, they're based here, although I know they tour, like, 50 weeks out of the year, so trying to get them somewhere is, is not easy, but they're ever, if they're ever around they're a great group to go hear.

Studs Terkel I, I was looking at your nails as you were talking, at your fingertips. Aren't they callused? They're not.

Sylvia Woods No.

Studs Terkel How, how come?

Sylvia Woods Well, you don't get calluses on Irish harps very much. On the great big orchestra harps you get them because the strings are much tauter and the bass strings are, well, kind of cut your fingers to ribbons, but you don't get them--it's not like playing a guitar where you're pressing against something, you're pressing the string against the, the fret board. But on this you're just going across it, so my fingers are a little tougher than most. Try

Studs Terkel Try

Sylvia Woods But they aren't really

Studs Terkel Just, just try that, just for the moment. [sound of harp being strummed] I was watching, so it's very gently.

Sylvia Woods Yeah. And on, on most Irish harps, the strings aren't nearly as--there's not as much tension as on the big orchestra harps, and so it's not as much resistance against your fingers.

Studs Terkel Let's have another one before the break, we want to hear, perhaps, some of the music that you might have done as background to this film.

Sylvia Woods Okay.

Studs Terkel What is one?

Sylvia Woods This is another one of mine that's called "The Forest March". So we'll have another march to go--

Studs Terkel A forced march.

Sylvia Woods Marching forest,

Studs Terkel

Harp Instrumental Sylvia Woods, an American woman, has won the All-Ireland Harp Competition against participants the world over, including Irish, in mastering the Irish harp. She won the first prize in 1980 at the city of Buncrana in the County Donegal. And Sylvia Woods has written a book, a very marvelous book, on teaching yourself to play the, the folk harp, and we'll come to this in a moment, too, though she began playing the classical harp. And, so, today Sylvia Woods and music from the harp. The Irish harp. Of that in a moment, too. She's also done the music for a documentary you'll soon see on PBS on Channel 11 dealing with Chicago's secret wilderness, so in a moment we hear the harp after this message. [Harp You know, watching your fingers go with that harp, first that melody, that song, is that in traditional folk? That's a, a song by O'Carolan, who is probably the best known of the old harpers, and that's his biggest hit, which is called "Carolan's Concerto". How far back? He lived 1670 to 1738. Now, he's where? Irish? Ireland? Yes. Ireland. You say the harp. This is not--this is smaller than--how can we describe it here in the studio? This is considerably smaller than the classical harp. Yes. It's about three feet tall. It has 32 strings. Harps are tuned like the white notes on the piano. You don't have any black notes or any sharps or flats. The great big gold harps that you see in the orchestra have 50-some strings and they have pedals on the bottom that you can move to make sharps and flats, which is why they're called pedal harps, but on these we don't have sharps or flats, you--it's just like on the white notes on the piano. And another interesting thing about harps, all harps, is that they have colored strings. Cs are colored red and Fs are colored blue. This is standard on the big orchestra harps, too. Otherwise you'd never know where you were. This, this is called Irish harp? Yeah, generally almost any small harp is called an Irish harp, unless it happens to be a South American harp. That's just kind of a general term that's used for these harps. They're called Irish harps, or Celtic or Celtic harps, or folk harps. The names are kind of interchangeable. In fact, there's a, a company in Japan that makes Irish harps, they call them Irish harps. A company in Japan makes [Laughing] That's right. That figures. So the, the harp itself, of course, is an ancient instrument. The, the ly -- I say when we say lyre, we're talking to a certain kind of harp. Well, the basic difference between harps and lyres is that harps are basically triangular, and lyres are basically square or rectangular, and so that's the difference. And lyres are also smaller, isn't it, Lyres are usually smaller, yes, but harps sometimes come the same size as lyres, so you have to do, make the distinction. So far back, it goes back to ancient. Some people say, actually, that the harp is probably the first ancient stringed instrument and that it started from the bow and arrow, like when you let go of the arrow, it twangs, and so they kind of added more strings to their bows and that's how How did you, 'cause you won the Irish, All-Irish competition in the County Donegal in 1980, you're an American girl. Right. How did that come about, you and the harp? Well, I started when I was in college on the orchestra harp. As late as that. Yep, I was 18 at the time, and then the last year I was in college my sister moved to Paris, and she sent me a record of a unknown harper whose name was Alan Stivell, who's now the best known harper in the world. But at that time-- Why do you, pardon me, harper you say rather than harpist. Ah yes, people that play the big orchestra harps are harpists, and people that play small harps are harpers, so I consider myself a harper now instead of a harpist. And so you heard Seville. I heard Stivell, and he's very well known in Europe, he's kind of almost a rock superstar over there. He's from Brittany, and that was the first time I had heard any of the small harps and I fell madly in love and decided that's what I wanted to do. So that's how I got interested in it. Well, how about teaching? You had a teacher. I had a teacher on the orchestra harp, but I had to teach myself Irish harps because-- Oh you're self taught then? There were no teachers at the time and there were no books and very few records. So this is self-taught. Yes, although a lot--most of the hand position and the technique and everything is, is the same as the orchestra harp. So you, you worked, I know we, we heard this folk tune, this traditional folk tune, and you, you play, you've written your own pieces for harp as well. That's correct, yes. Well, what, well go ahead. What -- what comes to your fingers now? Okay, well, the, the pieces that I have written are all part of a suite that has to do with a magical harper whose name was Brandiswhiere and he could do all sorts of amazingly wondrous things with his harp and one of the things that he could do was change winter to spring, which is very handy around this part of the world, I'm sure. So this is the piece that I wrote that Brandiswhiere uses to change the winter to spring. Now this is your story, too. Right. [Harp Beautiful. This is part of a suite. Yes. It's, we've almost finished recording it, and so the album hopefully will be out in November sometime. Is there a harp following? It's growing greatly. When I first got into it about 10 years ago, there were, I could find about two records and no books, and now there's, I don't know, at least 40 books that I know of. And I sell records from at least 15 different artists or groups that have Irish type harps in them, and it's definitely growing. Also, part of the problem used to be that you couldn't find a harp to buy, but there's now some very good harp makers, especially here in the States, mostly here in the States. And so they're becoming much more available and people are hearing them, and so it's--the renaissance is just beginning, so to speak. In the next 10 years you'll see a lot more of them. So 'cause you mentioned Stivell, a man from Brittany. Right. As very popular among young, too, huh? Especially in Europe, he's not that well-known here except in certain circles. But the harp is--do you think--this Osian Ellis, the Welsh harp virtuoso--has he played a role in any of this? Yes. Now the--in Wales things are different. In--the Welsh have a harpist called a Welsh triple-strung harp, that Wales is really about the only place it ever was played. It was invented in Italy, but it never caught on anywhere except Wales and became somewhat the national instrument of Wales, and it's a very difficult instrument to play and very strange. It has three complete rows of strings instead of only one like most harps. The woman in recent times who's the most well-known of the triple harp players name was Nansi Richards or Nansi Richards Jones, and she died a few years ago at the age of 92. She had learned from the gypsies when she was young, they used to come through and teach her, and-- Traveling people. Traveling, yep. The traveling gypsies in north part of Wales. And--but unfortunately the triple harp has almost died out. Osian plays and a few other people play, there's a great young folk group in Ireland called Ar Log, which means "rent a group" in Welsh and they have a triple harp and so they're trying to somewhat revive it, and I am one of the few people here in the States that plays triple harp, and I'm trying to revive it, too. We're getting some harp makers to start make them again so it doesn't totally die out because it's such an interesting, strange instrument. Since we've mentioned Wales, do you know "The Ash Grove"? Sure! I'll be glad to play it for you. [Harp Thank you. That's beautiful. By the way, that's in my book, too, in my beginning book. Which requires that the book, this is a, a booklet, Teach Yourself to Play the Folk Harp, by Sylvia Woods, 1980 All-Ireland harp champion. And in this book you a little bit of the history I find very fascinating, which I've just, you know, a few moments ago looked through it, several pages here, brief history there, and then you have some of the scores of familiar songs: "The Grenadier" and "My Love is Like a Red Red Rose"--that Robert Burns? Yeah, it is. "Drink Only with Thine Eyes", of course, Ben Jonson poem put to music, "All Through the Night", we learned that in school, the lullaby, and "Allemande", a kind of dance, isn't it? Mmm hmm. And there are some, some tunes in there that are very familiar and some that would be familiar in certain parts of the world or certain parts of the country, and some simplified classical pieces, so there -- I tried to put in something so that no matter what background someone came from, there would be some tunes in there they would recognize. So this is a learning, you, you break it down, how-to-- Yes, And using some of the familiar and very lovely songs. "Eileen Aroon" and some more "Wild Mountain Thyme" is in here, "Clair de Lune", "Cockles and Mussels", "Alive, Alive, Oh", "Johnny's Gone for a Soldier", the "Minuet". Yeah, the book assumes that you don't know anything, you've never read music before, you've never played before. You mean from going through this one can learn elementary harp? Yes, it teaches, it teaches you how to read music and how to play. I've gotten hundreds of letters from people all over the country and even all over the world that, from people that have never played anything in their lives and don't have a teacher and they've made it through the book, so I'm Well, I suppose we should, guess we should tell people I suppose how -- It's Teach Yourself to Play the Folk Harp by Sylvia Woods and a number of printings here, and it's post office box 29521, Los Angeles. 90029. Post P.O. Box 29521. That's the name Sylvia Woods, you know. Los Angeles, 90029. That's right. Also, if--that address is good for anything, [laughing] anything having to do with harps. We also have a, a folk harp society for people that are interested in small harps, and there is a chapter in this area very small, but we're hoping that it will grow. Here in Chicago? Yes, and we're getting chapters various places around the country. I was very surprised, we had our first chapter meeting in Los Angeles last year and we had 70 people show up, so we're real pleased with the way that it's going. So this is interesting, the time of higher and higher technology, it seems there's a counter movement of-- Back to simplicity. In your home or a friend's home or, like, chamber music groups were popular, as are in some quarters. The harp. Do you know, since we mentioned Osian Ellis and you played "Ash Grove", isn't there a Welsh form called penillion? Yes. And that is what, is singing one tune? Yes. The, the, well, it's kind of changed over the years. The way it is now, the harp player plays a familiar tune such as "The Ash Grove", and they just play it straight, and then the singer or the poet has to sing over that, singing a totally different tune. It used to be spontaneous, ad lib so to speak. They would have big competitions and just at the very last minute, the contestant would be told what the subject was they had to sing about and what the tune the harp would be playing, and they would have to just make it up as they went along, and there's, like, millions of rules. For instance, you can't end a phrase at the same time that the harp does, and you can't do this and you can't do that, and you can't be singing the same notes at the same time, and it--but unfortunately it's kind of degenerated from there now, it's not nearly as, as hard as it used to be. But Osian Ellis did the whole thing. He both Oh he's incredible. He played "Ash Grove" and then sang something else against it, he did both. Right. Yes, it's, it's very interesting. I was in Wales a few years ago and went to the Eisteddfod, which is the-- That's Big competition, and, and heard, heard quite a bit of it, and-- Did you take part in the Eisteddfod? No, I didn't. That's Welsh people only? No. No. There, well, there is actually two every summer. One of them is basically just Welsh, and then the other one is an international one, and people come from all over the world. That's right. There is an album I have somewhere. What is--Sylvia Woods is my guest. Let's try one from the book. Okay. Any one. I'll just, shall I How about the "Wild Mountain Thyme"? I like that. [Harp music playing] Go Lassie, go. Yep. "Wild Mountain Thyme". You taught yourself, this is the part I, I, that is so, you know, fascinating. Well, there, especially when I started, there was a great lack of teachers. It's not hard to find an orchestra harp teacher for the large harps. But there was nobody that I could find that even played the small harp. In fact, the renaissance here is much further advanced than in Ireland. In Ireland, there still are no teachers. In fact, I go over there once a year to teach, because it's really hard to find teachers. I go and teach for two weeks in Buncrana every summer. And -- Who are your students? Well, most of them are kids from around Buncrana. Part of the problem is they don't have harps, which makes it very difficult. The harp is actually the national symbol of Ireland, but you don't see very many of them around anymore, and it's just starting to be revived You know, it's used as a name that's pejorative. You know, the nick--you know, people called by names, you know, Italians are called names and Swedes are called names, and Jews, and Irish sometimes are res--he's a harp. You know. So the word harp is associated. Definitely. There--it's on--the post office has a harp on the front and all their coins have harps on the back. The phone booths all have harps on them, it Didn't the harp become a subversive instrument at one time, too? Oh, the British government from time to time used to outlaw it and hang all the harpers and burn the harps and things, so most of the harps that we have in the museums, the old harps had been buried in order to preserve them and every, you know, every once in a while one of the farmers will be farming and hit something and it happens to be a harp or something. And so, but most of them that are in museums-- Like a buried weapon. That's right. They had to hide them at several different times during the history or they would have been destroyed, because the harpers really did kind of incite the people to riot, so to speak. They were the ones that were really carrying on the tradition and they would sing and they would sing the songs that would get the people going. Is there an earl--would you know--this is asking too much probably. You know one of those early Irish songs? No, not really. I don't-- Seventeen eighty-nine-- No, I generally don't sing, I just, I just play. I didn't mean to sing, I thought the melody of one of those. Oh, well, a lot of the--actually, a lot of the really old Irish tunes were originally harp tunes. Brian Boru was a very famous king or chieftain of Ireland, and, and one of the most famous harp tunes that we know as a harp tune is "Brian Boru's March", and there's some question as to whether Brian Boru wrote it. He may have played the harp, we're not sure. He may have written this or his harper may have written it or it may not have had anything to do with him and he may never have heard it. Do But this one is--yes. This one is "Brian Boru's March". [Harp Oh, I like that. That has sort of a martial air to Oh, yes. You can see them marching over the hills. Actually, the harper was very, very important in the old times. He was kind of like only a step or two below the king. He often was an adviser to the king or the chieftain, and one of his jobs was to play the men into battle. He kind of had a job like the football coaches of today. They get in there and they go, "All right, guys, we're going to go out there and we're going to get them." And so he would be singing the songs about how well they were going to do and how they were going to win the battle and playing on his harp and would kind of march them into battle. Eventually the bagpipes took over the role, which was a little bit more, a little more martial than, than the poor little harp, but they were very, very important. In fact, in some times in Ireland there were laws as to how many colors you were allowed to wear. The peasants were only allowed to wear one color, and the king was allowed, I'm not sure what the number was, eight or nine, and the harper was one step below that, he could wear seven or, or eight different colors, and the merchants would be below there, and so you could tell kind of where someone was in the society by how many colors, so the harper definitely was very important in this Was the harp that important too, as far as you know, in middle Europe, Eastern Europe, history, tradition? I don't think it was ever as important as it was in Ireland and, and Scotland. There, there were harpers, but you don't get nearly the stories about them that you do-- Now in the United States, now we come to the movement, you know, Scottish, Irish migration to Appalachia, you know? You know the ballads are there, their instruments, not harp, but I suppose the dulcimer would be closest to it, wouldn't it? Yeah. The harp really didn't come over--actually, one place it did come over was to South America. It never really came over to the North, but many of the priests brought harps to South America from the Spanish priests and, and from Ireland and the South American harps of today are considered by some to be the ancestors of the Irish harps, and much of the hand position and,and different things in the south is much closer to the ancient Irish way of playing than we are today. The, the, they have different names I know, the Latin American harp. They're small, too. Well, they're smaller than big harps, how's that? Bigger than smaller. They're small--they're larger than the Irish-type harps. They're smaller than the orchestra harps. They're generally very, very lightweight and--but a bit taller. A lot of the harpers play standing up. They usually play with their fingernails on the right hand and without nails on the left. Now, most Irish harps are strung now with nylon or gut strings and you play just with your fingertips. The ancient type of Irish harp was strung with metal strings, and those you play with very long nails. Now, the metal strung Irish harps have just started in the last five years to be revived at all. They died out in the 1700s, and there's a, a group from around this area that's called Clairseach, they tour all over the country, but they are from Chicago and it's a husband and wife, Ann and Charlie Heymann, and Ann I think is the best metal harp player in the world in my opinion. She's incredible, and their group is called Clairseach. But those harps you play with long nails, but most harps you play with-- It's Really? Just yesterday. Oh, it's a great one. They're, they're incredible. They're coming to town, I think. Probably. They are, they're based here, although I know they tour, like, 50 weeks out of the year, so trying to get them somewhere is, is not easy, but they're ever, if they're ever around they're a great group to go hear. I, I was looking at your nails as you were talking, at your fingertips. Aren't they callused? They're not. No. How, how come? Well, you don't get calluses on Irish harps very much. On the great big orchestra harps you get them because the strings are much tauter and the bass strings are, well, kind of cut your fingers to ribbons, but you don't get them--it's not like playing a guitar where you're pressing against something, you're pressing the string against the, the fret board. But on this you're just going across it, so my fingers are a little tougher than most. Try But they aren't really callused. Just, just try that, just for the moment. [sound of harp being strummed] I was watching, so it's very gently. Yeah. And on, on most Irish harps, the strings aren't nearly as--there's not as much tension as on the big orchestra harps, and so it's not as much resistance against your fingers. Let's have another one before the break, we want to hear, perhaps, some of the music that you might have done as background to this film. Okay. What is one? This is another one of mine that's called "The Forest March". So we'll have another march to go-- A forced march. Marching forest, not "Forest [Harp

Studs Terkel "Forest". So your, your repertoire is a combination, then, of familiar, a bit of--you can do a bit of piece of a classic. Can you play classical music on that too?

Sylvia Woods Not a lot. You can play kind of simplified classical music, but most of it, one of the things about classical music like a symphony, so to speak, it has to change keys and it has to do certain things in order to fit into the form, and you can't do that

Studs Terkel I notice in your book you had, you had just a bit of "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring". You can do that on that.

Sylvia Woods Yeah, you can do several, several things you can do, like--

Harp Instrumental [Harp

Studs Terkel Well, that's a little Beethoven, a little of the chorale of the Ninth, you might just, perhaps, end our first half with a little "Jesu", do a little Bach.

Harp Instrumental [Harp music playing]

Studs Terkel Thank you. You know, I, I like the way Sylvia Woods, you ask her something just out of the blue, she goes ahead and she does it, and we're talking to Sylvia Woods, who as you can gather is quite remarkable. Harper and 1980 All-Ireland harp champion, though she's from California, and she's in town because she did, compose, created and played the soundtrack for a forthcoming film on Channel 11 on PBS called Chicago: A Secret Wilderness that Mike Hirsh produced, and so of this in a moment after this message. And so you were called by Mike Hirsh, who is the producer of this film that deals, by the way, it's a--you'll be seeing it sometime in December I guess, we will be, dealing with certain places around Chicago, so many places that are free and that still are wild and natural. Did you see the film?

Sylvia Woods Yes I did. It's beautiful.

Studs Terkel And then, how did you work it? What did you do? You saw the film--

Sylvia Woods Well, the film, the film is about 40 minutes in length and it's, it's beautiful, it has--it goes through the four seasons showing the, the prairies and the forests and the animals and little baby bunnies and raccoons and birds and all the trees and goes through all the seasons. And Mike Hirsh had decided before I arrived which parts of the film he wanted music for. A lot of the film is just the background noises of the forest, and so they didn't really need music. The sound of a waterfall and of the birds and the animals--

Studs Terkel And the readings from Sandburg.

Sylvia Woods And readings from Sandburg, excellent readings from Sandburg.

Studs Terkel You mean the readings

Sylvia Woods Yeah, the reading--the person that did the readings was brilliant.

Studs Terkel You, you liked that?

Sylvia Woods Yeah. They were great.

Studs Terkel You know who did it?

Sylvia Woods Yeah. [laughing] I know what side my bread is buttered on.

Studs Terkel That's pretty coy, pretty coy. Leading question, isn't it? You said brilliant, that's ok--you can pass. Your music is absolutely fantastic.

Sylvia Woods Thank you, thank you. [laughing]

Studs Terkel OK now, now we have -- all right. So you saw.

Sylvia Woods Yes. And, so, then we figured out which places they wanted the music. And I composed the music. A lot of the music I used was music from my suite that fit in to different places, and then some of it I composed

Studs Terkel Oh, there's some from your suite.

Sylvia Woods Yes.

Studs Terkel So why not--go ahead. Set the scene of what you saw, and a piece from your suite that you might have matched with it.

Sylvia Woods Okay. There was a part where it's spring has just arrived and the flowers are just beginning to come out on the prairie. There have been prairie fires before that and the prairie was all blackened, but out of the blackness comes the flowers.

Harp Instrumental [Harp

Studs Terkel You know what's remarkable is that your suite that you had written long before you saw this film, the film was made, fit so well, does it not, into--so we're looking forward to seeing that. Is your suite, has that been recorded?

Sylvia Woods It's, I'm in the process of recording it. It's about three-fourths recorded, and then it'll come out as an album. The album will be called The Harp of Brandiswhiere, and it should be out in November I think.

Studs Terkel Because and it'll have part of your, you invented the story.

Sylvia Woods Yes. The story--actually, we're having it illustrated, beautiful illustrations by an artist in Ireland--I mean in England, whose name is Steve Douglas. And so there will be a book that will have all the music so that can be, it can be played on the harp or on piano even, so it'll have the harp, the music and the story and the illustrations will come out, too. The same time.

Studs Terkel [We'll have?] more harp from Sylvia Woods. What--do you remember, it's difficult now. Would you remember what is not part of your suite that you had composed for the film?

Sylvia Woods Well, most of them were very little short, short little things. For instance, there's a part in the film where there's a family of ducks that are kind of waddling by, and so we needed kind of some duck waddling music. Most of it I don't remember.

Studs Terkel How does duck waddling

Sylvia Woods How does duck waddling let's see -- we had duck swimming music. Let's see, also there were interesting things about these ducks

Studs Terkel What were you doing just then?

Sylvia Woods Well, on my harp I have what we call sharping levers that, they're little levers on each string that you can move and you can get a sharp, so I can raise at each string a half a step by moving, moving those levers, so I sharped a couple of them. Because part the--in, in the film there's this family of ducks. But the strange thing is that the, the mama duck and the daddy duck are two different species, but somehow they got these baby ducks, and the naturalists couldn't figure out what it, how it could happen because it's impossible for them to have had these ducklings. And so the music needed to be a little strange and a little mysterious because probably the mama duck and the daddy duck got the baby ducks from--by kidnapping them or duck-napping them from someone else. And so the music needed to be a little bit strange.

Harp Instrumental [Harp music playing]

Studs Terkel So that's funny. A strange kind of music for what's--would appear to be a familiar scene. That's very exciting, I find.

Sylvia Woods It was, it was great fun. It's the first movie that I've had the opportunity to do. And I really enjoyed it, the people were all very nice to work for, and it was--there was so much opportunity to be creative in it and to try to find things that fit with the music. And it was great fun.

Studs Terkel Do you remember the first thing you played on the folk harp? Or one of the first?

Sylvia Woods Well, it was interesting when I first started playing the folk harp. I didn't know what to play on it because I'd do all these classical pieces for the big harp, but I, none of them could be played on here because I didn't have the notes that I needed. And I eventually learned three tunes--

Studs Terkel Now you're re-flatting

Sylvia Woods Yes, I'm putting it back into the key I was in before. I eventually learned three tunes and went to the L.A. art museum, which is one of the two places in Los Angeles you can play with your hat out without getting arrested, and with my three-tune repertoire I played for several weekends just playing the three tunes over and over again, and it was great fun.

Studs Terkel Are there--you said with your hat out, are there street musicians playing the harp?

Sylvia Woods Yes. Mmm hmm. Yeah, it's a great instrument, actually, if you're a street musician because you can make money just by sitting there and sitting

Studs Terkel Have you--forgive my use of this phrase, have you worked the streets?

Sylvia Woods Yes. I started by working the streets, I did that for about six months just on weekends, I had a regular job, and I worked the streets for a while. But it's great because even just sitting there with the harp or when you're tuning, people come and give you money because they're not used to seeing it and they just like the looks of it. So it's a great way to make money. You make a lot more than the guitar players do, I can tell you.

Studs Terkel Really?

Sylvia Woods Oh, yes. Definitely.

Studs Terkel Why

Sylvia Woods Well, it's just that it's still so unusual and people don't know what it is, so it attracts attention. If you see a guitar player there you've seen thousands of them before, but if you're walking down the street and you see a harp player, almost everyone stops at least out of curiosity just to find out what you're doing. And so, in my opinion, you can, you can do a lot better with a harp than you can with a lot more

Studs Terkel common That's

Sylvia Woods That's right. Also, it's very hard to make it sound terrible, so even as a beginner you can go out there

Studs Terkel Why is it hard to make it sound terrible?

Sylvia Woods Because almost anything that you do sounds good. It's not like say, starting the violin, where you can't even stand to listen to yourself for a while. But on the harp, beginners that know nothing can sit there and play and it sounds gorgeous.

Studs Terkel So beginner, you say. Now, you were learning the folk harp. Right, now what? An early tune that came to your

Sylvia Woods An early tune that I played; oh, one of the first ones that I learned was an O'Carolan tune which is called "Morgan Megan".

Studs Terkel Caroline.

Sylvia Woods O'Carolan, who was the--

Studs Terkel Oh O'Carolan. O'Carolan.

Sylvia Woods The Harper. Irish harper from 1670 to 1738. One of the reasons we--he's kind of the best-known of the old time harpers, so we have more of his tunes than any of the other ones, because some of his tunes happen to be written down. His son wrote down a lot of his tunes and put out books in his time, which was very rare. And so we have about 200 of his tunes, and this is one that's called "Morgan Megan". Now, this is the first, one of the first tunes I learned on this harp, now I've been playing harp for several years, so it's not a real beginner tune.

Harp Instrumental [Harp music playing]

Studs Terkel No, that's not a beginner tune,

Sylvia Woods No, but it's not too far advanced, either. It's about the equivalent of about halfway through my beginning book.

Studs Terkel What would you--we have about ten minutes left. I find this, by the way, very delightful. The harp. I should perhaps just remind listeners again, in case they want to learn or their son or daughter wants to learn, or father or mother wants to

Sylvia Woods That's right!

Studs Terkel There's no age limit

Sylvia Woods No, my students range in age from 7 to 80-something.

Studs Terkel Teach Yourself to Play the Harp by my guest Sylvia Woods, who won the All-Ireland Harp Championship in 1980 at County Donegal. And, but the book is available--and the book, by the way, has not only some of the songs--you know, the familiar songs and others less familiar, has the scores but also directions, elementary directions, isn't that it? "Country Gardens" of Percy Grainger here. [Zamora stands?] but I think Grainger arranged it, didn't he? Yeah, and has everything. You, you get it writing to Sylvia Woods, P.O. Box 29521. Los Angeles, California 90029. And we have about 10 minutes or a little less left. What, what do you suggest?

Sylvia Woods Well, one thing that I wanted to say from what you had mentioned before is that I have--well, I teach in Los Angeles and in San Francisco and in Ireland and various places, and my students range in age everything. The average is, is 20s to the 40s. I find a lot of people have always wanted to play the harp and they finally discover that they could. And that's one of the things I really love about teaching is people that never thought they'd be able to, and have found harps and, and that they could afford them, they don't cost ten thousand dollars like the great big orchestra ones do, they're definitely affordable and easy to play, and that's one of the thing that I really like.

Studs Terkel Discovery.

Sylvia Woods Right.

Studs Terkel Of a talent that is latent but there. Hidden. And you say there are many harp makers here in the United States. Just as there are we know violin make or those who fix string instruments. There are harps, too.

Sylvia Woods Yes. There's quite a few harp makers.

Studs Terkel Well how would you explain, how would you explain the resurgence of interest in it?

Sylvia Woods Well, I think it's kind of like a "chicken and the egg" type thing. There's a lot of different things that influenced each other. There were several good harp makers that started making harps so that they were available, and then at the same time there were people that started playing them and became famous. For instance, Alan Stivell, that I had mentioned before from Brittany, the Chieftains have a harp player named Derek Bell, and he's done a lot just by being there and people seeing the instruments. And then books that are available, for instance my book is available all over the world, and so people can get into it from that. So they just find it som-- from some area, and--but I haven't found anybody that doesn't like harps yet, and so I think it's just that once we get more known, more people get involved and interested in it. But there are still a lot of people out there that haven't heard it yet, so we're, we're working away.

Studs Terkel All right. You go ahead, what, something from your suite, perhaps, or, or a folk tune or what?

Sylvia Woods Okay, well, the, I'd like to say a little bit about the All-Ireland competition just because the All-Ireland competition has to do with any Irish instrument. They have fiddle competitions and pennywhistle and singing in Gaelic and lilting and bagpipes and almost anything, and it's a, it's a great thing if you're in Ireland the last week of August to go to. For the competition, you have to win your local competition. And here in the States, they have competitions in Chicago and Boston and New York. So even though I lived in Los Angeles, I had to go to New York for my quote "local" competition. And you have to win there in order to be able to go to the All-Ireland. In the All-Ireland you have to play traditional Irish tunes, dance tunes particularly, jigs and reels and hornpipes. So I think I'll just play a few Irish dance

Harp Instrumental tunes. [Harp

Studs Terkel Thank you very much. You know, one, since we have a couple more minutes, I'm greedy for music. I was looking through your book, the, the Teach Yourself the Folk Harp, Sylvia Woods.

Sylvia Woods Actually, that last tune I just played was a jig. It's actually in that book.

Studs Terkel It's in there. Now, maybe to end with, just, just occurred to me, just it would seem right, thematically right, either the theme from the New World Symphony you have, or "Joy to the World".

Sylvia Woods Okay, let's see

Studs Terkel You choose. By the way, the scores are here, so this is the way we'll end our program, and this is by way of thanking you, too, Sylvia Woods and reminding the audience, aside from her book that available interested in learning the harp is, to watch for a certain film sometime in December. It's Chicago: Secret Wilderness on

Harp Instrumental PBS. [Harp

Studs Terkel Thank you very much.

Sylvia Woods Thank you.