Emer Ní Scolaí, the harper bringing Grier to a new generation

Transition Year 2020 brought another wonderful young traditional music student through our doors in February. As well as practical archiving experience with staff, we guided Emer, the harper, to the online Stephen Grier Manuscript Collection. Emer takes up the story of her time in ITMA ...

Emer Ní Scolaí is ainm dom. Táim i mo chónaí i nDrom Chonrach i mBaile Átha Cliath. Táim ag seinnt an chruit ó bhí mé seacht mbliana d’aois. I love playing all genres of music on the harp but traditional harping is my favourite and the most fun to play. 

Emer Ní Scolaí, harp, in the ITMA Studio

Music has always been in my family and my grandad the flute player and singer, Séamas Mac Mathúna and my grandmother Úna always encouraged me to play as often as possible and immerse myself in the music world. They had a big impact on my understanding of Irish traditional music and its legacy. My grandmother always had a keen interest in old Irish harping and the wire-strung harp and her interest rubbed off on me which is a big reason I wanted to play the harp. 

I’ve had a number of teachers over the years who’ve helped me to grow and mature in my playing. I’m currently being taught trad by Gráinne Hambly and classical by Áine Ní Dhubhghaill in the Academy of Music and I’m very grateful to Ciara O Grady, Emer Toale and Aoife Ní Argáin for all their help over the years as well as those that have helped me at the various summer and winter schools. 

Laoise Kelly, harp

Among others, my dad loves Laoise Kelly’s harping and when I was starting the harp he would take me and my sisters to any concerts she had in Dublin and buy me a few of her albums that I listened to on repeat. When I was eight I went to Scoil Acla, a music summer school on Achill Island and I was so happy that she was teaching. Since those many years I spent at Achill she’s taught me a number of great tunes at different music festivals and is the player I most admire along with my teachers. I also attended the first Achill International Harp Festival and listened to the amazing  playing of wire strung harpist Paul Dooley, Scottish harpist Mary Macmaster and Gráinne Hambly from Mayo. Every year I attend An Chúirt Chruitireachta Annual International Harp Festival in An Grianán, Termonfechin, Co. Louth where I get to hear wonderful harpists including Cormac de Barra, Anne-Marie O'Farrell, Tríona Marshall and Kim Fleming. 

When I started the harp I played on an Ó Meachair made by the late Colm Ó Meachair in his Marley Park workshop in Dublin. It’s a really lovely harp that I still play regularly. I currently play a Fisher harp made from quilted maple wood in Canada by Larry Fisher. Larry is renowned and an excellent harp maker and I love his harps more every time I play them.  

Example of Larry Fisher quilted maple harp

I had a great, innovative week at ITMA. The staff were so helpful and friendly and they really made me feel at home. I did work from cataloguing recordings of trad concerts to sorting out ephemera. 

I was very happy that I could access ITMA’s resources freely from a musician’s perspective as well as a TY student. I found many books by harpers like Carolan and old recordings of Derek Bell and other harpers in the library and on their computers. Two of my sisters that I play in a trad band with, play concertina and uileann pipes and, being so immersed in those instruments, I loved seeing that there was resources for them too.  

It still amazes me that tunes that come so close to extinction, with the hard work of many diligent people, can be saved, digitised and made public to live and be played again. I, as a musician, am very grateful for that.
Emer Ní Scolaí, TY at ITMA 2020

My favourite part of the work I did at ITMA was studying and learning pieces from the Grier manuscripts. It was a collection of works that I had never encountered before, and having a great interest in music and collecting music I was hooked from the first tune. 

Tony Adair, march learned by Emer from Grier Manuscript Collection, ITMA

In the middle of the week I started to pick out several tunes from the Grier manuscript I liked the sound of, learn them and adapt them to the harp and my style of playing. The useful audio file on each tune was a great learning tool and it helped me to learn each tune faster. At the end of the week I was asked to pick out one of the tunes I learned and tried to arrange in that short time, and record it for their website. I think having a recording of someone playing an uncommon tune up online really shows people that rare tunes can be played and revivified years after they’re collected. The tune I played was called Tony Adair and I enjoyed it because of its flow and how easy it was to interpret and make your own. I also prefer minor tunes to major which is another reason I chose to play Tony Adair.  

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Tony Adare, march / Emer Ní Scolaí, harp

I would definitely recommend visiting the ITMA on Merrion Square if you are a musician or if you are someone with a keen interest in traditional Irish music.
Emer Ní Scolaí, TY at ITMA 2020

Bhain mé an-taithneamh go deo as an seachtain a chaith mé ag an ITMA.

Emer Ní Scolaí, March 2020