Radio Show – Episode 8 – July 3, 2016 – The Power of Music

Today’s show is devoted to the Power of Music and its ability to enchant. Irish myth describes “Three Noble Strains” of music, known as the geantraí – song of joy/merriment, the goltraí – song of sorrow, and the suantraí – song of comfort/for soothing. You’ll hear expressions of all three “strains” in the music and stories played and told today.

Click here for the latest Forest Halls Celtic show on demand

Show 8-Power of Music

12:00: Spookytree (Deb Knodel & Jane Valencia) – Lochaber No More
12:01: Heartstring Quartet – Patrick Bellew’s March / An Cailin Rua Gaelach
12:05: William Taylor – Macpherson’s Testament
12:08: Paul Machlis – Darkness Falling
12:13: Dagda – Harp of Dagda
12:16: Johnnie Lawson – Natural Sound of the Forest Birds Singing
12:20: The Chieftains & James Galway – The Red Admiral Butterfly
12:25: Maire Ni Chathasaigh – Carolans Farewell to Music
12:29: Johnnie Lawson – Excerpt 2
12:32: Fiona Davidson – Deirdre of the Sorrows
12:49: Anuna – Sleepsong
12:52: Julie Fowlis – Cadal Ciarach Mo Luran
12:57: Spookytree (Deb Knodel & Jane Valencia) – Lochaber No More

Format: Track Title – artist (CD Title)

Geantrai – song of joy and merriment

“Patrick Bellew’s March / An Cailin Rua Gaelach” Heartstring Quartet (Heartstring Sessions)

The Heartstring Quartet brings together two famous Irish duos: Arty McGlynn & Nollaig Casey, Máire Ní Chathasaigh & Chris Newman. Nollaig and Máire are sisters who play fiddle and harp, respectively.

“Macpherson’s Testament” – William Taylor  
Bill (William) Taylor researches, performs, teaches and records the ancient harp music of Ireland, Scotland and Wales. He is one of very few players interpreting these repertoires using gut-strung medieval harps, renaissance harps with buzzing bray pins and wire-strung clarsachs.

In this show, I (incorrectly) stated that I thought that Bill Taylor was a harpmaker for Ardival Harps. But that isn’t so. He is a harper-in-residence for Ardival Harps. The actual makers are Zan and Alex Dunn and associates.

My friend and colleague, singer-songwriter and harper, Verlene Schermer writes:

“There is in Irish folklore, a story about the three sacred strains of music. The three strains are known as the goltrai — song of sorrow, the suantrai – song of comfort, and the gentrai – song of joy (Walton). The Dagda Mor, (the good god) is the leader of the Tuatha De Dannan, (the Fairy Folk – who are gods themselves), and it is his harp, Uaithne, that has the magical ability to bring listeners to tears, to put them to sleep, or to cause them to dance.”

Here we enjoy the story itself …

“Harp of the Dagda” – Irish Myth retold by Barra the Bard (Barra Jacob-McDowell) – read by Jane Valencia/ Music: “Darkness Falling” Paul Machlis (Greenwoods) 
Barra the Bard received her name from the Isle of Barra in the Outer Hebrides off the West Coast of Scotland and her love of storytelling from her maternal grandmother, Abigail Jones Dangler. With a repertoire of over 5,000 stories Barra specializes in tales from the Celtic nations (Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, Isle of Man, Brittany, & Spain). She also enjoys telling stories from other ethnic traditions as well as family stories of her own.

Check out my Article for the Folk Harp Journal, Be A Bard: Start Down an Ancient Path, which features an interview with Barra.

Read Barra the Bard’s “Harp of the Dagda”.

“Harp of Dagda” – Dagda (Celtic Trance)
A review on says:
“If you’re not looking for “Traditional” Irish jigs, reels, lyrics, ballads or tunes, but rather a tightly put together selection of songs with a modern, mystic, Celtic “flavor” and a dream-like quality, with a nice heavy bass beat…then this is a CD for you!”

Danceable rhythms overlaid with string arrangements and lilting Celtic melodies compose the sound of Ireland’s Dagda, the collective moniker for producers Red Keating and Phillip O’Rely.

Johnnie Lawson -Natural Sound of the Forest Birds Singing 
Today’s forest sounds are from Johnnie Lawson. He writes: “I search out tranquil, quiet places in nature where we like to go when we want peace and calm, away from the stresses of modern day life. I capture the sense of beauty and tranquility of each location in sound and vision. It is my pleasure to bring these healing videos to you, free for you to relax with at any time of the day or night, anywhere in the world.”

On Forest Halls Celtic, we’ve heard several versions of the Irish slip jig, The Butterfly. A slip-jig is in 9/8 time, but we’ve heard it also in 11/8 and 5/4. In this next version, we hear yet another rhythmic variation, that of 12/8 tim.

“The Red Admiral Butterfly” (slip jig) James Galway & The Chieftains (James Galway & The Chieftains in Ireland)
Douglas Hadden writes:
“The Chieftains” and James Galway play an arrangement of the Irish slip-jig, “The Butterfly”. Possibly the best-known “slip-jig” [ in 9/8 time ] in Irish traditional music. It was made popular by “The Bothy Band” on their first eponymous album. It is often thought of as an original composition by Dublin fiddle-player Tommy Potts, but it is generally accepted these days that he “re-arranged” parts from other traditional tunes, and possibly only the 3rd part is original. In any case, a great tune. “The Chieftains” arrangement plays the original – a great introduction by Matt Molloy – and then change the time signature into 12/8.”

Goltraí – song of sorrow

“O’Carolan’s Farewell to Music” – Máire Ní Chathasaigh (The New Strung Harp)
From Wikipedia:
“Turlough O’Carolan (1670 – 25 March 1738) was a blind early Irish harper, composer and singer whose great fame is due to his gift for melodic composition. Although not a composer in the classical sense, Carolan is considered by many to be Ireland’s national composer. … Some of Carolan’s own compositions show influences of the style of continental classical music, whereas others such as Carolan’s Farewell to Music reflect a much older style of “Gaelic Harping.”

Reputedly the last song composed by O’Carolan — perhaps even on his deathbed! — Carolan’s Farewell to Music is an expression of goltrai — a song of sorrow.

Máire Ní Chathasaigh is an amazing Irish harper, and one I listened to carefully when I first began learning harp.

“Deirdre of the Sorrows” – Fiona Davidson (The Language of Birds)
The Celts know all about beauty, passion, tragedy, and grief. In this story we experience how music gives voice to this Irish myth. This is a tragic tale, but so beautifully and richly told.

Fiona Davidson had quite a career as a harper, storyteller, and bard, and performed in Iona, a progressive Celtic rock band from the United Kingdom, during its early years. These days, she goes by the name Fionntullach, and is devoted to the path of the Celtic spiritual tradition, the Céile Dé.

Suantraí – song of comfort, for soothing, lullabye

“Sleepsong” – Anúna (Invocation)
This absolutely gorgeous song was written for a tale that contains elements similar to the preceding tale of Dierdre.


“The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne (Irish: Tóraigheacht Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne or Tóraíocht Dhiarmada agus Gráinne in modern spelling) is an Irish prose narrative surviving in many variants. A tale from the Fenian Cycle of Irish mythology, it concerns a love triangle between the great warrior Fionn mac Cumhaill, the beautiful princess Gráinne, and her paramour Diarmuid Ua Duibhne. Surviving texts are all in Modern Irish and the earliest dates to the 16th century, but some elements of the material date as far back as the 10th century. …”

The princess Gráinne is to wed the aged great warrior Fionn, but she falls for the young warrior, Diarmuid. They run off and are pursued.

They hide from Fionn in a forest near the River Shannon, where in this greenwood shelter Gráinne soothes Diarmuid with a lullaby.

“Cadal Ciarach Mo Luran (Sleep Well My Beloved)” – Julie Fowlis  – (Gach Sgeul – Every Story)

Scottish folk singer Julie Fowlis sings a “sleepsong” along the same lines as the preceding song.

Sleep well my beloved,
Sleep well my beloved,
Sleep well my beloved,
I’ll always be with you …

Radio Show – Episode 6 – June 5, 2016 – Ancient Forests

AncientForest-webWe make a slight detour into the musical realm of “Ambient Celtic” in this show devoted to the Ancient Forests.

Click here for the latest Forest Halls Celtic show on demand

12:00: Spookytree (Deb Knodel & Jane Valencia) – Lochaber No More
12:02: The Poozies – The Bay Tree Waltz/Faca Sibh/Jig Jazz
12:07: Loreena McKennitt – Bonny Portmore
12:15: Paul Bonghez – Forest Inn
12:16: Bay Area Youth Harp Ensemble – Moonshadows
12:23: Damh the Bard – Greenwood Grove
12:28: Clannad – Robin The Hooded Man
12:31: Clannad – Lady Marian
12:34: Mara Freeman – A Tree Blessing Poem
12:38: Tim Olisker – Celtic Dawn
12:44: Jon Parmentier – Brown Creek Trail
12:48: Alison Kinnaird – Cumha Eachainn Ruaidh Nan Cath
12:56: Spookytree (Deb Knodel & Jane Valencia) – Lochaber No More
12:58: Jon Parmentier – Forest Phoenix

Format: Track Title – artist (CD Title)

“The Bay Tree Waltz/Faca Sibh/Jig Jazz” – The Poozies (Dansoozies)
The Poozies are an all-woman band who draw heavily from English and Scottish traditional music. Until a few years ago, both members of the Scottish harp duo, Sileas, were part of this group. You can hear Mary MacMaster here playing electro-harp, and Patsy Seddon starting with fiddle, and switching to gut-strung harp later in the set.

“Bonny Portmore” – Loreena McKennitt (The Visit)

“Bonny Portmore” is an Irish traditional folk song which laments the demise of Ireland’s old oak forests, specifically the Great Oak of Portmore or the Portmore Ornament Tree, which fell in a windstorm in 1760 and was subsequently used for shipbuilding and other purposes.

Visit for more detailed information about this tree and of the castle of Bonny Portmore.

“Forest Inn ” – Paul Bonghez (Soundcloud)
Paul Bonghez is a dedicated composer, freelance guitarist, and music teacher who divides his professional career between touring with top Romanian artists and composing for video games. Specializing in cinematic music, Paul writes in a variety of styles: Epic & Sci-Fi, Celtic & Medieval, Fantasy, Action, Dramatic. This piece features several Celtic instruments, including the harp.

“Moonshadows” Bay Area Youth Harp Ensemble (Innisheer)
We featured music by this group of young harpers in Show 4. Their Kickstarter campaign has been successful in helping them reach their goal to tour the Ancient Redwoods to play music among and for the trees, and to help raise funds for conserving these magnificent trees.

Let’s head out to the mythic forest. This next song is basically a listing of the sacred trees and their qualities of the Celts according to the ogham – or “tree alphabet” – of at least the modern-day Druids.

“Greenwood Grove” – Damh the Bard (The Hills They are Hollow)

This song presents wisdom as encoded and expressed by the trees.

I am the Birch of the new beginnings,
The Rowan star with magic guarding,
Alder sight the future showing,
Sweet Willow sees her Moon arising,
Ash the three realms he is touching,


Ogham (which means ‘language’ and is pronounced o’um, or och’um) … consists of twenty-five simple strokes centred on or branching off a central line. It is similar in purpose, but separate in origin from the Nordic runes. The Ogham characters were inscribed on stones and probably on staves of wood.

Its origins are lost in the mists of time, and most of the existing inscriptions have only been dated to the fifth and sixth centuries, but whether originally Celtic or pre-Celtic, we may sense that it carries with it some of the very earliest of Druid wisdom. Amongst our sources of information about its use, we have from Ireland the twelfth century Book of Leinster, the fourteenth century Book of Ballymote, and O’Flaherty’s Ogygia (published in 1793). And from Scotland, transcribed from the oral tradition in the seventeenth century, we have The Scholar’s Primer. But it was the poet Robert Graves who, following in his grandfather’s footsteps as an Ogham expert, brought this arcane system into public awareness once again, with his publication of The White Goddess in 1948.

We’ll follow with some music composed about the legendary Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest.

“Robin (The Hooded Man)” and “Lady Marion” Clannad (Legend)
Legend is a 1984 soundtrack album for the ITV television series Robin of Sherwood, by the Irish folk group Clannad. The Robin Hood series was much loved on both sides of the Atlantic.

“Tree Blessing Poem” – Mara Freeman (from her book Kindling the Celtic Spirit)
A field recording of Mara reading her poem.

“Celtic Dawn” – Tim Olisker (Pianissimo on Soundcloud)
Tim is a 27-year-old software engineer and amateur composer living in Seattle who very recently started composing. He writes:

I focus on composing atmospheric, evocative ethnic pieces that take my listeners on a journey through both time and space. I’m obsessed with medieval sounds, but also love Celtic/Northern European, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Far Eastern ethnic vibes. … Every piece you hear on my cloud is 100% original music that is composed, recorded (using VSTs), and produced by myself. No remixes, no covers. I don’t use loops. Nor do I use prerecorded “musical phrases” of any kind. I manually compose and record every single note of every instrument you hear …

“Brown Creek Trail” – Jon Parmentier (youtube)
As a backdrop to David Whyte’s poem and the nature news update, we have nature sounds recorded in the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in northern California.

“Sometimes” – David Whyte (River Flow: New and Selected Poems)

Poet David Whyte grew up with a strong, imaginative influence from his Irish mother among the hills and valleys of his father’s Yorkshire. He now makes his home in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

The poem begins:

if you move carefully
through the forest,
like the ones
in the old stories,
who could cross
a shimmering bed of leaves
without a sound,
you come
to a place
whose only task
is to trouble you
with tiny
but frightening requests,
conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere …

Ancient Forest news report:
from the article: Ancient Celtic Forest Bought by Woodland Trust

An ancient forest in Snowdonia has been bought by the Woodland Trust after a campaign raised £750,000. The 220-hectare forest of Llennyrch – also known as the Celtic Rainforest – is a unique habitat of unspoilt atlantic oakwood and Woodland pasture. It included lichen that doesn’t grow anywhere else in Wales.

“Cumha Eachainn Ruaidh Nan Cath (Lament for Red Hector of the Battles)”  – Alison Kinnaird (The Silver String)
Here Alison Kinnaird plays piobaireachd on the wire-strung harp.

From the Piobaireachd Society website:

… What emerged was the instrument we know today as the Great Highland Bagpipe, and a form of music, piobaireachd, which is unique to the instrument.  It is a very stylized form of music. There is freedom in the theme or “ground” of the piobaireachd to express joy, sadness, or sometimes in the “gathering” tunes , a peremptory warning or call to arms.

The word “piobaireachd” literally means pipe playing or pipe music, but is now used to describe the classical music of the Great Highland Bagpipe. Another name for it is “Ceol Mor” meaning the Big Music, which separates piobaireachd from all other forms of pipe music (marches, reels, jigs etc. ) which are referred to as “Ceol Beag” – the Little Music.
To describe a piobaireachd is not easy. It consists of a theme or “ground”, with variations (which vary in number and complexity ) that follow the theme. The theme is often very slow, and the general effect of the whole piece of music is slow – slowness being a characteristic of Highland music.

From The Early Gaelic Harp website:

Ceòl mór (big music), or pìobaireachd (piping) or pibroch, is the formal art music of the Scottish highland bagpipes1. However, in previous centuries, similar music was also played on fiddle and on the early clàrsach (early Gaelic harp)2, and many scholars have suggested that the modern living pipe tradition has its origins in the lost medieval Gaelic harp traditions. This music was also played on the fiddle in the 17th and 18th centuries.

I think that it is a mistake to think of the familiar living bagpipe tradition as primary – fiddle pibroch is often included under a general heading of ‘imitative music’3. To me it seems clear that that both pipes and fiddle independently took up the ceòl mór style and idiom from the much older harp traditions, which date back to medieval times in Ireland and Scotland.

We don’t have very much concrete information about Gaelic harp ceòl mór. It would have been an older strand of the Gaelic harp tradition, more complex and idiomatic than the ports or vocal music which were notated in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. I am only aware of one example of Gaelic harp ceòl mór noted from the playing of one of the old harpers.

Alison Kinnaird is recognised as one of the foremost proponents of traditional Scottish harp music. She plays both gut and wire-strung harps. She has been researching the repertoire of the harp in Scotland for more than twenty-five years, written several books of harp music, and co-authored the first published history of the harp in Scotland The Tree of Strings.

We close our show today with a piece that is not Celtic, but which is inspired by the majestic old growth redwood.

“Forest Phoenix” – Jon Parmentier (Music for Redwoods).
Jon Parmentier is a guitarist who is much inspired and influenced by the nature of the northern California coast and the Coastal Redwoods.

Diolch yn fawr —Thank you for joining me!


Radio Show – Episode 5 – May 29, 2016 Play List and Program Notes – Foxglove Music and Magic

FHC-GoblinGloves-180dpiIn this episode we discovered the faery lore of the plant, Foxglove, through story and music, enjoyed some contemporary treatments of very old tunes and songs, and more.

Catch the latest Forest Halls Celtic episode on demand here.

12:00: Spookytree (Deb Knodel & Jane Valencia) – Lochaber No More
12:01: Alan Stivell – Brian Boru
12:07: Owain Phyfe – Ja Nus Hons Pris
12:11: The Chieftains – I Know My Love (with The Corrs)
12:19: The Standing Stones and Debra Knodel – Oran Sniomh (Spinning Song)
12:22: Cynthia Cathcart – Mist Covered Mountains
12:25: Laura Risk, Fiddle – Lord Moira
12:33: Seumus Byrne – Track 2
12:37: Jeff Victor – The Widow of Loch Lemond
12:43: Jeff Victor – 7th Child of the 7th Child
12:50: Distant Oaks – Tobar Gach Gr�is _ An Drochaid Chli�iteach
12:55: Altan – Jimmy Lyon’s + The Teelin + The Red Crow + The Broken Bridge

Format: Track Title – artist (CD Title)

“Brian Boru” – Alan Stivell (Celtic Circle 2 – Various Artists) 

Brian Boru (full name Brian Bóruma mac Cennétig) was an Irish king who ended the domination of the High Kingship of Ireland by the Uí Néill dynasty, becoming the High King of Ireland himself. Alan Stivell is a Celtic musician from Britanny, best known in the folk harp world for his wire-strung harp playing on his classic album, Renaissance of the Celtic Harp. On this piece he plays electro-harp. He composed the words to the “Brian Boru” melody, and sings here in (I believe) Irish Gaelic and Breton.

“Ja Nus Hon Pris” – Owain Phyfe (Poets, Bards, and Singers of Songs)
A beautiful song written and sung in Langue d’oil – one of the two principal groups of dialects spoken in medieval France. It was composed by the English King, Richard Coeur de Lion, and with a lovely treatment here by the late Owain Phyfe.

Extreme trivia: Back in the early 90’s I played this song as a harp solo in the Portland, OR-based early music ensemble Musique Ancienne, and also recorded it on Deb’s & my privately-released first album, Spooky Tree.

“I Know My Love” – The Chieftains with The Corrs (Tears of Stone)
The Chieftains are a traditional Irish band formed in Dublin in November 1962. Some music experts have credited The Chieftains with bringing traditional Irish music to a worldwide audience, so much so that the Irish government awarded them the honorary title of ‘Ireland’s Musical Ambassadors’ in 1989. In 2012, they celebrated their 50th anniversary with the release of their most recent record Voice of Ages. If you’re tracking harps, yes – Derek Bell is playing harp here!

This was one of the Chieftains’ collaborative albums.

The Corrs are an Irish band that combine pop rock with traditional Irish themes within their music. The group consists of the Corr siblings, Andrea (lead vocals, tin whistle); Sharon (violin, vocals); Caroline (drums, percussion, piano, bodhrán,vocals) and Jim (guitar, piano, keyboards, vocals).

“Oran Sniomh (Spinning Song)” – The Standing Stones and Debra Knodel (Give Fleece a Chance)
The Standing Stones are Michael Robinson and Vicki Parrish. This San Francisco Bay Area based duo performs traditional music and song from Scotland and Ireland, and Canada and Australia where Scottish and Irish music took root during the Gaelic diaspora of the 19th century, as well as a certain amount of early music, and music from the other Celtic lands.

They write:

“While others may try to take traditional music into the future, our goal is to take it into the past. We try to join our research on historical performance styles to the living tradition, so that our music can be both exciting and true to its roots. But the most important thing is to enjoy ourselves and to share this beautiful musical heritage with others.”

Debra Knodel is a northern California harper who is doing some pretty cool things on harp. If you are listening in the Bay Area, contact me for information on a solo concert she’ll be performing in Fall. I wish I could travel down for that!

More trivia: Deb, Vicki, and I performed as a harp trio called Trillium way back in my first year or so of harp playing. We played at the Northern California Renaissance Faire.

“Mist Covered Mountains” – Cynthia Cathcart (Alchemy of a Rose)
Cynthia writes a regular column for the Folk Harp Journal, “Ringing Strings” which is devoted to the wire-strung harp. And is internationally known as a proponent of this instrument. I must have been thinking about my Portland, Oregon days when I put this play list together, because I really got to know this Scottish tune “Mist-Covered Mountains” back then, by way of harp lessons with wire-strung harper Janet Naylor in Eugene.

“Lord Moira – The Merry Making” – Laura Risk (The Merry Making)
“Laura Risk is an California-born violinist. She specializes in performing and teaching the diverse fiddle repertoire of Scotland and Quebec.
[Laura Risk] has that absolutely uncanny knack, not of knowing how much to put into a tune, but rather how little. She wrings every drop of passion, heartache or melancholy from most every note she plays… Just magic.”
Green Man Review

A protege of Alasdair Fraser, Laura Risk along with Athena Turgis played on Deb’s and my first (publically released) album, Masque. They played on “Waltz of the Little Girls” and “The Shetland Reels.” At the time Laura and Athena were teenagers, and musical forces to be reckoned with. Even then, I was impressed by Laura’s elegant playing, the crisp, beautiful ornamentation and her rich arrangements.


Celtic Twiddle art by Jane Valencia (c) 2010

I was inspired by all the beautiful Foxglove blooming these past weeks to put together this segment of lore and story regarding this mesmerizing plant.

Lore: The Faery Lore of Foxgloves by Mara Freeman/Background: 
Mara Freeman is an author and teacher of Western esoteric tradition, specifically the Celtic and British branches, and a storyteller.

By Mara:
Faery gloves
Faery caps and bells –
Foxgloves are the Folks’ Gloves,
the Good Folk, that is,
and you’d better not forget it if you think to cut them down. ….”

Read the full past about foxglove lore here.

“Goblin Gloves” by Allison Cox/Background music: “The Widow of Loch Lemond” – Jeff Victor (Lifescapes: Scottish Moors) /“7th Child of the 7th Child” – Jeff Victor (Lifescapes: Scottish Moors) 
Allison Cox is a storyteller on Vashon Island. She gave me permission to read her story, “Goblin Gloves” today. Allison is so fun to listen to, and so generous of spirit. She is very involved in the Seattle Storyteller’s Guild, and recently spear-headed an event in which an epic Irish myth retold by 17 tellers and with a musicians as well. It was fun to be part of that.

As accompaniment to “Goblin Gloves,” we have two pieces of Celtic Ambient music by Jeff Victors.

“Tobar Gach Gràis / An Drochaid Chliùiteach” – Distant Oaks (Gach Là Agus Oidhche : Music of Carmina Gadelica’)

“Distant Oaks  was a California ensemble specializing in dynamic, historically informed performances of traditional Gaelic and early European music. … In addition to their strong dedication to Gaelic music, language, and culture, as well as authentic traditional and Early Music performance practices, Distant Oaks was also actively engaged in composing new music in older styles. Much historical evidence suggests that the distinctions between indigenous music and courtly music were minimal in earlier times. In the spirit of fine music-making and respect for tradition, Distant Oaks continues to bring a brilliant panoply of music to their audiences.”

Distant Oaks is no longer together as a band, its founder, Deborah White, having passed away a number of years ago.

“Jimmy Lyon’s/The Teelin/The Red Crow/The Broken Bridge” – Altan (The Red Crow)
A set of tunes from the much-loved traditional Irish band, Altan.

Catch the latest Forest Halls Celtic episode on demand here.

Thank you for joining me in Forest Halls!