Darcy Fair, PhD
Folklorist, Musician, Teaching Artist, Hertiage Consultant
A Bit About Ethnomusicology
Ethnomusicology is a mouthful of a word that means "the study of music within cultural contexts," and it is where the harp comes in, at least for me. Those contexts can and do include everything from family singing in the car to opera at the Met. I myself prefer smaller, more intimate contexts for music making and music listening, such as the Irish seisiun ceol, or music session.
When I was learning to play Irish music on the harp it just plain didn't sound right. Something was off. To find out what that was I began studying ethnomusicology and learned how to figure out what Irish traditional musicians were doing with the notes and the characteristics that made Irish traditional music sound like itself. It took awhile, but I began to realize that most harp players in the United States were missing out on traditional phrasing, ornamentation and its placement, and by an overuse of classical harmony. So I began following other musicians around which in folkloristic and ethnomusicological terms is called field work, which is my case was hanging out in bars and playing or listening to music. As I hung out and played I listened to how these musicians did it. I took a lot of notes and asked a lot of questions, read everything I could find, and wrote a dissertation on Irish traditional music as it is played on the B/C button box by my friend Billy McComiskey. And it worked. No one is perfect, but I got the idea, and my music now sounds pretty much the way I want it to, and I can even tell you why it sounds the way it does!