Upcoming Concerts

Previous events

Online Harp Workshop: Sing to the Harp

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Wire Branch of The Clarsach Society

Gaelic song and the wire-strung clarsach have an ancient history together – but self-accompanying at the harp can be a daunting task! James Ruff, tenor and early Gaelic harp, will lead an online workshop suitable for all levels addressing how to go about finding, learning, singing and playing a Gaelic song: self-accompanying at the harp. Using the example of one song, we will briefly talk about the general structure of Gaelic poetry, rhythmically speak through the lyrics together – making sure to clarify sounds that are difficult to form. We’ll take in the melody and explore the traditional art of matching it with the stresses of the poetry. We’ll play the melody on the harp, briefly looking at fingering and damping issues that arise, and explore ways to accompany this melody on the wire-strung harp following historic lines. We’ll discuss the idea of harmony and ornamentation in this tradition, and find ways to deepen expression. You’ll learn to put song and harp together, joining this ancient tradition of singing to the harp. We’ll finish by going through possible sources for early Gaelic song that can be sung to the harp, as well as Gaelic language sources in general. I’ll include a score and a recording of myself speaking the song lyrics slowly for practice, as well as a performance of the song.

Online Workshop: Tree of Strings – A Harper’s Journey Through Scotland

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THE SPANISH PEAKS HARP RETREAT - Online Zoom Retreat

Join us for an all-day online workshop: Singer and historical harper James Ruff will lead you through choice pieces from his repertoire of early music for harp and voice from Gaelic Scotland, bringing to life the 17th century world of the historic harper-bards. We will explore repertoire taken from the Maclean-Clephane harp Manuscript from the isle of Mull, the enigmatic Ports attributed to Ruaraidh Dall preserved in Scottish lute Manuscripts and Dow’s “Ancient Scots Music,” and you can try your hand and voice at a 17th century Gaelic song! We will investigate some of the history and lore surrounding these pieces and explore arranging them along historical lines, learning historic fingering, damping, ornaments, and style from the wire-strung early Gaelic harp tradition. These can be adapted and played with success on any harp. We’ll round out the day with an informal online ceilidh, sharing music and stories together.

Session times will be as follows:

Session One: West Coast 8am - 10:15am Mountain Time 9am - 11:15am Central Time 10am - 12:15pm Eastern Time 11am - 1:15pm

Session Two: West Coast 11:30am - 1:45pm Mountain Time 12:30pm - 2:45pm Central Time 1:30pm - 3:45pm Eastern Time 2:30pm - 4:45pm

Final Session: West Coast 2pm - 3pm Mountain Time 3pm - 4pm Central Time 4pm - 5pm Eastern Time 5pm - 6pm

James will perform a Gaelic song on the Classic Scottish Concert

Saturday, January 27th at 9pm

and will give a lecture on female Gaelic poets with examples of their songs entitled: Women’s Work - Voices of the Highlands (Obair nam Ban: Guthan na Gàidhealtachd)

Sunday, January 28th - 10am

The Highland Oral Tradition encompasses a broad and impressive range of poetry and music. Though officially excluded from the bardic orders, women increasingly became important bearers of tradition in Scotland as harpers and singers, and as poets and composers of song – fully employing the intricate bardic poetic forms. In recent centuries, women proved important collectors of traditional song. James Ruff guides you through some of the rich Highland repertoire of the 16th to 18th centuries – composed, collected, or inspired by women. Come experience these songs, in Gaelic and Scots, by poets such as: Mary MacLeod, Sìleas na Ceapaich, Julia MacLeod, the Baroness Nairne where women lament their dead husbands, brothers and kinsmen…nobly celebrate their clan chiefs, and even beautifully bid farewell to the ‘Music of the Clarsach.’

With Henry VIII’s declaration as King of Ireland, an interest in Irish music eventually brought the melting strains of the early Irish harp to the court of England as well as to those elsewhere in Europe. Late in Elizabeth’s reign and into that of James I, the wire-strung Cláirseach, pinnacle of Gaelic musical culture, was assimilated into a European context and heard alongside other Renaissance consort instruments. Come experience a taste of the Tudor & Jacobean sound worlds: James Ruff – tenor and early Gaelic harp, Susan Rotholz – flute, Andrew Rutherford – lute, and Patricia Neeley – viola da gamba perform music by Henry VIII himself, Irish songs referenced by Shakespeare next to those by Dowland and Byrd, and a collection of ancient harp laments contrasted with more modern pavanes attributed to Cormack MacDermott, Irish Royal harper to James I.

Join us at the Elmendorph Inn at 3 PM on Sunday, August 6, for James Ruff’s performance of early Scottish music composed, collected, or inspired by women. This concert is being presented and produced by the Hudson River Consort as a benefit for Historic Red Hook.

The Highland Oral Tradition encompasses an impressive range of poetry and music. Though officially excluded from the bardic orders, women increasingly became important bearers of tradition in Scotland as harpers and singers, and as poets and composers of song—fully employing the intricate bardic poetic forms. In recent centuries, women proved important collectors of traditional song. In this performance, James will explore the rich Highland repertoire of the 16th to 18th centuries—composed, collected, or inspired by women. Come experience these songs, in Gaelic and Scots, where women lament their dead husbands, brothers, and kinsmen, nobly celebrate their clan chiefs, and even beautifully bid farewell to the “Music of the Clarsach.” Interspersed with haunting early harp repertoire from Scottish lute manuscripts, this rarely heard repertoire is sure to transport you.

$20 admission - Benefit for Historic Red Hook

This concert—in the setting of the 1000-year-old tower of Kilkenny Castle—is a rare gathering of some of the world’s leading performers on early Irish harp and pipes, together with a prize-winning sean-nós [‘old style’] singer, in a programme of evocative and lively instrumental music, solo singing, and harp songs, some of which have only recently been unearthed, and reconstructed, after several hundred years of being lost to the living tradition.

Concerts take place live in Kilkenny. A video of each concert will be available to ticket holders, on this page, as soon as possible after each concert takes place. N.B. Concerts will not be live-streamed.

Join us in Kilkenny, Ireland OR live online each day to rediscover, and immerse yourself, in the music and traditions of Gaeldom's exquisite, ancient harp, guided by expert performers and researchers. Our aim is to share with you the ‘real deal’ of the music of the old harpers, exploring as much of their world as is now possible two centuries after the tradition died out, using everything from 18th-century manuscripts to cutting-edge 21st-century science. We warmly welcome players of ALL kinds of harps.

James will be solo cantor as well as accompanying himself on the harp singing the traditional Irish "Seacht nDólás Na Maighdine Muire" (Seven Sorrows of the Virgin Mary) during morning Mass on this Sunday. If you're in Times Square, come on by - or streamed online here: https://www.stmvirgin.org/livestream

The Oral Tradition, an important facet of Highland culture, encompasses a broad and impressive range of poetry and music, from the humblest country roots to the highest art crafted by great artists. Though officially excluded from the bardic orders, women increasingly became important bearers of tradition in Scotland as harpers and singers, but more so as poets and composers of song – often employing the intricate bardic poetic forms in their work. In later centuries, women became some of the first important collectors of traditional song. In this concert James explores the rich Highland repertoire from the 16th to 18th centuries - composed by women, collected by women, inspired by women. Come experience these songs, in both Gaelic and Scots, where wives and sisters lament their dead husbands, brothers and kinsmen; where they nobly celebrate their clan chiefs, and in one case beautifully bid farewell to the ‘Music of the Clarsach’ upon hearing of their family harper’s demise. Interspersed with haunting early harp repertoire preserved in Scottish lute manuscripts, this important and rarely heard repertoire is sure to transport you…

A genre of the earliest recorded repertory for Gaelic harp, the port, is to be found in 17th- and 18th-century Scottish lute manuscripts, captured in lute tablature. As this notation describes where to put the fingers on the lute, these are fully fleshed-out compositions of the period. Together, we will unlock Renaissance lute tablature for the harpist, working at transcribing and learning to play two lovely, representative pieces. The first, 'A Port' is from the lute-book of Robert Gordon of Straloch. Written in 1627–1629, the original is now lost, but a 19th-century copy survives. The second is 'Port Ballingowne', from the c. 1630 Skene manuscript, written by, or for, John Skene of Hallyards, in Midlothian. We will experiment with idiomatic historical phrasing: the beautiful play of stress inherent in the Gaelic language, and its relation to the fingers and fingering, bringing this forward in our own phrasing at the harp.

To bring context to our work with the Scottish lute books, this course will begin with an introductory session on the history of the lute and its music in Scotland, presented by Dr Matthew Spring, one of the foremost experts on the subject. Our course closes with a lecture on the history of harps in Scotland, with an in-depth look at the Gaelic harps, presented by Dr Karen Loomis.

A musical exploration of the famous Marian pilgrimage site in Walsingham, England, featuring James Ruff, tenor and Early Gaelic Harp in ballads, poems and music of the three periods of importance to the site: Medieval pilgrimage, Tudor destruction and lamentation, 20th century restoration. A singular journey of devotion...

I was supposed to head to Walsingham itself on March 15th, 2020 when Covid stopped us all in our tracks. Though I still plan to visit someday in person, this concert is a virtual pilgrimage of sorts for me.

One of the earliest Marian shrines, according to legend, Walsingham was founded in 1061, where Mary appeared to a noble Saxon woman asking her to build a replica of the Holy House in Nazareth. It subsequently became a beloved and important center for pilgrimage in England - second only to Canterbury. After some 500 years welcoming pilgrims, it proved a victim of Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries, passing into a haunted place of cultural memory. The shrine was restored almost 100 years ago by Anglican priest, Alfred Hope Patten.

In my concert, I'll be weaving stories of the shrine, its founding, flourishing, destruction and restitution, with music contemporary in time and place: medieval Marian sequences and antiphons, Middle English Marian devotional songs, as well as the remaining relics of the famous Elizabethan Walsingham Ballad - which even show up in Ophelia's mad scene in Hamlet - serving to enflesh and embody Walsingham's rich spiritual story in music and word...

A musical exploration of the famous Marian pilgrimage site in Walsingham, England, featuring James Ruff, tenor and Early Gaelic Harp in ballads, poems and music of the three periods of importance to the site: Medieval pilgrimage, Tudor destruction and lamentation, 20th century restoration. A singular journey of devotion...

I was supposed to head to Walsingham itself on March 15th, 2020 when Covid stopped us all in our tracks. Though I still plan to visit someday in person, this concert is a virtual pilgrimage of sorts for me.

One of the earliest Marian shrines, according to legend, Walsingham was founded in 1061, where Mary appeared to a noble Saxon woman asking her to build a replica of the Holy House in Nazareth. It subsequently became a beloved and important center for pilgrimage in England - second only to Canterbury. After some 500 years welcoming pilgrims, it proved a victim of Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries, passing into a haunted place of cultural memory. The shrine was restored almost 100 years ago by Anglican priest, Alfred Hope Patten.

In my concert, I'll be weaving stories of the shrine, its founding, flourishing, destruction and restitution, with music contemporary in time and place: medieval Marian sequences and antiphons, Middle English Marian devotional songs, as well as the remaining relics of the famous Elizabethan Walsingham Ballad - which even show up in Ophelia's mad scene in Hamlet - serving to enflesh and embody Walsingham's rich spiritual story in music and word...

Tickets ($15) available via phone or email at Holy Cross Monastery: (845) 384-6660, guesthouse@hcmnet.org

The Cry of the Harp: A Harper's Tour of Scotland

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2021 BEMF Fringe Concert - Online Link

A collage of early music for harp and voice from Gaelic Scotland, recreating the 17th-century world of the historic harper-bards. Rarely heard intimate chamber pieces from a Hebridean harp manuscript, stately formal laments commemorating great clan chieftains, poetic and musical invocations of the famed Keppoch murders, and more. Come hear the evocative sound of the early Gaelic wire harp coupled brilliantly with the ancient beauty of Gaelic poetry.

As part of the 2021 Boston Early Music Festival Fringe, this virtual concert will premiere on June 15th at 9pm, and remain available on-demand until September 30, 2021. Click on the link above, where you can set your own reminder, and also view the online concert starting June 15th. I'll be online during the premiere, available via chat to answer questions!

Click the link at the bottom of this page to download a full program for this concert.

All 2021 BEMF Fringe concerts are free of charge. You will find a complete Fringe schedule and more information at: https://bemf.org/2021-festival/fringe-concerts/.

James Ruff, Tenor and Early Gaelic Harp, presents a collage of early music for harp and voice from Gaelic Scotland, recreating the 17th-century world of the historic harper-bards. Rarely heard intimate chamber pieces from a Hebridean harp manuscript, stately formal laments commemorating great clan chieftains, poetic and musical invocations of the famed Keppoch murders, and more. The evocative sound of the early Gaelic wire harp coupled brilliantly with the ancient beauty of Gaelic poetry...

Festive Irish Event in the elegant 18th century Elmendorph Inn in honor of St. Patrick's Day, featuring Christine Gummere, cello, James Ruff, tenor and early Irish harp, and Warren Kelder, actor. Early Irish songs and music as well as recitation, both raucous and serious. All funds raised will go toward Historic Red Hook (who runs the Elmendorph Inn).

James will help teach Gaelic Song at a 3pm workshop, then perform with the harp at the evening's Scottish Concert.  Details below!

 

From Warp and Weft to Waulking – in Gaelic Language and Song
3pm

For centuries, song has been an accompaniment to work and woven into the fabric of the culture. In this workshop you will learn some basic greetings and phrases in Scottish Gaelic and also be introduced to the process of weaving and waulking of cloth. Learn to sing along with the chorus of a Scottish waulking song with weaver and singer Caroline Bennett and harpist James Ruff. No singing voice is required!

 

A Classic Scottish Concert
9pm

The performers of the Mohonk Scottish Weekend are pleased to bring you a very exciting evening of entertainment featuring dance, songs, and music from Scotland from across the ages and across the world. This concert brings together the classic and the contemporary and is sure to have you tapping your toes to the great fiddle music, wanting to dance the jigs and reels, excited by the energetic Highland dancing, entranced by the beautiful melodies of Scottish and Gaelic song, and enjoying the great tunes of the Highland Bagpipe.

The concert is followed by Scottish country dancing (ceilidh dancing) in the Parlor with the Castle Point Scottish Country Dancers and Ellen Sears. Ceilidh dancing is for all levels of dancers and no experience is necessary!

See website for booking

Dec2

World AIDS Day Service

Old Dutch Church, Old Dutch Church - 272 Wall Street, Kingston, NY

James plays his Early Gaelic Harp as a prelude to the community World AIDS Day Service, as well as singing spirituals with the Vassar Chamber Singers during the service.

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Program Downloads

2021 BEMF Fringe Concert: Download Program Click here to download the full program for The Cry of the Harp - including Program list, Program Notes, Translations and Biography. 240 KB

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