These are the instruments used for the performances on these recordings. When we play live we use the harp, 12-string guitar, fiddle, Irish flute, and viola. In the studio we sometimes add other instruments, such as cello or bass.

Note: If you happen to see us in Europe we have basically the same road kit but different instruments. It makes the trans-Atlantic flights a whole lot easier.

Celtic Harp

Celtic Harp

Julia Lane plays the Celtic harp, also known as the folk harp or lever harp. This type of harp, with a triangular frame, probably originated in southeastern Scotland about 1400 years ago. There are carvings of harps on some of the Pictish stones.

The harp was the instrument of kings and chiefs for many centuries. The harper, along with the bard, was responsible for passing on the songs, stories, genealogies, laws, legends, and myths in the pre-literate societies of northern Europe. The harp went into decline due in part to political upheaval that started in the 16th century and later because of the increasing use of chromaticism in the music of the aristocracy. The folk harp had a brief period of renewed interest with the "Celtic Twilight" movement of the late 19th century. The current popularity of the harp in the United States began about 1970 with the first publication of the Folk Harp Journal by Robbie Robinson. Until 1990 or thereabouts the FHJ was published primarily for builders and the knowledge was freely shared amongst the luthiers. Consequently the quality of instruments available in the United States is very high. There are a few companies which employ some dozens of workers and any number of individual luthiers doing very fine work.

Julia's harp is a custom 5-octave instrument built by Fred Gosbee in 1998. The inlay on the pillar is an obvious custom feature. Less noticable is the oversize sound box. This harp holds about 40% more air than most other harps in its range, which contributes to the resonance.

Julia plays with her fingernails, which is an older technique than is usually practiced today. This gives each note a distinct attack and leads to a wonderful clarity of the musical line.

Julia began her career as an accompanist and still frequently uses her harp to support her own vocals as well as accompanying other instruments

 

12-string Guitar

12-string guitar
Fred Gosbee began playing the 12-string guitar in 1973. It is strung with six double courses giving it a fuller sound than a normal six-string guitar - it also takes a bit more effort to play. The first two courses are in tuned as unisons and the remaining courses tuned as octaves. Most 12-strings are tuned below standard pitch because of the tension of all those strings. Fred keeps his guitar tuned down two semitones, usually with the lowest course in "dropped D" (actually "C").

Fred's current 12-string is a custom instrument built for him by Nikos Apollonio, from Rockport, Maine. The neck is a bit wider than the standard 12-string. This is to accommodate the finger-picking style Fred often uses. This guitar has a big, warm bass and clear treble. It also sports a double compensating bridge which allows accurate intonation all the way up the fingerboard.

This guitar can be heard on all of our vocal recordings as well as some tracks from the Tapestry series

 

Violin/Fiddle

violin
People often ask the difference between a violin and a fiddle. There may be a few very subtle differences in the set up, but basically it's the same instrument - just played differently.

European art music is heavily influenced by the Italian technique - lots of wide vibrato and varying bow pressure to accent notes. Scottish fiddle music has, until recently, been heavily influenced by the Italian school as well.

Irish fiddle music is more influenced by the baroque school - less vibrato, the use of open strings and varying bow speed, rather than pressure, for accents. There are also many ornaments in fiddle playing that differ significantly from art music, as well as a subtle "swing" that can only be approximated in notation.

On our vocal recordings the fiddle is usually the lead instrument, although we have used it to harmonize with Julia's voice on Islands in Time.

 

Viola

viola
While the viola is seldom heard in traditional music, we really like the warm alto sound. It also makes a good accompaniment for Julia's soprano voice. Prior to popularity of the string quartette and orchestra, the viola was actually more popular than the violin and was used to accompany vocalists.

Fred's viola is an unattributed "Euro" made in 2000. It has a 17-inch body, making it on the large side (violins are 14-inch). The size of violas varies more than any other instrument in the violin family.

 

Pennywhistles

whistles

The whistle is among the most ancient of instruments. A fragment of a bone whistle found recently in Germany has been carbon dated to 20,000 years old.

The pennywhistle, also known as the "tin whistle" became popular when the Clark Company made whistles out of tin which, in 1840, cost one British penny. Both names have become inaccurate. While the Clark company still makes the original tin whistle, most makers are working in brass, wood, plastic - even sterling silver!

Fred has a whole box of whistles in a variety of keys. He has built low whistles from PVC water pipe based on a Gordon Bok design in the keys of low F, low D and low C, which are used to accompany Julia's voice (House on the Hill from Song of the Sea, The Harper's Song from Looking Home). The high whistles are used mostly to play lead on Irish tunes, although there is a track (Rolling Home from The Ballad of Cappy John) that is reminiscent of a Sousa march piccolo.

 

Irish Flute

flute
The Irish flute is a relative newcomer to traditional Irish music. After Theobald Boehm invented the modern orchestra flute in 1847 orchestra players rapidly abandoned their old simple system flutes. These old instruments were available at a good price to the Irish musicians who adapted the instrument to their own music. Many of these flutes had their keys stripped off and the extra holes plugged, resulting in an instrument that fingures like a pennywhistle but is capable of a greater range of dynamics and expression.

In its simplest form the Irish flute is a tube with seven holes. Six of the holes are for the fingers and the seventh is the tone or blow hole. Like the pennywhistle, an unkeyed flute has limited access to notes outside its home key. A flute in D (the most common key) can also be played in the keys of G and A, since the cross-fingering for C-natural and G-sharp are relatively easy. On a good unkeyed flute you can also get B-flat but to get F-natural requires "half-holing" the note. This is OK for slow airs but is impractical for fast tunes. One note that is impossible on a D flute is E-flat.

Simple system flute can be obtained with keys. The most common set-ups are one-key, four-key and six-key. By the time you have six keys, it isn't so simple!

Fred's flute is a keyless flute in D made by Casey Burns in Kingston, Washington It is made from a beautiful African wood called "mopane" [mo-PAN-a]. The flute has exquisite tone over the full two octave range.

 

Studio and Seldom Seen Instruments

Miscellaneous Instruments

studioinstruments
Some our vocal recordings feature guest instrumentalists. Cello is heard on some tracks and is featured on Ettrick (Ae Fond Kiss).

There are a couple of tracks on Cappy John that use English Concertina, a couple with dobro (and TWO cellos!).

Probably the biggest instrument we have used is the Atlantic Ocean. We didn't use all of it, of course, but we did record wave sounds which are used like percussion on Song of the Sea

 


2006-08-06 Castlebay, Inc.
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