Friday, April 14, 2017

Steel: The Pipers

Sileas: The Pipers


Over the course of our Steel theme, we have heard an awful lot of music played instruments which are variants of the guitar. This is not surprising, but there are other instruments which also fit. To most minds, the harp is probably not one of them. The harp, like the classical guitar, is usually played with nylon strings. Of course, nylon was only invented in 1935, but the mellow sound we think of for harp music was played instruments strung with gut strings before that. Steel strings are far more unusual in harp music. In fact, Mary MacMaster of the Scottish folk duo Sileas is the player I know of who plays a steel stringed harp. What difference does it make? I could try to explain, but Sileas gives the best possible explanation through their music. That’s because the other member of the group, Patsy Seddon, plays the more typical nylon strung harp. The Pipers is a tune that presents the contrast in the two sounds to great effect.

Seddon and MacMaster first came together in a group called Sprangeen, which stayed together for two years, and made their only album in 1984. By the following year, that group was done, and MacMaster and Seddon had become the duo Sileas. They would eventually be inducted into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame, despite having only made four albums together as a duo. That’s because their other larger group, The Poozies, has proved to be far more stable than Sprangeen, accounting for another seven albums. Seddon and MacMaster are both also fine traditional singers in both English and Scots Gaelic. At least back when I first saw them in 1986, they were also wonderful live performers.

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