Wrestling with Robert ap Huw

One of our English roses in old-fashioned bloom. If only scent files could be uploaded, you'd love this one even more...

My brain hurts.  Over the past week and a half I’ve been struggling to read and interpret the first several bars of Kaniad San Silin in the Robert ap Huw manuscript.  It’s eventually going to be rewarding, but right now I’m struggling with everything from the loopy letters to my utter lack of coordination in attempting to master some of the gestures.  This evening, I got to work once again on the bee’s plait and tafliad y bys.  It’s all sounding rather clunky at this stage, and sometimes the effects I create are hilarious in their ineptitude.

But I am happy–ah, very happy.  This difficult assignment is making me work hard, and that’s what I’ve wanted from lessons.  It’s the only way I’ll begin to see what sort of player I might become.

For comic effect, I may occasionally attach a sound file.  I’ll keep posting updates on my, er, progress.


6 Responses

  1. Hi Sue, great blog.

    I know what you mean by “clunky” as I’ve been learning Gosteg Dafydd Athro for a year now. I’ve been using Alasdair Codona’s staff and symbol notation but I know I’ll eventually have to learn to read the mss. I have the tune memorized but it’s not smooth and “tafliad y bys” is still a problem sometimes.

    I was wondering if you can tell me which ms pages are Caniad San Silin because I want to learn it. I know it starts on ms page 69 but I can’t tell which page it ends on.

    Here are some more videos for you:


    And get a load of this Scottish choral music. It sounds like Eastern Orthodox or Russian and reminds me of the Doukhobor choirs around here. Something primal about the slurring:

  2. Hi, Peter.
    Thanks for the comments and the assortment of links. I enjoyed in particular the NiallMS links to the sung psalms on the isle of Lewis. The sound is otherworldly.

    You are asking a real beginner, but I think that Caniad San Silin ends in the middle of page 71, where you see “terfyn kaniad san silin.” I believe that terfyn means “end” in Welsh. Notice on page 69, just before Kaniad San Silin begins, the ms page reads “terfyn kaniad tro tant.” Again, I think that’s the end of one piece, and the start of the next.

    Right now I’m bumping along with the material on the bottom of page 69, and am having a complicated but amusing good time. Since I just bought a copy of Bill Taylor’s CD, Two Worlds of the Welsh Harp (through the Early Gaelic Harp Emporium), I can listen to Gosteg Dafydd Athro to hear what you’ve been working to master. Surely I have no real complaints, as I’ve been crashing about for a mere two weeks.

    Please let me know how Gosteg is coming along!


  3. Thanks Sue, I’ve printed it up. Here’s Alasdair Codona’s transcription of Gosteg Dafydd Athro, first page (t15)
    It continues of t16 and t17.
    He’s slowly transcribing the ms.

    He adds the fingering and ornament symbols above the staff lines so you need to know what they mean. I use Bill Taylor’s pamphlet. It’s a lot easier than trying to read the ms but I do think it’s important to be able to refer to it.

    I’ve memorized the tune but I can’t play it smoothly. As I said “taflid y bys” is still a problem at times, among other things.

    Aladair made an interesting comment one day at the clairseach/clarsach group. He said that Gaelic singers and pipers put the emphasis on the first note even if it’s an ornament and the same might have applied to the ap huw music. So instead of placing the beat on the fourth note the way Bill Taylor does I put it on the first note and also play the bass chord with it at the same time. This changes the rhythm quite a bit so I’ve got another interpretation out there now.

    Check the converstion at http://uk.groups.yahoo.com/group/clairseach/ about Gaelic psalm singing. Turns out that this way of chanting isn’t that old in Scotland but it might be universal. It’s clear to my ears that the style is ancient and perhaps archetypal. Who knows maybe it’s a return to an earlier way of chanting.


  4. Hi, Peter.

    Sorry about the slow reply. It’s been a hectic end of the year teaching school. Thanks for providing information on Codona’s transcription system. I’m working with Simon Chadwick, and although I was overwhelmed by the challenge of reading notes in the ap Huw tablature at first, I have been persevering, and it is beginning to be less arduous to puzzle out the notes and the various ornaments. Now, that doesn’t mean I can play them well, but I can at least figure out what they are!

    I, too, am putting the emphasis on the first note, and am playing the bass note along with the first note of the treble gestures, and I like the dissonant effect it creates. I hear that Bill Taylor is coming out with a new ap Huw CD soon, so I will be curious to hear if he has changed his approach to the music since the first one was published in the 90’s. We’ll see…

    Good talking to you!

  5. it’s always the second note that’s on the beat

  6. Hi there… just playing devil’s advocate here, but nowhere in the manuscript does it say that the music is for harp, nowhere do we have an indication that letter names indicate pitches, or how those pitches relate in a tuning schedule. It is all conjectural interpretation…

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