Tuesday, November 07, 2023

Scotland's music:Elan from Rachel Hair and Ron Jappy

Elan: that’s the name Rachel Hair and Ron Jappy have chosen for their most recent album.

As it is a word meant to describe something done with energy, style, and enthusiasm, it makes a description reflacting f the duo’s music.

Rachel plays the harp. Ron’s instrument is the guitar. The two thus bring together Scotland’s oldest instrument and one that is newest to the music of Scottish tradition.

They each bring love, respect, and knowledge of that tradition to the ten tracks on Elan.

Eight of the ten tracks are sets in which several tunes are linked; six of the ten include original compositions from Rachel. Other tunes come from traditional sources and from the work of contemporary musicians who draw on Celtic traditions.

Harp and guitar are in good conversation all through the sets and single tunes.

There’s the lively set Tom Toi’s Polka, for instance, with the title tune by Rachel written for a harp learning friend, followed by Battle of Augrim from Irish tradition, and another tune which they write in the sleeve notes “we found when sourcing new material; it obviously caught our eye because of its name!” It is called Harper’s Frolics and comes from English tradition. The light notes of Rachel’s harp dance against the upbeat rhythm of Ron’s guitar through the tunes. Adam Brown adds the beat of bodhran to the mix.

MacLeods of Waipu is a reflective tune that hold stories of journeys and discovery within its notes. When Ron and Rachel were on tour in New Zealand, people kept telling them they needed to go to Waipu as it it s place important to people from Scotland who emigrated to New Zealand.

On a day off they worked in a visit, and sure enough upon visiting the town’s museum, they found connection not only to Scotland but to Ullapoll, the very town in the northwest Highlands where Rachel was born.

Turns out that a school teacher (MacLeod of the tune’s name) during the time of the Highland Clearances led folk from Ullapool first to Cape Breton in Atlantic Canada and several years later to Waipu in North Island.

Cape Breton. comes in for further reference on the album, too: the Cape Breton Jigs set comprises three tunes by three Cape Breton fiddlers, set over to good effect on on harp, guitar, and bodhran.

Daybrak is a quieter set, also taking inspiration from landscape. The title tune comes from famed Shetland fiddler Tom Anderson. The duo pairs it with Rachel’s Dinan Dawn. That is “a Breton style tune inspired by early morning walks to teach harp in the beautifully medieval town of Dinan, Brittany,” she said.

The engaging music on Elan goes to show why Rachel and Ron each have many projects on the go in addition to their duo gigs and recordings.

Ron comes from a coastal village in Scotland’s northeast. He’s been involved in music since he was in primary school and holds a degree from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. He’s in demand for recording and touring in folk and traditional music projects.

Rachel is one of the top folk musicians in Scotland, known for her teaching as well as her performance. These skills and her love for the music of Scotland take her to countries across the world. Rachel has released six solo albums to date and often works on collaborative projects as well.

Rachel’s regular travels take her to teach harp once a month to the Isle of Man; it’s also where her husband comes from. So it’s natural that there’s be a nod to music of the Isle of Man on Elan.

The set Rachel and Ron have chosen to close the album references the Isle in its title, To the Rock, and in its tunes, which include music from Manx tradition and from contemporary Manx writers. That good conversation between harp and guitar (with Adam Brown’s bodhran again joining in) continues through the set.

Clarity, grace, creativity, and, yes, elan inform the tunes themselves and the playing of them through the album.

All the tracks on Elan are well worth your attention, worth your repeated listening in fact.

Lively sets and reflective ones, traditional tunes and newer ones, the music Rachel Hair and Ron Jappy have created becomes soemwhat like enjoying a conversation with good friends, a conversation to which you will want to return

You may also wish to see
Lossan, an ablum from Rachel Hair and Manx Gaelic singer Ruth Keggin
Caoir,. new album from gaelic singer Joy Dunlop, on which Ron plays guitar
Fas, an album celebrating nature from top Scottish band Breabach
Thar Toinn/Seaborne from Irish musician Muirieann Nic Amhlaoibh
The Woods from Scottish musician Hamish Napier

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


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