I promised myself I would not let another Halloween go by without publishing my collection of Tam Lin tunes.  In most versions of the story, it is Halloween night when our heroine must pull Tam Lin from his horse as the fairies pass by and hold him fast while he turns into all manner of things.  I have loved all things Tam Lin (including the many novels based on the story) for a number of years and being able to play the ballads on the harp is so much fun!  And they make for great programming in an set devoted to mysteries of the Celtic tradition.

So, with a few days to spare and without further ado, I bring you . . .

Tam Lin

Tam Lin is a legendary Scottish story, recorded in many ballads, which dates from at least the 1500s. The heroine's story, one of pluck and courage, transformations, and the relationship between the fairies and mere mortals, has been the subject of innumerable versions.  This version of the tune is a traditional tune collected by BH Bronson.

Margery (or Margaret or Janet) sits calmly in a bower sewing when the thought of fresh roses sends her impulsively to the forbidden woods. After being seduced there by Tam Lin, she ultimately must rescue him from his enchantment at the hands of the Queen of the Fairies. To do so, she must pull him from his white horse and hold him tightly as he is transformed into a variety of beasts and then a brand of fire, finally covering his nakedness with her mantle of green as he comes back to human form in her arms.

Lord Robinson's Only Child

Lord Robinson's only child is, of course, none other than Tam Lin.

This version of the Tam Lin ballad has an unnamed maiden walking her father's grounds when a figure appears and demands to know why she is there. When she questions him he reveals himself to be the only child of Lord Robinson, and that he was stolen away by the faeries.

Another tune collected by BH Bronson, it has a pleasing lilt to it and sounds lovely on the harp.

Young Tambling

Here is another ballad for those of us bitten by the Tam Lin bug. I've added an introduction and ending to this lovely melody.  This version of the Tam Lin ballad was popularized by folk singers like AL Lloyd and Frankie Armstrong.   Another beautiful piece for harp, full of the drama rescuing Tam Lin from the Fairy Queen.

The Tamlin Reel

A rollicking reel, so fun to play!  What a nice way to break up a set of Tam Lin ballads in your programs.  I've shared the love between two hands, making it achievable even for advanced beginners.  There are some cool downward rolling chords for that spooky effect, and also some fun grace notes (leave them out until you can play the melody well without them).

Thomas the Rhymer

Often confused with Tam Lin, Thomas the Rhymer is another ballad about a man, in this case a harper, living with the Queen of the Fairies.  In this ballad told from his point of view, Thomas is a willing captive set free at the end of seven years and given the "gift" of truth-telling. This tune is a great fit for any program about fairies, the mysteries of Celtic lore, or, best of all, the adventures of harpers.

Before Halloween passes us by, here are a few more Celtic tunes you might enjoy!

The Witches' HIll

This Scottish strathspey sound great on the harp and isn't too difficult to play. The first verse features a simple accompaniment; choose to play only this version if you are a lower intermediate player.  The second time through, I've added grace notes, rolled chords and some parallel passages, none of them too hard for solid intermediate players.

Song of the Pooka

I first fell in love with this haunting tune on a Noirinn ni Rainn recording years ago.  Once I discovered it's beautiful story, I knew I had to arrange it for harp.  It's a staple for performances and fits beautifully into a performance of Celtic mysteries.

This is a very old Irish tune, written by a fisherman and fiddler from the Northwest coast of Ireland, who, when out fishing with his mates one day, heard the tune mysteriously playing in the middle of the ocean. Believing it have an otherworldly origin, he named the tune after the, Pooka, an Irish water spirit.  Later speculation tied the tune to migrating humpback whales.  Either way, the tune is haunting.

The Song of Fionnuala

Fionnuala was the only girl in a family of boy, resented and ill-treated by their father's new wife.  The stepmother eventually turned the lot of them into swans.  I have set this tune with a left-hand that becomes almost a counter melody, with contrary and parallel motion.   Play it simply and beautifully. The text is by Thomas Moore.

Leaves Are Falling, the Nights are Colder

 . . . and It's Time for Some Ghost Stories

The Celtic tradition is full of ghostly tales, many of which have come down to us with beautiful melodies.  Whether you want to plan a Halloween program or just enjoy the Celtic mysteries, these arrangements are sure to please.

Binnorie (Two Sisters)

The Celtic tradition is full of ghost stories, but in this one from Scotland the harp plays a central role. When a passing harper makes a new harp from the golden hair and white breastbone of a lovely murdered maiden, it starts to sing the story of her cruel sister's betrayal.  This arrangement of the haunting tune includes a recurring motif as introduction and interlude, with three different verses. One of the verses features the melody in the left hand with floating chords above it.

The Lover's Ghost (Cock's Crow)

This English ghost ballad is one of my favorites.  The tune is haunting and the story more sweet than macabre.   This arrangement of this beautiful tune includes some left hand harmonics, harmony in sixths, and a recurring (but optional) lever change.

Wandering Spirit

Like the famous Butterfly, this tune is a slip jig, in 9/8 time.  It's a lot of fun to play and a great addition to your ghostly repertoire. The first verse features a rollicking open hand pattern in the left hand--it looks impressive but is not hard to master.  There is also some fun parallel motion in the second verse.

Sweet William's Ghost

This lovely tune is another ballad about a ghostly lover, a story with the usual tragic results. In spite of the sad subject matter, the tune itself is sweetly upbeat. This arrangement is accessible to early intermediate players, and features a lovely waltz pattern in the left hand. The second verse takes the tune into a higher octave.

Highland Fairy Lullaby

In the old days in Celtic lands, the people believed that when a once-healthy infant wasted away, the fairies had stolen the healthy baby and left a changeling in its place. This lovely lullaby, arranged for beginners, tells of a sorrowful mother searching for her lost child.  The tune has a lovely lilt, and is arranged so beginners can easily enjoy it.  It features a gorgeous descending bass line, and the second verse is played up an octave and features a few easy grace notes and broken chords.

Carolan's Draught

Why play exercises when you can play what's arguably the most charming of Carolan's pieces?  This arrangement of Carolan's Draught pulls out all the stops, in honor of the showman the Turlough O'Carolan was reputed to be.  The tune gives your right hand a fingering workout, but in a way that is completely "harpistic".  Fingering includes thumb slides.  I've added parallel scale passages, open hand octaves, lovely open tenth chords, and many other fun touches to the accompaniment.  This piece is a great etude for late intermediate players, and perfect for recitals and gigs (and works beautifully as a wedding processional, too).

Come Live With Me and Be My Love

A favorite old English tune, with a sweet, lilting melody, set simply for beginners. Finding engaging repertoire for beginners can be difficult.  That's why I arrange many of my favorite tunes especially for my own adult students.   The first verse of this lovely piece is accessible to anyone who has mastered overlapping brackets.  In the second verse, students get to work on 4-2-1 patterns, rolled chords, and placing and sliding into chords.




Under the Waterfall

This is one of those pieces that students want to play as soon as they hear it.  It makes a fine recital or performance piece. Under the Waterfall teaches pattern recognition, climbing inversions and playing 3-finger arpeggios.  I suggest practicing with block chords to achieve evenness and fluidity. I've included dynamics, though instead I recommend that you experiment with several different options. It can be played on any harp with at least a full octave below middle C.

New Claret

A sweet and lively Scottish tune, arranged simply to show off the lilting melody. The rhythms put this piece at the early intermediate level, but it is not hard to learn.  Each section adds to the charm and playfulness. The patterns are very fun to play and make a nice warm-up for the hands. It can be played on any harp with at least a full octave below middle C.

Moon Over the Ruined Castle

Another favorite among my students, this piece incorporates harmonics, PDLT with and without nails (to emulate the sound of the koto), and a running triplet pattern for the second verse.  A great opportunity to work on special effects and create a show-stopper piece for the early intermediate player. Playable on therapy harp; lowest note, E below middle C (easy to alter to fit the smallest lap harp).

The Harp to Harp PDF harp sheet music store opened in late March with a wealth of music, spanning genres, levels, and harp sizes.  Every product page features longer descriptions and a software-generated audio file you can play to hear the whole piece.  Remember to scroll down the page to find the audio.

Classical & Medieval Music:

  • Debussy's Clair de Lune, three arrangements for three levels, two of them playable on a therapy harp (lowest note C below middle C)
  • Debussy's Arabesque No. 1, an intermediate arrangement
  • Hymn to Saint Magnus, the unusual and haunting Medieval tune in the Lydian mode, playable on a therapy harp (lowest note C below middle C)
  • Cantiga of Alfonso Sabio, a lovely piece in the Dorian mode, playable on a therapy harp (lowest note C below middle C)
  • Handel's Passapied in C Major, a great first classical piece, playable on a therapy harp (lowest note C below middle C)
  • Concerto de Aranjuez by Rodrigo, the breathtaking second movement arranged for late intermediate harp
  • Romanza, the Spanish favorite, arranged for late beginners.

Celtic Music

Original music:

  • Little Dragonfly, a fun and flighty piece for the harp beginner, to practice overlapping brackets.

You can always find music cross-referenced by genre, level, mode, and other features in the category index.







I had one student who, once she heard this piece, could not rest until she learned it.  Could that be because she was ready to finally put her lingering grief over the death of her mother behind her?

In the International Harp Therapy Program, as well as in other therapeutic musician training programs, the use of the Modes of music is core to providing healing music to clients in many settings.  As part of that training, we spend much time learning tunes in the various modes, improvising in the modes, and learning how to select the mode appropriate for a given situation.  For the more common modes--Dorian, Mixolydian, and of course Aeolian (natural minor) and Ionian (major)--this is a relatively straightforward task.  But what of the far less common modes?

The Lydian mode is a striking mode, seen as the brightest of all.  And yet there is a wistful quality to the Lydian mode. I have found that is is especially soothing to those who have felt overwhelmed with grief, as it seems to soothe the heart.   There are literally only a handful of traditional tunes in this mode (though rock guitar solos tend to favor it).  The Hymn to Saint Magnus is by far the loveliest I have found.

You will notice that the tune uses many F chords (in my setting, it is in the key of C, so F would be the natural home of the Lydian mode). Tension comes from the movement from F to G and back again, which happens repeatedly.  If you wish to improvise in F Lydian, you would employ the same strategy.  So, for example, you might play four measures of F chords, 2 measures of G chords, and then end your progression with 2 measures of F chords again.  F needs to be "home"; these chords emphasized the other way (more G than F) would create G Mixolydian.

In any case, I hope you enjoy Hymn to Saint Magnus.

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