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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.

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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