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Qualifications and Examinations

What are your teacher’s qualifications?

Students and parents of students should never be shy about asking to see the qualifications of the teacher – but for us Irish harpers or harpists, until recently , there were no qualifications - or examinations - or teaching ‘method’ for any kind of Irish harp player – and all the teachers starting off as ‘teachers’ were teaching intuitively – or, in essence, teaching by ‘trial and error’ or ‘off the cuff’. Because they were able to play a number of tunes, it is often thought that those who can play, can ‘teach’ what they know to the next player – but, as we have seen this is a very ‘hit and miss’ idea as ‘just because you speak English, doesn’t mean you can teach it’….. As with every skill, there will be good teachers and poor teachers. For harp teachers today, you will inevitably have to take the gamble on

  • What the teacher will teach
  • How effective they are as a teacher
  • How likeable they are
  • How honourable the are
  • How skilled they are

The ‘qualification’ short-coming has been addressed by a number of different establishments in recent years…

TTCT (Teastas I dTeagasc Ceolta Tire) Traditional Music Teacher’s Diploma governed by Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann with the Department of Education. This diploma course was the first to address the new skill of traditional music teaching since 1990 and comprises a one-week residential course at the headquarters of Comhaltas in Dublin. It is an excellent week of teacher training with supervised teaching practise in the afternoons equipping teachers with repertoire and teaching strategies.

ARIAM (Associate of the Royal Irish Academy of Music) Classical teaching diploma from the Royal Irish Academy in their graded examinations for the harp. There is a lot of excellent music on their syllabus with links to the publishers for the written texts. This music is then taught and examined as ‘classical’ music.

And the examinations available for students to take are:
London College of Music Traditional Music Examinations
Offering exams at Grade 2, 4, 6 &8 with a syllabus designed by a trad teacher – but the harp syllabus here is exceptionally basic and harp players are adjudicated mainly by other instrumentalists who would neither understand harmony or arrangement – or classical music examiners.

Scrúdú Ceol Tíre
Traditional music examinations governed by Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann. This system has proved problematical as the harp is included with all the melody-only instruments (fiddle, flute, whistle, concertina, button accordion and uilleann pipes (both these last with a small but very restricted element of chording) and offering no guidance either to teachers or examiners on harmony, arrangement or accompaniment.

Royal Irish Academy of Music
Irish harp is the only ‘Irish’ instrument included on their syllabus of examinations – and while there is certainly a number of excellent ‘traditional music arrangements’ on their syllabus, these are learned from the page and played in examination (or competition) as classical pieces.

(Harbison) Irish Harp College
Since 1986, my students have taken annual examinations at 8 levels; the first 4 of designated coursework and the second 4 following their choice of specialism (or ‘Art of Harping’). The Board of Examiners as well as myself, includes a number of highly regarded traditional musicians including Geraldine Cotter (trad Piano) and Mícheál Ó hAlmhain (flute and pipes). At least 400 harp students have progressed at least to Level 4 in this system (and at Leaving Cert, the Irish Harp College has a 95% record of ‘A’ and ‘A*’ grades). Also since 1986, I have been training teachers, and from 2006, there have been teacher training courses and examinations but this system, however effective, is as yet unaccredited (due to the small numbers of examination candidates annually and the unique nature of the (oral) method– but an academic accreditation partner is being sought).
This document has been prepared in January 2017 and improvements and new strategies are coming forward - so check for updates and new developments.