Carol Wood is a retired professor of English literature, has a Ph.D. in Medieval Literature and has taught courses in Chaucer and in Celtic and Germanic literature for many years. She has always been interested in the important and ancient links between poetry and the harp (or its cousin, the lyre). She loves setting poems to music and is dedicated to increasing the repertoire of the Celtic harp.
From the Composer: While all eight of these Celtic holidays may not be truly ancient, several of them certainly are; some, like Samhain, have had Christianizing veils cast over them but have kept many of the pre-Christian customs associated with their celebration. Interested harpists will find a wealth of available information about these holidays, their names, and their customs. These
notes try only to explain a few things about the eight harp pieces and their sources of inspiration.
Imbolc, February 1st or 2nd, is also the Feast of St. Bridget or Brigid and is associated with the ancient goddess of that name in Celtic mythology—a smith and a poet. St. Bridget is sometimes touchingly regarded as the protector of the lambs born at this time of the year, when the spring
approaches but can still seem far away.
Ostara is the name sometimes given to the neo-Celtic celebration of the Spring Equinox. nterestingly to historians of language and mythology, Ostara (or Eostra) seems to refer to an ancient Germanic goddess of the spring, the dawn, and fertility. Her name is also related to “east” and “Easter.” This piece depicts the dawn of the day and of the year.
Beltaine, the joyous celebration of spring’s warmth and wealth of flowers and new greenery, occurs on the first day of May. Here in Vermont all this joy is reflected perfectly in the capering of the adorable little goats in our dairy farms.
The longest day of the year and the shortest night mark the Summer Solstice—Midsummer. Since long before Shakespeare’s funny and lyrical play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Summer Solstice has been associated with magic, and the fireflies in my garden remind me of Titania, Oberon, and Puck.
Lughnasadh, on August 1st, is the festival of the first harvest. A version of the name of this festival survives in Manx and Scots Gaelic as well as in Irish Gaelic, and the name itself derives from Lugh, one of the most important Celtic gods. The Puck Fair of County Kerry, with its horse market, music, and dancing, was almost certainly a continuation into the 20th century of Lughnasadh, and so for this holiday I composed a dance that is almost, but not quite, a traditional jig.
Mabon marks the Autumn Equinox and the end of summer; for me, it is a wistful moment of the year—extremely beautiful yet transitory.
Samhain is one of the most significant celebrations in the Celtic year— the word itself means “the end of summer”, the beginning of the dark part of the year. It survives even in non-Celtic countries as Halloween, thanks to its adoption into the Christian calendar as All Hallows’ Eve. It is said to be the time when the veils between this world and the next are at their most thin.
The Winter Solstice is marked in many European cultures as a time for celebrating the birth of the new light and a time for decorating with evergreens like holly. For “The Holly King,” I used modal and traditional versions of the carol “The Holly and the Ivy,” because I love the lyrics’ references to “the rising of the sun, and the running of the deer.”