Bardic Music: healing in times of trouble

The British Druid Order Forums BDO Public Forum Bardic Music: healing in times of trouble


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      Music has been a hugely important part of my life since (according to my mother) impersonating Elvis in front of a mirror with a tennis racket for a guitar at the age of three. It’s no exaggeration to say that without music I wouldn’t be here now. The Incredible String Band and Robin Williamson were a vital element in maintaining my grip on life and sanity through the most trying times in my life. So when Covid came and lockdowns ensued, it was natural for me to look to music to help me through it too.
      In particular, I’d had an idea kicking around to recreate an instrument called a timpan that was played in Britain and Ireland from at least the 8th century CE through to the 15th. I’d already got most of the required bits together, so spent the first couple of weeks putting them together. I’d never made a stringed instrument before, but at age 66 I’m still always up for learning a new craft or expanding existing skills. It turned out OK.
      I now have a notion to build the kind of harp known as a telyn rawn, ‘Horse-hair harp.’ This was the go-to instrument for Welsh bards from around the 9th or 10th century until the 16th or possibly later. My research suggests it’s a triangular harp like those shown on Pictish stones in Scotland, made from Willow wood with a Horse-hide soundboard and strings made from Horse-hair.
      I have to say, despite all the evidence, the idea of harp strings made from Horse-hair struck me as being a bit nuts. Surely hair couldn’t possibly be strong or durable enough? So last night I took a hank of Horse-hair given to me by a Horse-owning friend, selected 9 hairs of approximately the same length, tied them together at one end, clipped that end to a piece of wood, separated the 9 into 3 groups of 3 and plaited them together. It was a fiddly job and took a while. I tied the other end once I’d plaited as far as I could go, then stretched the resulting string between my hands and plucked with a finger-nail. Sure enough, the result was a satisfying twang like a bowstring. I then fitted the string to a little 8-stringed lyre I’d bought online and yes, it works really well. It’s not possible to tune it up as high as the metal string it replaced, so if I fit all Horse-hair strings, I’ll need to drop the tuning across the whole instrument, but the sound is actually pretty good, so I think I’m going to try it. That way, I’ll get a feel for Horse-hair strings and an idea of how well or otherwise they maintain their tuning.
      This is the kind of thing that engages me on all sorts of levels and has been helping to keep me sane and my mind and hands active during lockdown.
      In between these craft-oriented musical projects, I continue working on revising our bardic course, which is also coming along well. While I work, I always have my entire music library on random play so that I never known what’s going to come up. As I write this, I’m listening to Cajun musician, Clifton Chenier. That’s now switched to a cover version of ‘Wild Horses’ by the Flying Burrito Brothers. Since my taste ranges from Gregorian chants and Tudor church music through to the Screaming Blue Messiahs, anything is possible. It’s my teenage dream of having a radio station that only plays stuff I like brought into reality. Yay!
      Is it just me whose brain is wired this way or do you also find healing in music?
      Greywolf /|\
      Here’s a link to Rhodri Davies playing a reconstruction of a telyn rawn he had made for him:


        Looking forward to hearing your telyn rawn, Greywolf! I think at one level music is so powerful, because it also connects us to the birds, from whom we at one time learned this magical craft. And this natural connection also gives it its healing powers. How the heart opens up, when we first hear birdsong after the winter!


          Is it just me whose brain is wired this way or do you also find healing in music?

          Very much so!

          I’ve got Celtic folk, classic 80s Goth rock, 90s dance, Reggae, Ry Cooder slide guitar blues, 60s and 70s stuff from The Kinks, The Who, and Donovan to Marc Bolan, 70s, 80s and 90s hip-hop, the whole Manchester Indie scene, Classical, folk, ancient, World folk … you name it! I try to listen to as much as I can from as many different genres. The first songs I can remember listening to were Beatles’ songs with my mum – apparently, I was also a big fan of Shakin’ Stevens! Like most people, I presume, there’s music to go with your mood. I tend to listen to more Goth stuff in the winter, sorry if that seems like some sort of a cliché, whereas the summer brings out different tastes. Recently I’ve been messing around with synths and mixers, so we’ll see how that goes. I’ve also been trying to do slide on an acoustic bass – with mixed results, but still. 😀

          That horse-hair telyn rawn has a lovely sound and it does definitely have a sound that takes me back to other times and places. It’s got that warm, earthy and slightly “tangy” pitch that just sounds ancient to me. It may not be as crisp or clean sounding, but sometimes when it’s too “perfect”, I think it loses a bit of soul – if you know what I mean?



            I’m glad your efforts to create the horse-hair harp went well. I’ve never even heard of such a thing before so I’ll definitely be looking it up. Thank you for educating us on yet another interesting fact!

            “Is it just me whose brain is wired this way or do you also find healing in music?”

            I agree that music has always drawn me in on both an emotional and spiritual level. As a child, I often found myself singing to express my emotions, or just singing to the animals like some cheesy character in a Disney movie because it was fun. Now I’ve found that I almost always have music playing, and no genre is fully off-limits.

            Some songs have helped me connect with my inner self while others have helped me feel more connected to things like nature, humanity, or even the gods. It truly is something I can’t imagine being without and I’m grateful to all the musicians who put their creativity and work out there.

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