Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

music-Skye Boat Song on harp May 29, 2014

Here’s a little break from ranting poems or pugilistic poetry!  In honour of the upcoming Outlander TV show, here’s an ‘arrangement in progress’ I’ve made of The Skye Boat Song, which I’m betting is incorporated into the TV show theme.



For the technically curious:

I am playing a double strung harp.  (This was definitely easier before I had bifocals, though it was challenging enough then).  There are three octaves on each side of the harp, tuned to the same notes.  44 strings in all.  This is a low-head Celtic harp, in the style of the famous Irish Brian Boru harp or the Scottish  Queen Mary harp.  It is also known as a Scottish clarsach.  Specifically, mine is a Brittany harp, built for me by Stoney End 15 years ago or so. (When I bought it the Canadian dollar was around 70c US, so it was pricey!)  It still has its original strings!  This says it’s a tough little harp, and that I’m a lazy harpist (some people change strings a couple of times a year, to keep the sound bright).  It is made from a lovely, shimmery grained cherry and has a Baltic birch soundboard with a pretty inlay strip at the base of the strings.  It keeps its tuning brilliantly- rarely needing more than a titch of adjustment here and there.  This is a rare blessing in a harp!

Here are The Skye Boat Song lyrics as I say them to myself while I’m playing (which does not in any way imply they are the correct lyrics!)

Speed bonny boat like a bird on the wing

Onward the sailors cry

Carry the lad that’s born to be king

Over the sea to Skye!

Loud the winds blow

Loud the waves crash

Ocean’s a weary bed

La la la la

la la la la                           (< < < < pretty sure those aren’t the right lyrics)

Watch o’er your weary head

oh                                        (That’s the soft D sounded to start back into the chorus)

Speed bonny boat… (etc)

I always thought somehow Flora McDonald was on this boat with him, but I think that’s just me.


I promise OJ the standard poodle is only sleeping, though he certainly does look dead.  He is snoring now, in the exact same position.



60 Responses to “music-Skye Boat Song on harp”

  1. lawz500 Says:

    Nice! I love your hair by the way. Gorgeous!

  2. betternotbroken Says:

    I liked the standard poodle in the background.

  3. Jennifer G. Knoblock Says:

    Beautiful! I love the sound of the harp–I have wanted to learn to play one. How did you learn?

    • I started by renting a lever harp and borrowing Sylvia Wood’s “How to Play the Folk Harp” from the local library.

      Then I attended fantastic workshops at Island Mountain Art’s International Harp School held in Wells, BC every August. It has classes for absolute beginners right up to pros, for a wonderful week of music. I went for several years summer and winter (don’t think they offer the winter school any more), and aside from 2 private lessons, that was my entire harp education!

      I highly recommend it! IMA brings in amazing instructors (Sharlene Wallace is my favourite), and it’s a truly inspiring time.

      • Jennifer G. Knoblock Says:

        Thanks for the info. You have definitely inspired me to pursue this long-deferred dream!

      • There are health benefits, too. The sound waves that travel through your body when you’re wrapped around your body are very good for you. 🙂 Best wishes with it! Let me know what happens! 🙂 (Did you check out my BC Harps page? The link is above)

  4. keelymyles Says:

    What a lovely instrument to play! It sounds beautiful… Relaxing and romantical… ❤

  5. rolltidejen Says:

    I swear, you look all of 16 … lol. You play beautifully. 🙂

    • Aren’t you sweet. lol.

      I haven’t played my harps in years, and I’m just starting to get back to playing. My fingers remember some things better than my brain does.

      • rolltidejen Says:

        LOL! Sweet is the last thing people call me. You just look so young, and that’s the truth.

        That’s great that you’re getting back into playing. I don’t if you’ve ever heard of Clannad, but it reminded me a bit of the beginning of one of the group’s songs (at least one they performed).

      • Thanks, again. 😉

        I’ll check them out. I’ve never heard of them. Thanks for the tip.

      • rolltidejen Says:

        They’re an Irish band and they’re absolutely amazing. “In a Lifetime” with Bono is one of my favorites, along with the much more famous “Theme from Harry’s Game” (trust me, you’ve heard it). They’ve been around for a long time (a group since 1970), and they are a family of talented musicians. Moya Brennan (older sister of Enya) sings lead vocals and plays the harp beautifully. 🙂

      • Thanks for the recommendation- the harp in “In a Lifetime” is lovely!

      • rolltidejen Says:

        Glad you enjoyed it. I absolutely love that song. I’ve been a fan of them ever since the “Theme from Harry’s Game” was used in a car commercial in the early ’90s. It still makes my hair stand on end after all of these years. Funny how music grabs you (just like poetry). I have eclectic tastes, but that’s the beauty of it. 🙂

      • My husband is an amazing pianist, he loves Baroque music and its modern equivalent: jazz. That’s it. I like folk, blues, cheezy 70s pop rock, instrumental stuff, and pretty much everything else except that screaming non-music known as metal. 😉

        I just started listening to Theme from Harry’s Game and a woman came up to me and told me it’s the tune she walked down the aisle to, at night, in candle-light. 🙂 Rather mystical!

      • rolltidejen Says:

        Nice, that you’re both blessed with such talent! I’d love to be able to just sit and listen all day, every day. 🙂

        I love disco, folk, Swing (especially Benny Goodman), classical, classic/hard rock, blues, jazz — you name it — even some older country and old-school rap. I don’t, however, do “death metal” or listen to the radio much these days because I just don’t like what I hear. Every once in a while, I’ll hear a new song that’s really good, but not very often.

      • I occasionally ask my students what’s REALLY new and great. Sometimes they have interesting suggestions.

      • rolltidejen Says:

        I bet! I had no clue who Adele was until some of the younger ladies at work told me to give her a listen (glad I did), so it’s not all bad.

      • Yes. We like her, too.

      • rolltidejen Says:

        She’s a gem — a rarity in “mainstream” music today.

  6. davidprosser Says:

    Oh well done Shawn. The National instrument of Wales ( Had to get that in ) is not that easy to play and you did a great job. I’d have recognised Chattanooga choo choo even if you hadn’t told us. LOL.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    • Ha ha. Perhaps I inherited my skill from my great-grandmother Margaret Owen of Holyhead? 😉

      I was studying a Welsh triple strung at the Instrument Museum in Scottsdale Arizona at Christmas, trying to figure out how one plays 3 rows of strings and how one re-strings that middle row! lol

  7. I’m honoured to have watched and listened to that.

  8. timthepoet Says:

    I like it, very nice

  9. sean2lovedee Says:

    Thank you Shawn I am glad you shared this with us I am a big fan of the harp. we don’t often get to here good music like this often .

  10. macjam47 Says:

    Beautiful! You are an amazing and talented lady.

  11. syl65 Says:

    Very nice Shawn. Soothing

  12. Annette Rochelle Aben Says:

    that was so nice I had to listen to it twice! Brava!

  13. You are very talented! My mother always wanted to play the harp. She is likely doing this now in Heaven. 🙂 I like the poodle in the background. You must have put her to sleep with the chords. At first I thought she was a sheep skin that you cover the harp with…ha ha. 🙂

    • OJ’s on a big pillow covered with a white minky fur fabric that matches his fur, so it’s a bit of a camouflage! lol He is 14, so he is generally sleeping somewhere close by me.

  14. Gosh you play Clarsach too? Very nice!

  15. Laine Jensen Says:

    You are so talented in many ways! I would love to hear your poems recited to harp music.

    • Yes. That is a goal.
      I have tried doing it with my kantele a bit. I have the kantele tuned pentatonically, and don’t try to learn tunes, I just play and it sounds nice. (That being the nature of the pentatonic scale). So I noodle and recite. Except this requires me to have a poem memorized, and I’ve discovered I kind of suck at that these days! 🙂

  16. Lorien Says:

    Awesome! I liked the bit that you said you weren’t happy with. It’s a proper break in the melody…a nice little bridge

  17. Rural Poet Says:

    A poet and a musician. Beautiful.

  18. Lovely, although we aren’t fans of the “Bonnie Prince”, Despite that we like the melody.

    • It is a beautiful melody, for sure. Since this song was my introduction to the Stewart rebellion, I always imagined Charles Stewart as a child, cradled in Flora’s arms. I was surprised to read in the Outlander books, how old he really was.

  19. colonialist Says:

    I love the sound of that harp; one of my favourite instruments. I also enjoy playing that melody on recorder or violin. A harp is beyond me, but I have one in my First Symphony.
    I would love to see detailed pictures of your instrument, with or without poodle!

    • Did you click the link above to “BC Harps”? There is a photo of me with the small clarsach (Scottish style folk harp) at the top of that page, and at the bottom there’s a video of me playing it. I was working out an arrangement, so it’s a little choppy, but it’s something! 🙂

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