I first met Robert Mouland while camping 18th century style at Fort Frederick Market Faire in Big Pool, MD. He had a setup where he was demonstrating and performing some early music pieces, along with speaking of what he was playing and the instruments he was using. As someone who also performs and interprets Early Music, along with being in the Celtic music realm, I was immediately intrigued. I want to thank him for this interview and if you are looking for some great traditional Irish music, read below to learn more!

TA: First, for those unfamiliar with you and your work, tell us a little about yourself.

RM: I’ve been a full time musician for 28 years, specializing in historic music of early America. I play mostly at museums and historic sites and was a featured musician at The City Tavern in Phialdelphia for three years and Carpenter’s Hall for seven years ( that meant a lot of corporate dinners, weddings, etc.) I also have been playing the traditional dance music of Ireland for more than forty years. on fiddle, flute, whistle, uilleann pipes and the wirestrung Irish harp. For historical performances I play baroque violin ( fiddle), baroque flute, flageolet, English guittar, hurdy gurdy and my new octave spinet harpsichord.

TA: How would you categorize your genre or subgenre of music?

RM: The best description of my music is twofold..on the one hand, Irish Traditional Music. I learned from older folks that were very deeply rooted in the dance traditions of Irish culture, as well as the songs. On the historical side, the best term I ever heard was from the flute player Chris Norman…he called it ‘baroque folk’.

TA: How did you come to making a career out of Irish and Early Music?

RM: I have had more jobs than anyone can imagine… everything from school teacher to cabinetmaker to commercial fisherman. I was making reproduction furniture and was listed in Early American Life magazine’s Directory of Craftsmen in 1990, but figured out I was making about $1.30 an hour. Well fortunately my wife was a market research executive and bringing in enough money to have her say ” I’m tired of you being miserable..do what you WANT to do”. I married my interest in history with my love of music and started making a few instruments like a bentside spinet harpsichord and Irish wirestrung harp. For 28 years I’ve been playing at Irish and Scottish festivals, historic sites, museums etc. Over time I was able to acquire genuine 18th century instruments and found the unbelievable collection of period music that is available online. It still interests me after all this time. I have added different features to my outdoor presentations like the rolleaux transparent ( modern people call them crankies) as a storytelling device, and marionettes a la planchette (dancing jig puppets). I absolutely love watching the kids reactions to those. 

TA: Now you’ve done gigs ranging from concerts to ‘all day demonstrations’ and lectures at living history and reenactment events. Do you prefer one over the other?

I enjoy concerts as I always tend to turn them into lectures as well. One of the things that drove me from “classical” music was the artificiality of the whole scene. It always reminded me of Mel Brooks “The Producers” ..”I am the performer, you are the audience..I OUTRANK YOU!” Okay author, but you get the idea. The wall that keeps a concert from being interactive. Sit there quietly and only applaud at the designated moments. Clap for an encore. Play encore. It’s just not me. When I used to do Christmas shows at Williamsburg in the Hennage auditorium I would take the antique instruments down onto the floor, or invite the audience onto the stage at the end so the could have a close look and ask questions. I once did a show at Ben Franklin Hall in Philadelphia for the American Philosophical Society. The crowd was full of Nobel Laureates in tuxes and gowns. Very intimidating. But when I played one of my favorite airs to an 18th century broadside ballad, “O Rare Turpin Hero”,I heard many of them singing along with it. When I turned around the ties were undone and the feet were on the back of the chairs. Success! I still think I like outdoor all day events better, because I get to interact with families close up. They listen and then chat as long as they like, and I am not bound to a program. The visual additions I mentioned earlier are a load of fun.

TA: What is your favorite piece of music to perform and why?

RM: A really difficult question. My favorite thing is to discover ‘new’ pieces. I know that they may very well be familiar to others, but to me I get most excited by digging up what I think are obscure melodies…some that might have not been heard in two hundred years. For example, I spent nearly 20 years trying to find German folk dance music from the 18th century (something akin to the English Country Dance tradition). I hit one brick wall after another, even contacting the University of Munich and even they couldn’t help. The general consensus was that since Germany was not a “nation” in the modern sense of the word, it would be a very difficult task. Well I finally stumbled across something on the Internet that turned out to be a true gem. In 2012, a manuscript was found that was written by a family of musicians in Westphalia dating from 1763, called the “Tantzsamlung Dalhoff”. They would write down dance tunes that struck their ear (exactly what I did with Irish tunes over forty years ago). It is a wonderful set of dance music from minuets to polonaises, and you can hear a remarkable amount of Scandinavian influence as well as a “Mozart-like” quality to some of them.

TA: Are you working on any new recordings or other music projects?

RM: Right now I am really concentrating on my harpsichord/spinet repertoire. With the new instrument I am diving into transcribing a lot of material from numerous 18th century dance collections and readying my wagon presentation for outdoor events. That’s a never ending process as I try to make my setup easier to deal with.

TA: Where can people find you if they want to check out your work?

RM: www.wireharp.com and youtube under Wireharp Productions.

TA: Thanks, Robert and we look forward to seeing what you are doing in the future!