While Bunting's manuscript evidence shows that harpers' settings of tunes could in fact
show substantial variations from one another, this passage testifies to a level of uniformity. It
is possible that Bunting is transmitting a view of the tradition held by the harpers themselves.
In content, the above is reminiscent of comments made to me by Coptic deacons about
Coptic hymns even today and these comments are not without substance. Over centuries of
oppression, blind Coptic men have been a mainstay of their Christian musical tradition
because of their great ability to memorise and faithfully preserve its essentials. With regard
to keys, one would expect a level of uniformity on a diatonic instrument working mainly on
two tunings. Bunting's last sentence above may indicate that, like many guitarists today, the
harpers he met had all learned how to tune their instruments and play chords but did not
possess a theoretical musical understanding which they could explain to him.
'It would appear, that the old musicians in transmitting this Music to us
through so many centuries, treated it with the utmost reverence, as they
never seem to have ventured to make the slightest innovation in it during its
descent... harpers collected from parts far distant from one another, and
taught by different masters, always played the same tune on the same key,
with the same kind of expression, and without a single variation in any
essential passage, or even in any note... It is remarkable that the
performers all tuned their instruments on the same principle, totally ignorant
of the principle itself, and without being able to assign any reason either for
their mode of tuning, or of their playing the Bass.'
A General Collection of Ancient Irish Music, 1796, Edward Bunting, Preface, page ii.