Poetry meets music in improv heaven

“Open Collab is a monthly livestream of music and poetry collaborations.

Charlie + Jake are a Bristol-based vocals and multi-instrumental duo, combining powerful, soulful vocals with rich piano (and various found objects and lesser used instruments) to weave stories of love, friendship and sense of place.”

The duo take poems from all over the world and improvise musical scapes around the words. What really impresses is that the whole thing is done live and in the moment and streamed on YouTube from their home studio in Bristol. This is the type of thing that gives improv a good name! Participating poets love how their poems are taken, through sonic wizardry, on an often vertigo-inducing journey to a strange and wonderful place, before being gently returned to base.

Young Wexford poet Sinéad O’Reilly was recently given the C+J treatment. Her poem ‘Found’ is featured in the online Open Collab show of 14 June 2021. Charlie + Jake have done a wonderful job with it. The intro to the poem starts around 1 hour 51 mins in. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cSK5sQP8rvg

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Ode to the Milkman

Well done to Wexford girl Sinéad O’Reilly who’s poem Ode to the Milkman was published in today’s issue of The Irish Times. Sinéad is a Transition Year student at Loreto Wexford.


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Wideman’s “Briefs”

Here’s one for fans of short stories:

You Made Me Love You: Selected Stories, 1981-2018 by John Edgar Wideman

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Finding the epic in the everyday!

Stories are teardrops on a web of life

In 2020, fifteen emerging young writers from around the island were selected to participate in the first ever MoLI (Museum of Literature in Ireland) Edna O’Brien Young Writers Bursary. The aim of the programme is to offer high level mentoring to those selected and to introduce them to publishers, authors and literature academics. Pandemic notwithstanding, the writers brought their creative energies together, produced some great work and formed friendships that have endured.

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No More Mr Bigshot!

Stock up on popcorn and soda pop and get ready for a late night in front of the box. It’s US Election 2020.

“All I know is this: nobody’s very big in the first place, and it looks to me like everybody spends their whole life tearing everybody else down.” One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

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Wexford Festival 2020 downsizes and moves online in response to continued pandemic concerns


Wexford Festival Opera has just announced that, due to the impact of the pandemic, it will not be running with a physical event this year. The event will, instead, be a totally online affair starting Oct 11 and ending Oct 18. And it’s all free. Continue reading

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Céiliúrann Féile Cheoil Loch Garman Teacht an Earraigh


“One of the nicest gigs of my life” said Louth fiddle sensation Zoë Conway about her sold-out concert at the National Opera House, Wexford. The concert was part of the Wexford Trad & Folk Weekend (Feb 27 – March 1) organised by the local Comhaltas branch, Craobh Loch Garman.  Continue reading

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Trad World Submits to Grrrl Power!

mn_1190_600_85_c1_center_center-1Music Network Autumn Tour (l-r): Nell Ní Chróinín (songs, whistles), Josephine Marsh (Accordion, fiddle, mandolin, whistles), Tara Breen (Fiddle, sax), Laoise Kelly (Harp)

National Opera House, Wexford, Sun, 15 September, 2019

Music Network has hit the bull’s-eye with its Autumn traditional music tour. Laoise Kelly (harp), Josephine Marsh (accordion/mandolin/fiddle), Tara Breen (fiddle/sax), Nell Ní Chróinín (songs/whistles) are presently embarked on a two week tour of Ireland, with one London show included.  Continue reading

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Sinéad wins poetry award

Sinéad O'Reilly at the Trócaire, Poetry Ireland Poetry Competition Awards, National Library of Ireland copy

For the third year in a row Sinéad O’Reilly, a 2nd year student at Loreto Wexford, has won an award at the annual Trócaire / Poetry Ireland Poetry Competition. The awards ceremony took place recently in the National Library of Ireland.
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“The 50 Best Ambient Albums of All Time”

“The 50 Best Ambient Albums of All Time.” I love meaningless lists such as this that do nothing to further the cause of humankind. Is that not the most wonderful title, a veritable one-line poem! And just as one thing leads to another I was delighted, on typing the word “ambient” into my search engine, to find that it was Merriam-Webster’s word of the day on 02/02/2015. M-W even has a little podcast to celebrate that occasion. Listening to this I learned that “‘ambient’ is an adjective meaning existing or present on all sides….It can also be used of electronic music to mean quiet and relaxing with melodies that repeat many times.”

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Vive la différence … pas de différence!


Album: Méditerranéennes – ici ou là-bas
Label: Capitol Music France
Release date: March 2017
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Wexford girl wins poetry award


Sinéad O’Reilly (Loreto Wexford) with Éamonn Meehan (Trócaire) and Maureen Kennelly (Poetry Ireland) at the 2018 Trócaire / Poetry Ireland Poetry Competition award ceremony. 

Sinéad O’Reilly, a first year student at Loreto Wexford, is proving herself to be something of a burgeoning literary talent having won her second award at a major poetry competition.
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Out Of Land signals another collaborative success for ACT Records

Album: Out Of Land
Musicians: Parisien, Peirani, Schaerer, Wollny
Year of release: 2017
Label: Act

The musicians behind this interesting live album are Swiss vocalist and “mouth percussionist” Andreas Schaerer, who put the project together, German pianist Michael Wollny, and the French duo Emile Parisien, on soprano saxophone, and Vincent Peirani on accordion. Innovative, unconventional and open-minded, all four are active participants in the process of taking European jazz music to new levels.
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Phronesis Collaboration Leads to Big Results

Band: Phronesis with Julian Argüelles and Frankfurt Radio Big Band
Album: The Behemoth
Label: Edition Records
Year of release: 2017 Continue reading

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Tetraptych’s debut: “collective improvisation” at its best

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RTE Radio broadcasts St Patrick’s Day Céilí House from Wexford

Lovers of traditional music converged on the National Opera House, Wexford on St Patrick’s Day for a live broadcast of RTE Radio 1’s Céilí House programme. The three hour show, presented by Kieran Hanrahan, featured a selection of the county’s top traditional musicians along with some very special guests including Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh and Colm Mac Con Iomaire. Continue reading

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Shirley Collins: Lodestar

“What makes Lodestar a genuine progression from what has gone before… is the sinking and deepening of her voice. It is still neutral enough to act as the conduit it has always done, but the milkmaid’s lilt has been transformed into a maven’s burden.” WIRE Continue reading

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Na Lengo play it Smooth

Band: Na Lengo
Album: Ingoma
Label: Ozella
Recorded: 2014
Released: 2016

Na Lengo is described in the official release as:
“Africa meets Europe in this relaxed fusion of jazz, flamenco, pop and African music straight from sunny Ibiza.”
And that about sums it up. Continue reading

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Condell’s Quiet Mastery Brings Poetry To Life

Seize The Day
Sonny Condell – Patrick Kehoe

If every poet could get a top songwriter to give their work a musical make-over we would all be on much more intimate terms with our poets. Mike Scott and The Waterboys tackled the poetry of WB Yeats on the album An Appointment with Mr. Yeats; Cerys Matthews did justice to the memory of her favourite poet in Dylan Thomas: A Child’s Christmas, Poems and Tiger Eggs; and the album No Promises by Carla Bruni includes three poems by American poet Emily Dickinson. Continue reading

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Old World Elegance and Charm from Swedish Jazz Maestro

Potsdamer Platz: Jan Lundgren (ACT)

Just last week I met Wexford’s most famous Swede Fred Karlsson on the town. He was in fine form, attentive and courteous as always, and full of stories. One would never have known that Fred was suffering from jet-lag. That’s the thing with Swedes: not only are they among the friendliest people you can meet, they are also paragons of stoicism. So while they may be close to the top of the World table for happiness and life satisfaction, they are also right up there when it comes to keeping the best side out. Continue reading

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Modern Jazz Quartet: Django

On my turntable right now the album Django (1955) by the Modern Jazz Quartet. Lovin’ it.

Listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8LFsuH1-YoM

This is what The Guardian says: https://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2010/mar/24/modern-jazz-quartet-john-lewis

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Vesala’s Musical Homage to Helsinki

Helsinki Soundpost
Martti Vesala Soundpost Quintet
(Ozella Music)

Helsinki Soundpost is an aural pleasure from start to finish. Eight tracks, 50 minutes of majestic music. From the first insistent single note repetition of “Smoke” right through to the epic grandeur of album closer “Yamal” it engages totally.

In ways there are no surprises, no challenges to throw you. Sometimes that can be a negative. Not here. It’s like you have always known this music. Part classic East Coast American, part Scandinavian self-restraint. It insinuates itself into your mental soundscape. Half a century from now Helsinki Soundpost will sound as fresh to a new generation of jazz lovers as Birth of the Cool sounds to us now. Continue reading

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Seachtain na Gaeilge 2017

Wexford Echo 14 March, 2017: 032EC2017-03-14e1   033EC2017-03-14e1

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Morten Schantz – Godspeed

Godspeed is the name of a new trio headed by Danish composer, pianist and keyboardist Morten Schantz. He is joined by Norwegians, and fellow JazzKamikaze members, Marius Neset (soprano and tenor saxophones) and Anton Eger (drums).

The band’s debut album, recorded in 2015, has just been released on Edition Records. Morten Schantz describes it as “a leap into the unknown, about risk taking and seeking new territories”. The music can be filed under ‘power jazz’, ‘free jazz’ or ‘fusion’ – take your pick. Schantz cites Joe Zawinul and Weather Report as influences. He is also a big Herbie Hancock fan.
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Trí ailt agus dán álainn – Wexford Echo


Cúpla ailt ón Wexford Echo, 4 Aibrean, 2017: 046EC2017-04-04e1  047EC2017-04-04e1

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Comhaltas Cabaret Gets The Mix Just Right

The Wexford town branch of Comhaltas, Craobh Loch Garman, presented a unique St Patrick’s Weekend event to a packed house at Wexford Arts Centre last Saturday. The Comhaltas Cabaret brought together some of the county’s top traditional musicians, singers and dancers along with poets and storytellers. The evening was about nothing less than showcasing the wealth of traditional arts talent, at all ages, present in our local communities.  Keep reading!

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A Storyteller at the height of his powers

The practise of storytelling is as old as mankind. The way we tell our stories now, in this time of mass communication, may have changed. However, the art of good storytelling is still as vital as ever.

Len Graham is a storyteller and a singer in the Ulster tradition. Keep reading!

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County Wexford Youth Orchestra at NCH

County Wexford Youth Orchestra travelled to the National Concert Hall in Dublin on 11th February for the 22nd Festival of Youth Orchestras. This is an annual gathering of some of the top youth orchestras in the country. CWYO was one of eight such groups given the opportunity to perform at this year’s event. The group was one of four orchestras performing in the second of two concerts presented over the course of the day. Each and every one of the musicians appreciated the fact that they were performing on one the biggest stages in the country before a critically appreciative audience. Keep reading!

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Schaerer’s extravagant and exhuberant style pays off

The Big Wig: Andreas Schaerer
Hildegard Lernt Fliegen meets the Orchestra of the Lucerne Festival Academy (CD/DVD)
Label: ACT Music

The Lucerne Festival Academy was founded by the great French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez (1925-2016). Andreas Schaerer, a huge fan of Boulez, was a regular attendee at the Academy’s highly regarded Summer School for talented young musicians. When the Academy commissioned him to compose a new work in 2014 he jumped at the opportunity. It took Schaerer five months, locked away in his studio, to come up with the six movements that make up The Big Wig. Keep reading!

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Herskedal’s Arabian Rhapsody


The Roc – Daniel Herskedal (Edition Records)

I have listened to this album over and over. As I have listened, I have sat with pen poised, ready to note down those comments which, painstakingly distilled, would lead to a peerless review. 10 tracks. 49 minutes. Nothing to it. Every time I have forgotten pen and paper and become enmeshed in a trance-inducing weave of quiet aural magic. Keep reading!

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St Brigid’s Day

The Christian Feast of St. Brigid, Lá Fhéile Bríde, is traditionally celebrated on February 1st. Many churches and holy wells in the Ferns Diocese are associated with this saint. In Pre-Christian times this was the season of Imbolc, a festival which celebrated the beginning of spring. It is thought by some that Imbolc, meant ‘in the belly’, a time when sheep began to lactate and their udders filled and the grass began to grow again. Keep reading!

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Lá Fhéile Bríde

Joe Bonner as Dobhar Íochtarach i nGaoth Dobhair ag déanamh crosóg Bhríde. Job Bonner from Dobhar Íochtarach, Gaoth Dobhair in West Donegal making a Saint Bridget's cross.

Joe Bonner as Dobhar Íochtarach i nGaoth Dobhair ag déanamh crosóg Bhríde. (Seán Ó Dómhnaill – www.flickr.com/people/an_solas)

Titeann Lá Féile Bríde ar an gcéad lá d’Fheabhra gach bliain. Ar an lá seo samoinímid ar Naomh Bríd, foghlaimíonn daltaí scoile faoin bpearsa stairiúil seo agus ar ndóigh, déantar croiseanna Bríde i scoileanna agus i dtithe ar fud na tíre.

Is cuid lárnach de stair, de chreideamh agus de chultúr na tíre í Naomh Bríd. Fan ag léamh!

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Tá sláinte sa cheol agus san cultúr dúchasach

Great to see Wexford Echo doing its bit to promote “an chultúr dúchasach”.
Tá sláinte sa cheol agus san cultúr dúcasach. (pdf)

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Liam Ó Maonlaí & Cormac Begley: Quietly Impressive


I really enjoyed Liam and Cormac’s gig at Wexford Arts Centre last night. It was very relaxed and informal, almost like a parlour gig. Liam is like the lost member of The Grateful Dead in that there is nothing to stop him getting into a groove and playing all night long! How does he look? Young as ever. Mind you he needs a haircut. Cormac is a true concertina champion, his playing as effortless as it is mellifluous. He had his instruments ranged around him on the floor like toys in a kid’s nursery – big, middling-sized and small. Great to see a full house on a cold January night.

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Song Of Lahore – An Instant Classic!

Remember the buzz of excitement generated by that first Buena Vista Social Club album in 1997 and the award-winning Wim Wenders docu-film that followed? Music producer Nick Gold had invited guitarist Ry Cooder to Havana to participate in a collaboration between musicians from Mali and Cuba. Visa problems meant that the African musicians could not be there so Gold and Cooder decided, instead, to work with local musicians on an album of Cuban son music. The rest is history. Keep reading!

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Clang Sayne on The Fringe: Gig Review

fullsizerenderThe 65th Wexford Festival Opera saw Wexford, once again, scrubbing up, tightening the bowtie and “puttin’ on the Ritz”. With the Wexford Spiegeltent Festival starting close to two weeks ahead of the festival fireworks on opening night it meant that the fun went on for that much longer. Keep reading!

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Peter Maxwell Davies signs off on a high


Review of Symphony No. 10 by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and Symphony No. 10 by Sir Andrzej Panufnik. London Symphony Orchestra and Choir. Sir Antonio Pannano conducting.

‘Sometimes, the music knows something you don’t’

So said British composer, and former Master of the Queen’s Music, Peter Maxwell Davies who passed away earlier this year.

The first recording of his Tenth Symphony has just been released on London Symphony Orchestra’s LSO label. Keep reading!

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Together, As One – new album by Dinosaur


Together, As One is the debut album of Laura Jurd’s new band Dinosaur. And what an album!

The wunderkind trumpeter is joined by fellow composer, innovator and mould-breaker Elliot Galvin on Fender Rhodes and Hammond organ. We recently reviewed Galvin’s ‘audaciously accomplished’ album, Punch (Edition Records), on these pages. The quartet is completed by Conor Chaplin (electric bass) and Corrie Dick (drums). Jurd is, along with Galvin and Dick, a founder member of the Chaos Collective, Keep reading!

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Hot Buttered Soul stands the test of time


Presently listening to the Isaac Hayes album Hot Buttered Soul (1969). Damn it’s good. You know that feeling when you walk into a quiet mid-morning coffee house and you can tell from the aroma of just-ground coffee beans, the welcoming smile of the barista and the unobtrusive sounds coming from the speakers that just happen to form part of the soundtrack of your life? That’s how I am feeling right now about Hot Buttered Soul. Isaac lays on the love like no other. He is an old friend come to tell stories and raise spirits. Let your soul pulse to that gentle Shamanic energy

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Wexford band. Seriously good Wexford band. Life-affirmingly good.

You don’t need no doctor; you don’t need no pills; all you need is a shot of … WOLFF tonic!

Performing at Wexford Spiegeltent Festival on Oct 18. https://wexfordspiegeltent.ticketsolve.com


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квадратуры круга!

Brian Keane of The Irish Times recommended this album in The Ticket last Friday. I have just had a listen and I am with Brian. These guys are very good. Maybe it’s time to turn the dial back up to 11!


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Punch by Elliot Galvin Trio

I reckon Elliot Galvin was a horror as a child, the kind of kid who just had to find out first hand why you shouldn’t stick metal objects into live sockets.

This learning-by-doing approach is still very much a part of his make-up as a musician and composer. And one suspects he has an intellect to match it. Keep reading!

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Collective Portrait by Eddie Henderson (2015)

What a classy album. I have just had my first start-to-finish listen and guess what? I can’t wait to do it all again.

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ONE by Tim Garland

ONE is the new album by Grammy-award-winning jazz musician Tim Garland.

Garland is one of Britain’s most respected and versatile jazz musicians with saxophones and bass clarinet his main weapons of choice.

To describe Garland as simply a jazz musician, however, falls a long way short as there really is no pigeon-holing him. Keep reading!

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Gem of a Concert with Rising Stars of Classical Music

Chiral Quartet
The Very Best Young Irish Performers
presented by The National Opera House in association with Conservatoires Ireland
Sunday, 3 April, 2016

I nearly didn’t go to this concert last Sunday afternoon as TG4 had Kerry giving Cork a masterclass in free-flowing football only for Cork to start inching their way back. Anyway I am glad that I did go as I got an opportunity to hear some of the up-and-coming ones-to-watch on the Irish classical music scene. The Chiral Quartet are CIT Cork School of Music Ensemble-in-Residence. They may be just two violins, a viola and a cello but these guys and gals are hot. They played the gorgeous Quartet in e by Ina Boyle (composed in 1934, with subsequent revisions). I would happily have listened to them for the whole afternoon. They were followed by pianist Adam McDonagh, a graduate of DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama. He gave a beautiful and flawless performance of Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantaisie, Op 61. McDonagh was then joined by fellow DIT graduate, award-winning soprano Aoife Gibney. She sang the lovely Geme la Tortorella from Mozart’s La Finta Giardiniera; Walter de la Mare’s witty/reflective poem The Pigs and the Charcoal Burner set to music by Ina Boyle; and three of Sibelius’s five love-found, love-lost songs from Op 37. Remember the name: Aoife Gibney. From Dublin’s RIAM came soprano Lorna Breen, Miriam Kaczor (flute), Seamus Wylie (clarinet). Breen, with Kaczor on flute, started with Corigliano’s re-working of Three Irish Folksongs. These were interesting arrangements of well known folk songs (Down By The Salley Garden, The Foggy Dew, She Moved Thro’ The Fair) with the music soaring and dipping around, sometimes running counter to, the singing. Yet it did not engage me. Corigliano may have had in mind to focus on “the more poetic side of Irish flute music” but I don’t know … perhaps he might have let them flow a little easier. Breen’s unaccompanied singing of The Lake Isle of Inisfree, set to music by Philip Martin, worked much better. She was joined by Seamus Wylie’s clarinet and Kaczor on flute for Copeland’s As It Fell Upon A Day. Not the most tuneful of pieces, the best that my inexperienced ear could tell was that there was a tension-filled interplay between the three. Wylie’s playing, on bass clarinet, of a short piece, Motus by Kevin O’Connell, was delightfully quirky. He was joined by Kaczor on flute for the little flight of fancy that is Choros No. 2 by Villa-Lobos. As the concert wound towards its end Kaczor’s solo flute on Philip Hammond’s Wavespace gave her a real opportunity to shine. All in all, a really enjoyable concert with oodles of virtuosity on display. One would love to see more young players attending concerts such as this. Not only might learn a thing or two, they would also see what lies ahead for them as musicians. Oh and did I say that Kerry won by five points!

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Standing Ovation for Macalla 1916 at the Opera House

Macalla 1916 at National Opera House, Wexford
“Éire ní hamháin saor ach Gaelach chomh maith.”

“Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart”
Easter 1916 – WB Yeats

Easter 2016 may, in time, come to be seen as one of those major coming-of-age moments in Irish history. Fifty years ago we remembered the events of 1916; twenty-five years ago we tried to forget them; now, one hundred years on, we have learned to look back with a more balance, a more reflective eye.

While Enniscorthy may, over the Easter weekend, have been the centre of operations for all things relating to The Rising, the National Opera House, Wexford was the place to be on Easter Monday evening for what transpired to be one of the highlights on the county’s 1916 commemorative events calendar.

Macalla 1916: A Celebration of Easter 1916 is a new suite of music by acclaimed composer Michael Rooney. This epic work conveys in music, song and story the birth of a nation. Indeed if ever a show could be said to capture the passion, the people, the politics and the consequences of Easter 1916 this is it.

Those tasked with bringing this story to life are the Comhaltas National Folk Orchestra of Ireland. The orchestra is made up of over sixty young traditional and classical musicians. They come from all over the island as well as from Scotland and England. Even before they strike a note the sight of their ordered ranks on stage presents a wonderful image: there, centre-stage, the fiddles, beside them the two pipers, to the left a platoon of harps, behind them the accordions, then the concertinas and so on through battalions of banjos, flutes and fifes, brass and percussion.

Joining the orchestra were All Ireland champion singers Tadhg Maher and Shauna McGarrigle. Narrative duties were provided by former RTE presenter Ciana Campbell and respected actor Diarmuid De Faoite.

This gathering of our brightest and best talent, under the baton of composer and conductor, Michael Rooney, put in a sensational performance in bringing this story to life.

Rooney had twin aims in putting this powerful work together: an echo of the past, a vision for the future. So on the one hand, he reaches right back to the Great Famine and the terrible price paid by the people of this beleaguered island. On the other he presents to us the modern, mature and globally-respected Ireland we have today.

The 1st Movement starts with “An Tírdhreach Loite”, The Blighted Landscape. We are back in the 1840s and the soul-destroying and desolate years of The Great Famine.

We then move, in the 2nd Movement, through the decades that followed when the country rose up in nationalistic fervor and set about re-building a long dormant cultural heritage. The music is upbeat and full of hope.

By the 3rd Movement we are a decade into the 20th Century and the divergence between those who wish to break free from the bonds of British rule and those who will stop at nothing to prevent this happening.

The focus then turns to the so called Great War as men from North and South fight and die in the trenches fighting for a common cause. This is conveyed in the sad strains of Marbhna don Ghlúin Chaillte – Lament for a Lost Generation.

The climax of the suite comes in the 4th Movement as we come to the events of Easter 1916. The music expresses the confusion, the fighting, the men marching to their execution, with the shock and sadness of what has just happened being expressed in Ómós do na Mairbh – Lament for the Dead.

Súil Siar takes a reflective look back at all that has taken place over a few short years, a world where “all is changed, changed utterly”.

The 6th, and final, Movement takes us right up to the present, to the modern, self-confident and re-imagined Ireland we know today. The Suite ends on a lively and joyful note with Athmhuintearas – Reconciliation.

The inclusion of well known songs such as The Bold Fenian Men, Óró ‘Sé do Bheatha Bhaile and The Foggy Dew punctuate the suite in a positive way, familiar, as they are, to most of us. Likewise the use of poems by Pearse, Douglas Hyde, Yeats and others, all eloquently delivered by Diarmuid De Faoite. The projection of images onto the backdrop adds to the overall experience.

Ninty short minutes later the show is over. And, for a moment, a stunned silence fills the auditorium. Not for long, however, as an explosion of rapturous and sustained lets conductor and orchestra know they have scored a bulls-eye! We are rewarded with an encore of the final movement!

Rooney, delighted with the performance and the audience’s reaction to it, said “It was an honour and a privilege for us to bring this suite to the National Opera House”. He praised the World-class acoustics of the O’Reilly Theatre and the staff who, he said, could not have been more helpful or professional. Producer Kieran Hanrahan expressed his gratitude to Wexford Comhaltas for their assistance in making the show the success it was.

Indeed the sterling work being done by all the Comhaltas branches in Co Wexford was acknowledged on the evening with Mayor Ger Carthy presenting each of the Chairpersons with a commemorative plaque.
Fous on the harpists at Macalla 1916 concert, National Opera House, Wexford

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The Seven Last Words of our Saviour on the Cross, Op 51 by Joseph Haydn

Rubens' Cruxifixion

Rubens’ Cruxifixion

Last Sunday the RTE Contempo Quartet came to Wexford. The talented foursome – Bogdan Sofei and Ingrid Nicola on violin, Andreea Banciu on viola and Adrian Mantu on Cello – were in town, at the invitation of Music for Wexford, to perform Haydn’s The Last Seven Words of our Saviour on the Cross (Op. 51) by Haydn. The venue was, as it is for most of the Music for Wexford concerts, St Iberius Church on Main Street.

In Sarah M. Burn’s excellent notes, prepared for the performance of the piece, we read that Haydn was commissioned to write the work “as an aid to meditation during the religious services on Good Friday”. She goes on to say that the title page bears the following words in the inscription ‘Instrumental music on the last seven words of our Redeemer on the cross – or Seven sonatas with an introduction and at the end an Earthquake’. While the Introduction sets the scene, the finale depicts “the earthquake and rending of the Veil of the Temple that followed Christ’s death”.

Given the subject matter, and that this, on the surface, has the look of liturgical music of the most demanding kind, what materialises is something altogether more melodious, lyrical and uncomplicated. This uncluttered approach suited Haydn purposes as he set about telling the story with, as the work progresses, an ever heightening sense of emotional intensity. Ms Burn mentions that “A Viennese reviewer … wrote that ‘Anyone with even a moderate degree of feeling will be able to guess at almost every note what the composer meant it to express'”. This is done so simply and so beautifully.

Undoubtedly, the superlative playing of the quartet helped, in no small way, to convey the emotional power of the work. They nailed the ebbs and flows of the work wonderfully. I found the sad beauty of their playing of the pizzicato in Sonata V (‘Sitio” – ‘I am thirsty’) to be particularly affecting, something built on, even further, in the sonata that follows.

The words of Alan George, in reviewing another quartet’s playing of the piece, eloquently describe how the music unfolds:
“After the tremendous drama of the Introduzione, its moments of extreme tenderness continue into the flowing Sonata I: the concept of “forgiving” could be no more imploringly expressed. Sonata II is characterised by a march-like tread, whose gravity must be balanced with enough movement to enable the lonely melodic lines to give of their poignancy—and truly to reveal a glimpse of Paradise in the final transformation into the tonic major key. The sheer “maternal” warmth and humanity of Sonata III similarly requires a gently flowing tempo, and the anguished desperation and sense of betrayal in Sonata IV can only be inhibited by drawing out the music unduly. Sonata V is notated with two minim beats per bar, and in observing this it is possible to achieve the most eerily spacious stillness in the pizzicato before the cries of anger and “thirst” burst upon us. There is also a strangely upbeat quality in this piece, which sits uneasily with its title, and yet which, after the monumental severity of Sonata VI’s opening unisons, develops further into what can only be comprehended as sheer joy—underlined by Haydn’s “joyful” key of G major at the end. Thereafter, the profound sense of reconciliation and acceptance in Sonata VII may be realised with a genuinely broad and spacious tempo, such that in attempting to portray the fury of the succeeding “earthquake” the inadequacies of four solo stringed instruments are slightly eased: inevitably it is impossible for a string quartet to recreate the sonic splendours of a full orchestra, but this awesome moment is not necessarily dependant on decibels alone.

Between the sonatas reader Owen Brady read the seven verses of Mark Strand’s Poem After the Last Words. This is wonderful stuff with each verse a perfect primer for the music that follows. ‘”It is finished,” he said. You could hear him say it, the words almost a whisper, then not even that, but an echo so faint it seemed no longer to come from him, but from elsewhere.’

Strand’s final verse ends with: ‘And beyond, as always, the sea of endless transparence, of utmost calm, a place of constant beginning that has within it what no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, what no hand has touched, what has not arisen in the human heart. To that place, to the keeper of that place, I commit myself.’ Sublime.

This concert was recorded by RTÉ Lyric FM and will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Sunday, 20 March, 2016 at 8pm.
If you wish to read the words of Mark Strand’s Poem After the Seven Last Words as younlisten you will find them at http://jacketmagazine.com/19/stra.html.

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I am lost in Space with The Modern Jazz Quartet

It’s a beautiful clear Spring morning in Wexford. I am sitting in the study listening to the album Space (1969) by Modern Jazz Quartet. This was the second of two albums they recorded on the Apple label. And it is a real gem. Their interpretation of Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo’s “Adagio From Concierto De Aranjuez” is a delight. It is obvious from even a first listen that these guys don’t care to be strait-jacketed. Anything goes. One reviewer was really bothered by their lack of interest to stay within the white lines … and their over-ringing the bell! http://blogcritics.org/music-review-the-modern-jazz-quartet. As for me, and notwithstanding what were probably innovative noodlings at the time by the producer, I can honestly say this album gets me into the zone. Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in Space!

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The Voice Squad Hits All the Right Notes

One of the country’s most respected and best known traditional singing groups performed at Wexford’s National Opera House on Saturday night last.

The Voice Squad are Gerry Cullen, Phil Callery and Fran McPhail. Formed back in 1985, they have taken the unaccompanied singing of traditional and folk songs, in harmony, to new levels.

The recently formed Wexford traditional music 5-piece, Kitty’s Wedding, opened the evening with a short set of jigs, reels, slow airs and songs. Featuring Elaine Stafford and Tanya Murphy on fiddles, Darina Gleeson on accordion/vocals, Ned Wall on pipes and Fergal O’Hanlon on guitar/vocals their playing was effortless and sweet to the ear. Elaine and Fergal’s rendition of “What Will You Do Love” was particularly well received.
Time then for the evening’s special guest Mick Hanly. At one time a regular visitor to these parts Hanly expressed his delight at performing in this august space for the very first time. With at least 14 albums under his belt he devoted his short set to songs from the forthcoming album “Homeland”. Showing that he has not last any of his skills as a song-writer and a story-teller his song “Endgame” told of how we have become so technologically adept that we can drop an excavator onto Mars but we cannot stop the Colorado bees from dying in California:

“Man you’ve come a long way,
You’ve a long way to go.”

His stories from his time working in a Breton fishing port were hilarious and led to his writing the song “Attention Sous”. Hanly finished his set with the crowd-pleasing You’re A Big Girl Now.
And then, dressed all in black, the three amigos known as The Voice Squad ambled onto the stage, arranged themselves and launched straight into “Now Westlin Winds” by the Scottish poet Robbie Burns. The song, a favourite of Dick Gaughan and Len Graham, is summed up by Phil Callery as being about “guns and girls”.

Next up was the love song “Willie Taylor”, albeit one with rather sad consequences for the aforementioned Willie. When he is sent to sea “his youthful lover” dresses herself up as a sailor and follows him. When she finds him “walking along with his lady gay” she lets him have it with “a brace of pistols”. She then gets promoted for showing such spirited decisiveness!

“The Brown and Yellow Ale” also concerns itself with affairs of the heart. The VS picked it up from the late singer and song-collector Frank Harte. It gets a regular airing by traditional singer Karan Casey.

“I waited by the ford for an hour and a quarter

Oh the brown and the yellow ale

And when she came to me,
’twas without shame I saw her

Oh love of my heart

She told me her story, I lay down and I died …”

Another version, Cuach Mo Lon Dubh Buí, was recorded by Altan. The original poem was a favourite of the writer James Joyce.

The setlist took a spiritual turn next with “What Wondrous Love Is This”. This hauntingly beautiful 19th century deep-south American hymn, to a much older English ballad melody, comes from The Sacred Harp tradition of sacred choral music. The VS performed it with the late American folk singer Jean Ritchie.

The ‘love’ theme continued with the much loved Lough Erne’s Shore which many may know from the ground-breaking 1976 album of Paul Brady and Andy Irvine.

“Her hair it resembled gold tresses;
her skin was as white as the snow.
And her lips were as red as the roses
that bloom around Lough Erne shore.”
The next song “High Road to Rome” came to The VS via the singing of Cavan man Paddy Moynihan. Both tuneful and witty it looks at the different outcomes for a rich man and a poor man arriving at St Peter’s gates. Probably the best received song of the evening.

Back to Robbie Burns then for “Ae Fond Kiss”, a song we last heard in these parts from the lips of Eddi Reader.

This was followed by the love-to-the point-of-desolation “I Am Stretched On Your Grave”. A Frank O’Connor translation of the 17th century “Táim sínte ar do thuma”, the poem was put to music by Philip King and was a favourite in the set of the band Scullion. Sinead O’Connor subsequently delivered her own both-barrels, emotion-filled rendition.

We head north again to Lough Erne and the story of “The Rambling Irishman”.

This is followed by Luke Kelly’s “The Night Visiting Song (I Must Away Now), a signal that the evening is drawing to a close.

Because this is Wexford the band sing the old crowd-pleaser, “Little Jimmy Murphy”, with its music-hall jauntiness. It’s 1798 and …

“We’re far from the last rout
From the East to Downpatrick
Where lies poor little Jimmy Murphy
On the sweet green mossy banks
Skinnymalink killymajoe whisky frisky tooraloo
Rank a diddle dido ding dural i doe!”

As for little Jimmy Murphy …

“Now Jimmy Murphy wasn’t hanged for sheepstealing
But for courting a pretty maid and her name was Kate Whelan.”

If there is one thing we have learned from this gig it’s that love is nothing other than a big pile of trouble!

The VS welcome special guest Mick Hanley back on stage and they harmonise with him on the eponymously named single from his new album “Homeland”.

Nothing more to do then but raise “The Parting Glass” and send us on our way into the night.
Pix by Seán Rowe.

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What am I listening to now?

Thanks for asking. As I write I am listening to Bjork’s Greatest Hits. She comes across as a peculiar genius does Bjork. I wonder is she a bit mad. Her music is all over the place! One second you are marvelling at the incredible sounds she is making, the next you have a pain in your head. And yet she makes music that will not let go of your ears except, of course, on those, not infrequent, occasions where she lets go of one of your ears so as to whack you on the back of the noggin with a big mallet! And that voice: dream-like at times, like the voice of an angel. That’s on the one hand. At other times she can sound like a jilted Moore Street fishmonger spitting invective and vitriol at the Moon! She’s some woman all the same.

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