From the TG4 Gradam Ceoil in Belfast to SPACE in Norway, funding and conference deadlines and rehearsals for March performances, February was another jam packed month of activity that highlighted the importance and relevance of our research and that of people we are delighted to call our friends and colleagues.
We started the month in Carlingford for Féile na Tána, organised by Zoe Conway and John McIntyre. The launch featured a great performance from the children of Scoil Naomh Lorcan in Omeath who are learning their music under the auspices of Music Generation Louth. They were followed by Zoe and John themselves, a few songs from Salleóg Ní Ceannabháin and a great performance from Mick O’Brien and Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh. While the children featured local music and songs from Oriel under the direction of Ursula Byrne and Gemma Murray, Zoe and John presented one of their own compositions dedicated to Séamus Heaney, ‘Ómós do Shéamuis’. Mick and Caoimhín, whose album Kitty Lie Over (2003) is a must-have part of our CD collection, delighted with beautiful balance between uilleann pipes and hardanger fiddle.
We travelled to Belfast on Sunday 4 February for the TG4 Gradam Ceoil awards at the Waterfront Theatre. It was great to mingle with so many familiar faces prior to the event, catching up on all that is happening in the Irish traditional music world. The TG4 Gradam Ceoil is a wonderful occasion to celebrate the talents and outstanding contribution of individuals and groups to Irish traditional music. It was great to celebrate Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin’s award. Pádraigín’s work is inspirational and her seminal text on the culture of Oriel, A Hidden Ulster (2003) is an important resource that we depend upon for research and teaching. Her recent development of www.orielarts.com provides a very significant resource. We are delighted that our student Sylvia Crawford has contributed research and recordings to the website which will raise the profile of Oriel’s culture and identity, inform students and inspire future creativity.
Amongst the presenters on the night was Pádraigín’s nephew Dónal, a former duet partner of Adèle’s for fleadhanna cheoil. Dónal performed on the night but also took the audience and television viewers on a virtual tour of Belfast. The opening performance of the broadcast show included Niall Hanna’s interpretation of ‘Lough Erne’s Shore’, a song recorded by Dónal’s mother Eithne with the group Lá Lugh, an innovative ensemble in the soundscape of traditional music in Louth.
We continued working on projects related to the Irish traditional music heritage of Louth this month. Daithí remains focused on the music of Brian O’Kane while Adèle’s plans for an exhibition at Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann received considerable media attention that led to phone calls from a variety of interested parties. Plans for the Fleadh continue and the announcement of locations for the Fleadh brought an upturn in excitement for the event.
February brought us back to the island of Stord in Norway. We travelled with six students and met with colleagues and students from Belgium, Holland, Norway, Portugal and Wales as part of our SPACE project on STEAM education. Our hosts for the week were Frode Hammersland and Jonas Selas Olsen at the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences. We have been working with colleagues from WNU for over six years now and the partnership has been very fruitful. The beauty of the location is inspiring and this intensive week was once again productive.
We had a little time on our journey to grab some lunch in Bergen, where we took a quick stroll through the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bryggen, a series of Hanseatic commercial buildings along the eastern side of the Vagen harbour. The colourful old buildings with their quirky geometries are a glimpse into Bergen’s past, even if prices are very much of the present. We left Bergen on the bus that boarded the ferry beneath the starry night sky. We arrived in Leirvik after dark where we were met by Frode. The Belgian students came down to greet us, having arrived a few hours before us. There was time for a quick walk to get our bearings before an early start the following morning.
The bus journey from our accommodation to the campus at Rommetveit was one of great beauty, illuminated by the rising sun over the mountains and hitting the mirror-like waters of the fjord. The teaching staff met while the students got a tour of campus. Once plans were finalised, we set about a series of tasks related to the intellectual outputs from our project. First for the students was a series of warm-ups and icebreakers. Then attention turned to the Write A Science Opera (WASO) methodology. We finished the evening with pizzas before focusing on ‘work from home’.
Tuesday was a day of workshops, which included developing scenography using projections, exploring apps for music-making and science experiments related to the weather and the solar system. The students further developed their WASO ideas and presented these as short pieces. Having developed a good working relationship as a transnational team we discussed some of the roles that the students would need to fulfil as the network developed. That evening, the students had time to jam in the music department while the teachers shared thoughts and ideas over dinner.
On Wednesday morning, we assigned roles to the students and took them through the various tasks for the remainder of the week. Students were divided into six groups and set about their tasks, writing STEAM recipes for classes and activities and developing ideas for apps that could be used in STEAM education. After lunch we had a fieldtrip to the edge of the water where a bonfire served a dual purpose. First we gathered shells and smelted items in pewter. Then we listened to a storyteller tell us stories from Norwegian mythology with a local focus. As the light declined, we cooked sausages in dough over the open fire in a traditional manner. When we returned to the campus, the students had time to work on their projects.
Thursday was an intense day as students pitched their app design briefs and received feedback. That night, after a very productive and creative day, we gathered for dinner as a collective before going to a local venue where the stage was set up for an open mic. We all took turns jamming out songs and tunes. After some final preparations on Friday morning, students presented and uploaded their projects, recipes and app briefs before completing an evaluation. Meanwhile, teachers worked on reviewing the progress of the project and beginning to plan for the next phase. With a draft of the book ready, the digital toolkit becoming increasingly populated with useful materials and a greater sense of what the website will be, we could reflect on a productive week in Norway.
The role and importance of the arts and creativity in education is a cornerstone of our European projects and a regular topic in newspapers and conversations. Two interesting newspaper articles emerged during the week that provided inspiration from the world of sports. The first related to the Swedish soccer team Östersund who played Arsenal in the Europa Cup. From the fourth tier of Swedish football in 2010, the club sought to develop a new approach, based on the concept of ‘eljest’ from the Swedish meaning to be different, and amongst their activities was a ‘Culture Academy’ that reached out into the community and incorporates a mandatory annual art workshop that could include dance, poetry and singing. They recognise the potential to build confidence and bravery while also engaging further with their community.
While Östersund defeated Arsenal, the Norwegian Winter Olympic Team was grabbing the headlines in all of the local newspapers - albeit in Norwegian. One headline from The Guardian read ‘No jerks allowed’, outlining the importance of teamwork and camaraderie to their success. Rather than spending vast amounts of money on their elite teams, the Norwegians develop grassroots organisations and participation with a focus on supporting each other. Our European network is well-supported but its sustainability depends on friendship and cooperation beyond the term of the current project.
On the journey home, we again had a little time in Bergen. We went to the wonderful Kode galleries. Beginning with number three, the former home of Rasmus Meyer who began the collection, we enjoyed engaging with the diversity of art that was presented so well. Meyer was one of the first collectors of the art of Edvard Munch, most famous for ‘The Scream’. The exhibition provided insights into Munch’s life through his art and how his approach to art developed through his life. We were also drawn to the work from the ‘Golden Age’ of Norwegian art (1880-1905). Broadly contemporaneous with the cultural revolution in Ireland, similarities in approach and meaning could be found in the work of J.C. Dahl and others. As the information panels told us, ‘Dahl’s romantic depictions of the rugged mountainous landscape were interpreted by his contemporaries as picturing the Norwegian national character, and they were important for building the young nation’s cultural identity’. It was easy to think of Irish artists such as Paul Henry (1876-1958), about whom Daithí published during his student days.
Speaking of arts and nation building, it was difficult to avoid Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) in Bergen. The Grieg Concert Hall stands behind the galleries and there are two statues to Grieg outside, with another at the end of the lake on the way into town. Around the corner is the impressive statue of fiddle player Ole Bull (1810-1880), considered by Robert Schumann to be on a par with Niccolò Paganini for the speed and clarity of his playing. A nationalist, Bull campaigned for the promotion and preservation of Norwegian culture and arts, both in Norway and internationally. Bull influenced Grieg, who is considered Norway’s national composer. Grieg is a fascinating character in European musical history and although we did not get there on this occasion, the museum at his former home at Troldhaugen outside Bergen is well worth a visit (we enjoyed visiting in 2013).
Grieg's music is part of a romantic nationalist movement in nineteenth century Europe and undoubtedly Norwegian, although it differs so greatly from the traditional music of rural Norwegian musicians as captured by artists such as our good friend Anon Egeland, to whom Daithí's composition ‘A Telemark Tune' is dedicated (read about or 2017 visit to Rasuland here). Grieg and Norwegian traditional music provide interesting lenses through which to consider Charles Villiers Stanford and Irish traditional music – two of the main areas of our research. Studies on Grieg have informed some of Adèle's work on Stanford but the contrast between the visibility and awareness of Grieg in Norway (as well as the three statues to him in Bergen we saw in Bergen, we have also encountered him in the public statuary of Oslo) contrasts sharply with the recognition of Stanford in Ireland, or indeed England (the 2016 Stanford Festival in Dublin near Stanford's childhood home and our visit to his Cambridge home informs our perspectives on this). Daithí previously collaborated with Angun Sønnesyn Olsen for a short article that compared the work of Grieg and Irish composer Seán Ó Riada that informed some earlier research on the connecting between music and place. Another day it may be interesting to compare and contrast the work of ethnomusicologists such as Bruno Nettl and Philip Bohlman with musicologist such as Harry White, or contrast the biographies of Grieg and Stanford but, for now, back to the present journey.
Back in the art gallery, there were more comparisons and sources of inspiration. Theodor Kittelsen’s ‘The Merman’ from 1905 suggested a mythological story with echoes of ‘Port na bPucaí’ in the Irish tradition. A number of paintings depicted scenes of emigration, such as Adolph Tidemand’s ‘The Youngest Son’s Farwell’ (1867), while other paintings depicted wedding parties complete with fiddle players. An impressive painting that drew to mind scenes from Fadó Fadó by Siamsa Tíre, was part of a series of paintings entitled ‘Midsummer Eve Bonfire’ by Nikolai Astrup (1880-1928). Astrup has been described as a visual equivalent of Grieg and his vivid colours draw the eye towards music and customs. Astrup was interested in the psychological character of colours and their symbolic meaning. Elsewhere, panels described the link between describing music and painting in terms of colour and texture and served as a reminder of the benefits of a broad artistic education.
As we departed Bergen we began planning for the next few months. March is another busy month with OTO rehearsals, the DkIT Traditional Music concert Éirí na Gréine, an adaptation of Finian’s Rainbow involving traditional musicians, a concert celebrating sixty years of CCÉ in Dundalk, workshops and meetings in Porto, a symposium on Irish Studies at NUI Galway and a visit to the Patrick Byrne festival in Carrickmacross.
Bohlman, Philip Vilas. The music of European nationalism: cultural identity and modern history. abc-clio, 2004.
Dibble, Jeremy. Charles Villiers Stanford: man and musician. Oxford University Press, 2002.
Grimley Daniel M. Grieg: Music, Landscape and Norwegian Identity. Woodbridge, Suffolk The Boydell Press, 2006.
Infurna, Patrick. ‘Östersund, the club with 'no history and no ideas' that took on Europe’ The Guardian Thu 22 Feb 2018. Ingle , Sean. ‘No jerks allowed’: the egalitarianism behind Norway’s winter wonderland’ The Guardian Thu 22 Feb 2018. Kearney, Daithí ‘Art, Myth and an Irish Identity’ Chimera Vol. 19 (2004).
Kearney, Daithí and Angun Sønnesyn Olsen. ‘The quest for post-colonial national identity through the development and adaptation of folk music by ‘national’ composers in Ireland and Norway’ Chimera Vol. 20 (2005) pp. 24-32.
Nettl, Bruno, and Gerard Béhague. Folk and traditional music of the western continents. Prentice Hall, 1972.
Nettl, Bruno. Heartland excursions: Ethnomusicological reflections on schools of music. University of Illinois Press, 1995.
Rodmell, Paul. Charles Villiers Stanford. London: Aldershot, Ashgate, 2012.
White, Harry. The keeper's recital: music and cultural history in Ireland, 1770-1970. Univ of Notre Dame Pr, 1998.
White, Harry. The progress of music in Ireland. Dublin: Four Courts Press Ltd, 2005.