For October, we had an opportunity to stay at home but, in many ways, it signalled the importance of musicking in our local lives, not just in our international adventures or indeed our workplace. As researchers, it still challenged us to engage with thoughts, theories and realities of music and resonated with some of our ongoing projects.
A key theme to emerge in October was the importance of music as part of ritual. Notable were the Novena to St Gerard Majella in Dundalk, the Dromin Patrún and the broadcast mass on LMFM. Each of these activities highlights the role of music in our communities and our connections with our communities through music.
Kubicki (1999) state: “As symbolic activity, music-making evokes participation, negotiates relationships, and enables the assembly to orient themselves and to find their identity and place within their world”. As both insider and outsider to Louth, we have constructed our identity through our engagement with music, song and dance and the act of musicking. Although we have stepped back from teaching roles or participating in music sessions on a regular basis, our engagement with music and community has not diminished but changed, highlight the multi-faceted ways in which people engage and participate in music.
The benefits of participating in choral singing has been highlighted by a number of studies. These can include benefits for individuals, social cohesion and physical health. Lamont et al highlight community choirs in their study and the importance of developing social relationships within a supportive community. As directors of two church choirs, we have the experience first hand of witnessing the value of this form of music making to the members and the supportive atmosphere that is created. But we can also recognise the benefits of involvement for ourselves. Rehearsals are an opportunity to relax, despite the need to prepare material for mass, especially when there is a broadcast mass or special occasion. This month Adèle was busy preparing for the LMFM broadcast mass from Tallanstown while the Dromin Patrún or Cemetery Sunday involved the choirs from Dunleer and Philipstown along with the singers in Dromin.
Other opportunities to sing include the popular St Gerard’s Novena in St Joseph’s Redemptorist Church in Dundalk. Each day, a cantor encourages the congregation to participate in the singing and many do, sounding the community. The organ provides a great swell of sound, its role in the musical traditions of the Catholic Church noted by, amongst others, Michael Joncas (1997) who presents references to instruments in a number of church documents and decrees through the twentieth century. The first, Tra Le Sollecitudini, states:
15. Although the proper music of the Church is only vocal, nevertheless the accompaniment of an organ is allowed… 16. Since the singing must always be the chief thing, the organ and other instruments may only sustain and never crush it… (cited in Joncas, 1997, p. 100). While there have been various developments in Church music even through the course of our lifetimes and we have had opportunities to be part of a variety of different church music experiences and write our own liturgical music, we find ourselves as organists working alongside small choral groups. It is an enjoyable challenge to find and share music that is meaningful and enjoyed by our communities.
Music as community is also felt strongly in the Oriel Traditional Orchestra. Our monthly rehearsals are a buzz of excitement as people gather from far and near. In her book on dance, Barbara Ehrenreich notes the changing nature of communal dance and the challenge in modern civilisation for collective engagement in festivities and rituals. Choir and orchestra rehearsals are like little festivals where people enter ‘a brief utopia defined by egalitarianism, creativity, and musical love’ (Ehrenreich, 2006, p. 253). These activities fill emotional and social needs that are present in society. On a larger scale, orchestras such as the East West Divan Orchestra reflect how musical activities can bring together groups ordinarily locked in conflict (Cheah, 2009). Locally, choirs and orchestras can help address the local conflicts in the lives of individuals and small communities.
The Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann Tour of Ireland also visited Dundalk this month. It reflects a reaching out to communities, bringing together musicians, singers and dancers from different parts of the country and, in many instances, making a special effort to bring local stars home as part of an All-Star collective. While social media has facilitated debate on the merits and rewards of the tour, it is an opportunity for young musicians to not only gain experience but develop close friendships. The Fleadh Cheoil become a space for these friendships to be renewed into the future when people share in a collective joy as a community.
Cheah, Elena. An orchestra beyond borders. Verso Books, 2009.
Ehrenreich, Barbara. Dancing in the streets: A collective history of joy. New York, NY: Henry Holt, 2006.
Joncas, Jan Michael. From Sacred Song to Ritual Music: twentieth-century understandings of Roman Catholic worship music. Liturgical Press, 1997.
Kubicki, Judith Marie. Liturgical music as ritual symbol: a case study of Jacques Berthier's Taizé music Peeters Publishers, 1999.