The solstice has taken on huge symbolic importance this year as people seek to move again towards a brighter future. Although the skies of the 21st December this year were clouded in mist, we enjoyed the wonderful images from Newgrange on the day before, when the OPW broadcast from the ancient monument. It highlights the remarkable endurance of humanity that retains a connection with our ancestors over 5,000 years.
The past three months have been busy and successful, and we have adapted to new working contexts and work patterns. We have benefitted from our wonderful networks but, like so many others miss the social interaction and experience of live music. Nevertheless, we have continued to engage in music and research and have participated in video projects with the Oriel Traditional Orchestra, the development of music education with branches of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann in Louth and Cork, academic conferences at home and abroad, and have some publications in press for 2021.
In early October, Adèle participated in the English Folk Dance and Song Society conference entitled ‘Traditional Tunes and Popular Airs: Exploring Musical Resemblance’. Her research examined how Irish composer Sir Charles Villiers Stanford and Australian pianist and composer Percy Grainger engaged with similar Irish themes in their creation of ‘Four Irish Dances’.
The Annual Plenary of the Society for Musicology in Ireland was held in October and hosted by the School of Music at University College Dublin. The virtual gathering was an opportunity to engage with colleagues both nationally and internationally and Adèle presented a paper on the relationship between Irish-born composer Sir Charles Villiers Stanford and the Hungarian-born composer and violinist Joseph Joachim. A focus of the paper was on the dedication by Stanford of his String Quartet No. 5 to Joachim following the latter’s death, which fittingly included references to Joachim’s Romance for Violin, Opus 2 No. 1. A wide variety of papers on a range of musicological topics were presented and the keynote by Professor Julian Johnson fittingly engaged with Beethoven on the 250th anniversary of his birth.
The Society of Ethnomusicology in Turkey held a very interesting symposium entitled Music / Dance And Identity: Timbres Of Danube in October. Daithí presented a paper on Siamsa Tíre as a company that reflects the engagement of a company with a local tradition and regional identity. It was particularly interesting to see this alongside the paper on folk arts associated with agriculture in Sri Lanka and their interpretation today by Saman Panapitiya, University of Visual and Performing Arts Ethnomusicology Department, Sri Lanka. Panapitiya critically considered how traditional work songs in Sri Lanka are performed today and how some have been integrated into popular music. His main concern was that many performers had not experienced the songs in their original context or performed by villagers engaged in the work. He also noted that too often, folk music and song was presented without proper research. With changing contexts for traditional music in Ireland, particularly in a post-Riverdance context, there were many parallels and it was also interesting to read similarities in the examples presented by both Panapitiya, Daithí and some of the other presenters in relation to folk arts.
Many academic conferences this year engaged with or were influenced by the impact of COVID-19 and this theme continued into the Anthropological Association of Ireland Conference 2020, hosted by Dublin City University DCU, via Zoom in November. Daithí again presented a paper based on his research on Siamsa Tíre, this time focusing on the theme of endings as proposed by the CFP. He considered different aspects of endings including the celebrated piece on the corncrake but on a broader level, reflecting on how productions such as Fadó Fadó and Oileán represented the end of a way of life. Perhaps COVID-19 has also brought an end to a way of life and it will be interesting to hear and see how this become manifest in artistic pursuits.
While COVID-19 restrictions have a had a huge impact on musicking, the Oriel Traditional Orchestra have continued to develop projects and engage virtually. This culminated in a number of Christmas videos. Two new arrangements of Christmas Carols were recorded by the orchestra and shared on their YouTube channel while the OTO also created two videos for nursing and care homes in counties Louth and Monaghan. It is hoped that these videos will bring entertainment and enjoyment to those in these settings over Christmas but their creation was also important for the wellbeing and ongoing development of the orchestra and its members.
Many organisations and music teachers throughout the country have been adapting to teaching through the restrictions and Craobh Eochaille CCÉ launched their online academy in November following the successful role out of a learning management system over the preceding months. Prior to the launch, the branch utilised audio recordings that were made by Daithí over a decade ago. While in Cork, he had compiled the book Seinn Port (2008), which was used by the Youghal, Douglas and other branches of Comhaltas. Jessie Cawley makes reference to it in her excellent new book Becoming an Irish Traditional Musician: Learning and Embodying Musical Culture (Routledge, 2020), which was launched virtually at the Cork Folk Festival. Jessie’s research will inform how we can develop new approaches to continuing to successfully engage people in traditional music.
It has been interesting to see how COVID-19 has required resources that were created over the past decade or more to be repurposed for a virtual environment. In Youghal, Daithí made new video recordings to add to those made by other members of the branch to assist members in learning new material during lockdown. The OTO have also supplemented their online learning system with new resources and many music teachers have utilised Zoom and other platforms to continue music lessons. While there are varying degrees of success in developing an online approach to music teaching, one of the notable events of recent months was the very enjoyable Christmas session with Drogheda CCÉ, which was well attended and led by each of the teachers. While many look forward to re-engaging in a physical space, there is a lot of credit due to teachers and organisers throughout the country and internationally who have worked hard to ensure continued engagement in Irish traditional music.
We have also missed working with our choirs these past several months. Daithí returned to playing the organ in St Brigid’s Church, Dunleer during Advent, adhering to the public health guidelines and accompanying a soloist. These masses were broadcast to parishioners and it was interesting to hear how people from all over the world were attending the services and connecting with the parish. Adèle recorded a broadcast mass from the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Louth Village and St Peter’s Church in Tallanstown, the latter broadcast on LMFM during lockdown. We will both return to playing for Christmas masses, albeit with soloists rather than choirs.
We have enjoyed engaging with concerts online and applaud the creativity of so many individuals. Professional artists who have suffered a loss of income have been generous and innovative in contributing to the cultural health of the nation while community groups have gone to extraordinary lengths to continue to participate in and share their creativity and talents. We look forward to this continuing in 2021 but also hope that we can once again meet with people to collaborate and share in musicking and research.
Cawley, Jessica. 2020. Becoming an Irish Traditional Musician: Learning and Embodying Musical Culture. London: Routledge.
Commins, Adèle. 2020. ‘Take Her Out and Air Her’: Stanford and Grainger’s Treatment of Source Material for Four Irish Dances. Traditional Tunes and Popular Airs: Exploring Musical Resemblance Conference. English Folk Dance and Song Society, London, 10-11 October.
Commins, Adèle. 2020. A Critical Friend: Finding Meaning in Charles Villiers Stanford’s Memoriam to Joseph Joachim. 18th Annual Conference Of The Society For Musicology In Ireland, University College Dublin, 29-31 October.
Kearney, Daithí. 2020. Forging the Dance: The Expression of Regionality in Irish Folk Theatre’, Symposium: Music/Dance and Identity: Timbres of the Danube, Association of Ethnomusicology Turkey, Bursa, Turkey, 4 October.
Kearney, Daithí. 2020. Representing Endings: The raison d'etre of folk theatre?, Annual Conference Anthropological Association of Ireland, Dublin City University, 27 November.