November began with the wonderful occasion of graduation. It is wonderful to meet our graduates and find out about how they are getting on in their careers or with postgraduate study. After the ceremony, it was great to mingle with the graduates outside the theatre, reflecting on their experience in Dundalk.
Leaving the excitement of the graduates behind, we travelled to England to participate in the Stanford Festival, which took place in conjunction with the Canterbury Festival this year. We arrived in time to attend Evensong in the Cathedral, where we could experience the power of the organ, the balance of the choir and the impact of the acoustics. On Friday night, the Dean of Canterbury, the Very Reverend Robert Willis, hosted a special concert of his favourite Sanford pieces including the Te Deum Laudamus in B flat in the glorious Quire of the Cathedral. While the Cathedral Choir were excellent, Jubilate Brass added a novel sound, particularly in their interpretation of Stanford’s Bluebird.
On Saturday Adèle presented a lecture on Stanford and World War I, following Professor Jeremy Dibble, who spoke of Stanford’s influence on and relationship with his student, Ralph Vaughan Williams. Adèle’s research has unearthed previously unacknowledged aspects of Stanford’s work in England, not only in relation to his compositions but also his advocacy for music and musicians during the war. Later on Saturday, Jeremy presented a pre-concert talk back at the cathedral on Stanford’s Variations for Violin Solo and Orchestra (1921), which he has orchestrated.
On Saturday afternoon, Madeleine Mitchell (Violin) and Rudi Eastwood (Piano) performed works by Goossens, Howells and Bridge (all pupils of Stanford) as well as Stanford’s Three Characteristic Pieces Op.93. This was followed by a performance by Dutch choir Toonkunstkoor Leiden with baritone Mattijs van de Woerd who included works by Stanford and Hendrik Andriessen, whose 125th anniversary is celebrated in the Netherlands this year. The choir’s programme included Stanford’s Fairy Day and Songs of the Fleet, linking well with Adèle’s lecture earlier in the morning.
Violinist Tasmin Little was the star of Saturday night’s concert which included a world premiere of Stanford’s Variations for Violin Solo and Orchestra. However, it was her performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams The Lark Ascending that thrilled the audience. The concert also featured the English Chamber Orchestra and the Canterbury Choral Society performing Vaughan Williams’ ‘war requiem’ Dona Nobis Pacem. The fantastic setting of the magnificent cathedral added to the dramatic nature of the music, although the percussion and brass had a tendency to overpower other aspects of the performance.
The Dante Quartet brought the Stanford Festival to an end on Sunday afternoon in the beautiful Colyer-Fergusson Hall at the University of Kent. The quartet is currently recording Stanford’s complete quartets, many of them unpublished, and we had previously enjoyed attending the launch of one of these in Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral in 2016. For 2017 they performed Stanford’s Quartet No.3 between Vaughan Williams’ Quartet No.2 and Brahms Quartet No.2 in A minor. The concert programme highlighted musical developments from Brahms through Stanford to Vaughan Williams, even if the latter was known to underplay the influence of his teacher in his compositions.
Weekends such as this connect our research with a wider public and emphasise the importance and relevance of such research. While some notable, largely biographical studies have been published in recent years about composers such as Charles Villiers Stanford, it is critical that further research is undertaken to place them in cultural context, critique their artistic endeavours and acknowledge their impact on culture and society in their own time and beyond. Stanford’s legacy has been shaped by politics and changing aesthetic tastes and understanding the intersection of arts and society provides insights and perspectives on changes in society and identity.
Conferences provide other significant opportunities for the dissemination and sharing of research. While we have travelled to a number of conferences during the year, we were delighted to host the Society for Music Education in Ireland Annual Conference in Dundalk during November. Daithí presented a paper about community engagement while Adèle focused on developments in STEAM education. We were delighted to host Professor Magne Espeland from Norway as the keynote speaker. Adèle first met Magne on the beautiful island of Stord in 2010 when she was teaching there on Erasmus mobility. Magne’s paper on improvisation in teaching to enhance creativity in education was inspirational and relevant. Across the weekend there was a wide range of excellent papers by colleagues from Europe and America, as well as performances by various local groups including the Music Generation Louth Harp Ensemble to mark National Harp Day.
In addition to the conference papers, there were two roundtable discussions. One focused on the new Creative Ireland programme. The other focused on group teaching pedagogies. We were delighted to be joined by excellent speakers including policy makers, school principals and music teachers who provoked interesting questions from the audience and inspired further discussion. It is important to us that our research is relevant and meaningful for our community and the SMEI conference was an opportunity to demonstrate this.
Our Erasmus+ funded project on STEAM education continues and in November Adèle returned to Antwerp for meetings with our colleagues from Belgium, Holland, Norway and Portugal. It coincided with the annual STEAM week in the University of Artesis Plantjin. As well as working on the development of intellectual outputs, plans were put in place for next years’ project in Norway. While we share ideas and knowledge through the year via emails and virtual learning environments, face-to-face meetings are often very productive and conducive to more immediate development of plans.
While looking to the future, we often draw influence from the past and celebrate legacies. November witnessed the passing of Máire Bean Uí Ghríofa of Tralee and Fr Brendan McNally of Louth. Máire spearheaded Craobh Thrá Lí and was a huge influence on Daithí growing up. You can read more of his reflections here. Fr McNally was formerly Parish Priest in Tallanstown and it was he who encouraged Adèle to play the organ at mass. Fr McNally had a huge influence on the development of string playing in Louth and his legacy is readily seen in the work of Music Generation Louth and a range of other musical activities throughout the county.
Having travelled to England earlier in the month, we welcomed a number of wonderful musicians to Louth at the end of the month. In November, Ardee Baroque Festival celebrated its fourteenth year. We were delighted to host young violinist Mairéad Hickey. Mairéad was in the premiere production of To Stay or Leave in 2006 and a member of Craobh na Dúglaise CCÉ while Daithí was in Cork. It has been exciting to follow the progress in her career since and she performed a wonderful concert in the atmospheric setting of Hatch’s Castle. Mairéad transitioned easily from compositions by seminal European composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) and Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) to Irish melodies including compositions by their Irish contemporary Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738), who was born nearby in Nobber, Co. Meath.
Before Mairéad, there was an excellent performance by Music Generation Louth Junior Strings Orchestra under the baton of Jayne Graham – the senior strings had performed two weeks previously at the SMEI conference at which Jayne gave an excellent presentation. Later that evening, the Irish Baroque Orchestra performed a beautiful concert in St. Mary’s Church, Ardee. On Sunday, our MA student Sylvia Crawford gave an insightful presentation on harper Patrick Quin before the final concert featured local pianist Michael McHale with cellist William Butt. While both pianist and cellist performed enjoyable solos, it was their duet that was most enjoyable and a fitting end to another wonderful festival.
We returned to the stage ourselves at the end of the month as Daithí prepared and produced the concert Bearna Uladh / The Gap of the North that celebrated the music of the border region, with some references to Cúchulainn’s adventures in Kerry. As well as the students of Dundalk Institute of Technology, we welcomed our good friends Josephine Keegan and Brian O’Kane to join us on stage. Both Josephine and Brian have been the subject of some of our recent research projects and we continue to celebrate their music through performances, conference presentations and forthcoming publications.
The 30 November is traditionally a night for dancing at the crossroads and this year we welcomed a group from Craobh Eochaille CCÉ to Louth. We’ll tell you more in December…