Before JMI began in 2000, I wrote down a list of people I intended to ask to write for the magazine. They were people I regarded as cornerstones in Irish musical life. With them on board, I felt, the magazine would have a solid foundation upon which to grow. Over the years, I have asked many on that list, and while I continue to make new lists, I was always aware that there was one name that I had never mustered up the courage to ask.
I don’t know why I chose 2008 to finally approach Bernadette Greevy. Perhaps I felt that after eight years the magazine could be considered seriously enough for me to ask her. When a book on the eighteenth-century opera composer Michael Balfe came through the door, I thought ‘Now is my chance’. I had met her as a teenager. My mother had come to know here and she came to dinner once or twice. On one occasion Bernadette Greevy was planning to put on La bohème at the NCH and various possible funders were invited. I can still recall the way the mezzo-soprano elegantly held court.
Several months later Bernadette was billed to sing with Dé Danann at a Great Famine commemoration at the NCH. I attended. She sang two songs on the night, Famine songs full of pathos. My mother, a great believer in showing appreciation, urged me to ring Bernadette the very next morning. But I was about to jump on a bus to college and it was only 8am. How could I ring her so early, I pleaded, I hardly knew her. She always rises early, my mother insisted. Ring her.
I rang. A lowish voice answered solemnly. I was intimidated. ‘Hello… Bernadette? … This is Toner Quinn. I just wanted to say that was at the concert last night and it was really great.’ Her voice swooped up in pitch: ‘Oh! Thank you so much! Weren’t Dé Danann wonderful! Thank you very much!’ She was emphatic and I felt glad I rang. As I progressed through my music degree I ransacked our record collection and found a Claddagh Records recording of Bernadette singing Bach arias. I played her singing of ‘Kommt inh angefocht’nen Sunder’ endlessly.
In February of this year, I rang her for the second time, this time to ask if she would review the biography of Balfe. Though I couldn’t imagine how she would find the time, she was extremely open to the idea and agreed. We published her article in our July-August issue, which is now available to read online.
That original list of writers may now have been complete, but with Bernadette Greevy’s death in September, Ireland has lost one of its finest voices, and a great entrepreneurial spirit.